The eldo Sledgehammer // Brock Traffas

04/30/2017

Written by Brock Traffas

The eldo sledgehammer.

"The eldo Sledgehammer"

 

Possibly the most defining feature of the Waldo duplex is the front porch. Steel and wood extrusions pull the tenants of the duplex outside, effectively doubling the living room square footage. The porches step down to a common patio surrounded by planter beds full of native plants. All of this is then supported by a board-formed retaining wall.

 

Due to numerous site conditions, the finish floor height of the duplex had to be raised higher than what we originally anticipated. In turn, this raised the height of the porches and patio. What we are left with is a five-foot-tall retaining wall buried two feet into the ground.

 

Such an impressive wall requires an incredible amount of bracing and wood stakes. This became more difficult due to the relentless rain that has been falling on Kansas City and most of the Midwest for the better part of a month.

 

Our solution? We trudged through the mud, driving four-foot-long stakes three feet into the ground. After breaking a few smaller hammers, we realized we needed something a bit more substantial – something with a bit more durability and power. We needed the eldo sledgehammer.

Abstract: A sledgehammer is one of the most archaic, yet useful tools found on a job site. Through aching muscles and blisters, I have learned a few things about architecture and how a project progresses.

 

Audience: A letter to future Brock Traffas. It is a reminder to not hesitate to pick up a sledgehammer and do your part.

The eldo sledgehammer sounds like a great heavy metal band name. Maybe it is the signature, bone breaking move of a luchador somewhere. It would have even been a great name for el dorado’s roller derby team.

 

The eldo sledgehammer is a bit more literal than that. Because of the scope of work we have chosen to undertake, it has become the most used tool on our site. It is a tool that nearly everybody in the studio has picked up and taken at least a few swings with.

 

Swinging a sledgehammer is tiring. It leaves your hands and muscles blistered and aching for a few days. However, it is this work that makes the entire retaining wall possible. The stakes are the backbone of the formwork. If these fail, then the entire wall fails.

Completed retaining wall formwork compared to final rendering.

There are a few metaphors to be drawn from such an archaic, yet useful tool. These metaphors speak to what we have been through and what we have taken away from the studio.

 

As a start, we borrowed the sledgehammer from our sponsors and mentors at el dorado. We have relied on eldo for redlines, required permits and licenses, and to nudge us back on track when we get stuck. This entire project would not be possible without the partnership with eldo – not just the formwork and stakes.

 

This studio has been an intense research and development process. There have been numerous things that we did not know about designing and detailing an entire building – and it was up to us to figure these things out. For example, we had never drawn a set of shop documents for casework or steel, had productive client interactions, or even understood the tight grip that budget has on a project. Through this process, we were always given the appropriate tools and knowledge to get the job done ourselves – it was not just done for us.

 

Secondly, sledgehammer duty is a job that nobody wants. We have tried our best to spread it among the people in our studio who are able. Especially in these last few weeks, this has been an important lesson in delegation. After taking a few swings with the sledgehammer, it is relieving to cut boards to length or use a nail gun. You can only do this if someone else on the team is willing to pick up the sledgehammer when you put it down.

 

Architecture is a fast-paced, slow-to-realize field that is easy to get burnt out in. You can only draw wall sections and detail handrails for so long before you lose interest, or worse, lose the idea of the project. Continually moving between large-scale design and small-scale detailing allows the designer to reach a level of competence and coherence to the project. This would not be possible if these duties were done by two separate parties. However, this zooming in and out process is only possible if everyone is willing to pick up a sledgehammer or detail a wall section.

Most of all, I have learned the importance of thankless tasks.

 

Simply put, if you are actively working to push a project forward, there is significance in each task you undertake. Even the smallest tasks can be perceived in the final product. Without someone swinging the sledgehammer, there are no stakes to hold up the retaining wall formwork. Even if the job is done halfway, you risk the entire wall failing when we try and pour the concrete. Thus, it can be argued that the person driving in stakes with a sledgehammer is just as important as the person doing finish carpentry.

 

On a larger project, it might be hard to see the linkage between these seemingly menial tasks and the success of a project.

 

Most architectural graduates do not look forward to the detailing work that is typically assigned to them in the first years of their career. It is important to understand the design opportunities that still exist in the detailing and documentation phase of a project. Handrail details can have just as much impact on the final project as large-scale conceptual design. The work in this phase, if realized to its fullest, separates a good project from a great one.

 

So - future Brock – do not be afraid to pick up a sledgehammer every now and then.

 

Whether it is a metaphorical sledgehammer or not, those tasks form the backbone of a project. These tasks are not glorious. However, it is in these tasks that you reach a better understanding of how a project is realized and how you can push forward when most would think of everything as resolved.