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Robust structural frame supports historic building renovation in Newport, R.I.

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Robust structural frame supports historic building renovation in Newport, R.I.


Mark Halverson | November 19, 2014

Photo: APAThe Engineered Wood Association

The Audrain Building on Newport’s celebrated Bellevue Avenue was designed by New York architect Bruce Price in the early 1900s with intricate exterior detailing that exudes an enduring sense of luxury and tradition. Its recent renovation from a worn-around-the-edges modified office building into a car museum and upscale work space affirms its role as gilded historian, with an authentic blend of vintage charm and high-end appeal that has anchored this block of the Newport National Historic Landmark District for more than a century.

On the high-ceilinged first floor, golden-era automobiles and muscle cars will glisten through full-height windows. Above, new offices make better use of the space while maintaining the particular air of elegance that's expected of this location.

But getting to that point required some heavy lifting from a new, more robust building frame.

Strong Support

Upon completion, the car museum will house a range of vintage autos, including a WWII-era vehicle weighing in at one-and-a-half tons. Engineer Mike Camera of Camera/O’Neill Consulting Engineers knew that the original 2x12 flooring system would need to be removed and replaced to accommodate the additional weight. 

The team at Parker Construction kept the outer shell and the original brick bearing walls, which divide the basement into six sections. On the ground floor, the structure was framed with steel columns and then 20-foot, 3-1/2-inch-by-9-1/2-inch glulam beams from Anthony Forest Products, spaced 12 inches on center, spanning each bay. The glulam not only accomplished the span requirements for the frame, but also was more readily available than other framing alternatives the design team considered.

 

 

Though the beams will be largely unseen in the low basement storage area and were coated with fire retardant, “The glulam was milled so well, we could have left them exposed,” says David Louttit, project manager at Parker Construction. 

Structural-rated Douglas-fir 2x6 timbers run perpendicular to the glulam beams, with ¾-inch tongue-and-groove CDX plywood in between. For the second-floor frame, exposed steel trusses provide an industrial look.

Vintage Feel

While the project sports a new frame, the team took great care to preserve as many of the original decorative elements as possible, including ornamental metal and millwork. The front façade features the original brick, intricate terracotta around the windows, and similarly ornate roof cornices. The arch-top windows reach from the first floor through to the office space upstairs. A new set of bi-fold doors, fabricated to reflect the original windows, provides a wide entrypoint for the display vehicles.

Along with the challenges of preserving the look and beefing up the frame, the construction team faced severe time constraints: a schedule with less than half the normal turnaround time. To accommodate, Louttit had crews on site 16 hours a day, seven days a week; they also shrink-wrapped the structure to eliminate the weather variable.

“Our company specializes in investing in employees willing to give 110 percent,” says Louttit. “So we can get it done faster while working closely with the architect to ensure each element, from the structure to the decorative work, is exact and precise.” 

This level of care befits the Audrain Building, whose architectural details have graced its corner of Newport's famed historic district for more than a century.

To read more case studies on commercial projects featuring engineered wood structural framing, become a member of  APA Designers Circle at www.apawood.org/designerscircle. A free online community for architects, engineers, and other members of the commercial building industry, Designers Circle provides timely information, technical resources, continuing education, and recommendations for innovative wood-frame construction.

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