I am a street photographer and as I walked the city streets these past couple of years it seemed all I encountered was the mass construction that kept popping up in our various Seattle neighborhoods. I was planning a show depicting all the destruction and obstruction the construction world was wreaking on our once quaint city. All of my shots were taken from the street or from a step ladder that cleared the tops of the six foot fences that surrounded the construction sites.
Then something quite unexpected happened.
One evening on my commute from work through South Lake Union, I came across a "co-mingle" sign on the corner of Boren and Thomas at the landmark Troy Laundry Building. When I saw the "co-mingle" sign I thought it was an invitation from contractors, Lease Crutcher Lewis encouraging the community to commingle peacefully during construction of the Superblock now known as the Troy Block.
At first I balked at the "request" and then thought perhaps this could be an opportunity to shoot inside a bustling site, to in a sense, commingle with the crew.
A few days later, I met with my friend Sarah Littlefield and shared my obsession with the construction in the city and my desire to somehow get inside the curtained fences. I then told Sarah about the "Co-Mingle" sign.
Sarah encouraged me to pursue the notion and was willing to join me the next day. So I purchased two hard hats, and we showed up at the Troy Block site prepared to get inside the curtained fences.
Once I crossed the threshold and descended what seemed over one hundred feet of scaffolding, I was awestruck.
After several return visits shooting, I would come to find the "co-mingle" sign had nothing to do with public outreach. Instead, it's a specific area on the site that acts as more or less a dumpster.
Josh and I laughed at my misunderstanding. When I handed back the vest, gloves and safety glasses after shooting that day, Josh handed them back and said to keep them for future visits.
My stomach did cartwheels. You would think I was given a key to the city.
I had no idea this event would change my contempt for the construction taking place all over Seattle and positively captivate me for the greater part of three years.
I shot from the pit to the roof of the north and south towers, and in July of 2016 at the topping off party, I asked Shawn Parry, partner at Touchstone NW (Developers) and Ron McDonell (head of the Lease, Crutcher crew) if I could have a show in the Troy Block Building. They both in unison said, "YES!". I couldn't imagine a better place for the installation.
Welcome to Project: Co-Mingle
and see what happens when you assume goodwill.
When Sarah and I arrived at the Troy Block we asked several members of the crew if we could get inside. After several "NO's", I pursued further and found Josh Ditzenberger, the Safety Coordinator, and after another "No", asked to speak with the man in charge.
We stood outside the Lease, Crutcher, Lewis makeshift office, once home to the Seattle Times hoping to get inside the curtained fences. Ron McDonell, head of crew, came out and after a quick introduction, gave us the thumbs up, giving Josh permission to walk us through a safety class and escort us to the bottom of the pit.
Josh Dietzenberger (below), the Safety Coordinator, walked us though some serious safety precautions as he had with the entire crew.
According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one in ten construction workers are injured every year.
The most violated OSHA is fall protection. Falls are the greatest cause of fatal construction injuries, with 33% from scaffolding, 27% from ladders 10 feet or less and 12% from ladders over twenty five feet.
You get the picture?
Committed to Safety
The signatures of the Lease, Crutcher, Lewis crew.
Scaffolding? No Elevator
I didn't think about what would happen if they actually let us inside. Had I, I'm not sure I would have asked. Remember the statistics for fatal falls?
The scaffolding went down, who knows, well over a 100 feet into the ground. And it shifted, on purpose!
320,000 Cubic yards of Dirt
See the dirt, just beyond Josh, it was being dumped just 30 or so yards from the scaffolding as we descended. Before any of the rebar was placed and cement was poured, there would be 320,000 cubic yards of dirt dumped into the pit (see below).
The Troy Block used to be home to the Troy Laundry Building (1927 -1987). The block needed to undergo extensive cleanup to rid hazardous material. During cleanup and development, SoundEarth Strategies Inc carried out the following duties:
- Remove contaminated soil for disposal to approved facilities
- Install a groundwater treatment system to clean up groundwater underneath the property and to prevent eco contamination.
- Sample soil and groundwater to ensure that the interim action is working and that the state cleanup standards are being met.
- Conduct an air quality evaluation in the new development to make sure air quality is safe. Protective measures will be taken if necessary.
The above effort was just one of the many environmental and energy commitments developers, Touchstone carried out to receive a Gold rating from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most widely used third party verification used for green buildings.
Well Below the Surface
As I reached each landing, I would stop and shoot. I held one hand on the railing and the other on my camera to shoot scenes like the one below. I needed to take my eyes off the many stairs below and remind myself why I was there and that I was safe because I was after all with Josh, the safety coordinator, and he was a body builder and he could probably throw me over his shoulder if I was to pass out, trip or die.
On the final landing, tied with metal wiring was a ladder. I stopped, capped the lens of my cameras and swung them over my back, followed closely by Sarah (below). This was the first, of what may well have been a hundred plus ladders to climb, in the year ahead.
Among construction workers, an estimate 81% of the fall injuries treated in U.S. emergencies rooms involve a ladder.
First Shot in the Pit
This was the first photograph (see below) I took at the bottom of the pit.
As soon as I climbed off the ladder attached to the final landing of the scaffolding, I laid down on the ground and took this shot.
Josh commented on getting all artistic but the truth of the matter was that I needed to get my bearings.
Not the shot, but the ability to stand up and shoot afterwards. The photo somewhat gives a perspective of the depth of the pit.
The Troy Laundry Building - Designated a Seattle Landmark in 1986
Since 1973, Seattle has designated more than 450 individual sites, buildings, vehicles, vessels, and street clocks as landmarks subject to protection by city ordinance.
In 1986, the Troy Laundry Building was designated a Seattle Landmark.
Pictured below is the interior of the existing facade on the corner of Thomas and Fairview. The New Troy Block will be built behind the original facade.
Here is another shot of the back side of the original arched main entrance to the Troy Laundry Building.
Steel beams hold the facade in place during excavation and construction.
The Troy Laundry Building
The Troy Laundry Building (below) was designed in 1927 by architect Victor Voorhees. This Seattle Landmark originally housed The Troy Laundry Company.
Other businesses that once operated on the Troy Block were the Boren Investment Company Warehouse, United States Radiator Corporation, and David Smith Furniture.
I have sat at many a teak garden table purchased at Daniel Smith's over the years. I used to love walking through David's massive space (25,000-square-foot) chock full of antique and refurbished Indonesian furniture.
The New Troy Block Building
Architect: Perkins + Will, over 120 architects, interior designers and planners work in the Seattle office
Developer: Touchstone, locally owned Northwest company. 2016 National Developer of the Year
Contractor: Lease, Crutcher, Lewis, where every employee is an owner, is proud to call Seattle home since 1939
Occupants: Amazon, local Seattle based commerce and computing company founded in 1994. FareStart, Seattle based non-profit organization creating real solutions to homelessness, poverty, and hunger.
Property Managers: Urban Renaissance Group, is a full-service real estate operating company with seven offices across the Pacific Northwest region.
Total square footage of the block: 1,400,000. 800,000 square feet of office space in two L-shaped towers, a fraction of the 12 million square feet of office space underway in downtown Seattle for Amazon. Of all the office spaces currently being developed in Seattle, Amazon makes up more than a third.
Troy Block's towers have approximately 50% more square footage per floor than any other building in South Lake Union.
Scenes Like this Called Me Back
There were sights in the pit (see below) that made no sense. Things I had never seen before.
The scale was daunting.
Then there's a ladder leading to what?
Next Time, Wear Jeans
Okay, so this was my first visit and I thought it would be my last.
Sarah dressed appropriately. I, on the other hand, didn't think beyond a brand new hard hat and my 15 year old hiking boots. As for the rest of the outfit, knit tights and skirt for ease of movement would not be appropriate attire for a construction site.
I was later told by Josh, after my third visit, as I handed back the borrowed vest, safety glasses and gloves that going forward I was to wear jeans.
Clearing the Curtained Fences with a Step Ladder
I am just shy of 5'9". I am not tall enough to clear the curtained fences, so I went out and purchased a step ladder, and low and behold the entire space was one site.
This is one of my first shots (below) taken of the Troy Block pit from my step ladder. This took place before I knew I would be able to get inside.
I am rather fond of this photo. So much so, that it has been the wallpaper on my iPad since the project began in February, 2015.
The Real Meaning of Co-Mingle
When Josh asked me why I kept coming back to shoot the Troy Block I shared that I was struck by the "co-mingle" sign I had come across months previous.
Confused, he pressed further asking why would that sign have drawn me.
"Well", I shared. "I thought it was kind gesture on the part of Lease, Crutcher Lewis encouraging the community to all get along during the construction of yet another South Lake Union Block. At first I thought it was crazy. After all, you guys are making our commute difficult and in a sense were a problem but then I thought well why not. So that's what I 'm doing. Mingling with the crew."
Josh smiled, lowered his head and shared the intended meaning of co-mingle. He said," It was the area on the site where different scraps are mixed or mingled that acts more or less as a dumpster".
It was not a public outreach encouraging all in the neighborhood to get along. There was no invitation, no olive branch. It was a sign for the crew directing them to a dumpster.
But it was to late. I was already hooked.
After we laughed at the misunderstanding, I handed back the vest, gloves and safety glasses after shooting that day and Josh handed them back and said to keep them for future visits.
Ha! I am in. I get to keep the vest. I am on the team. I could possibly see this project to fruition.
Shortly after the thrill came my dilemma. What about the show I set out to do depicting the destruction of our city? Was I crossing the line, crossing to the other side of a near even debate between those Seattleite's in favor of the growth versus those disgruntled? After all, we live in a time where if you don't take sides, your hated by both.
Despite this truth, I choose to move forward not knowing where I would land.
Scenes from the Bottom of the Pit
After the Troy Block underwent extensive cleanup to rid hazardous material, and all the dirt had been poured things really took off.
I was taken by this photo. One of the few overlooking the site since shooting inside.
One of those moments when the Northwest light stills me and a photograph can never do justice. You just have to be there to feel it.
Two Cranes Manage the 1,400,000 Square Foot SUPERBLOCK
North Crane Operator
Seattle is the Crane Capital of the US
Seattle is at a ten year peak with 65 major buildings under construction. This is just one of the 58 cranes you can view from the top of the Space Needle. According to the Seattle Times, "The city has more cranes than New York and San Francisco combined."
The Troy Block's North and South Towers offer spectacular views of the Space Needle, South Lake Union, and the Olympic Peninsula.
South Crane Operator is the 12th Man
One of the 58 cranes in Seattle
We all Gotta Get Somewhere
Seaplanes landing on Lake Union now have to navigate through three cranes on these two city blocks. A recent Komo News article stated up to 50 takeoffs and 50 seaplane landings on a busy day on Lake Union.
Before climbing the ladder, I was excited to see the crane operator making his way down the crane. This is unusual this time of day. Typically the climb up before sunrise and stay until sunset. Oh, and there are no bathrooms up there.
Base of the North Crane
It is astounding that this crane, with a concrete base no wider than twelve square feet or so, can carry the weight it does day in and day out.
Much to my dismay, I never witnessed the crane on this site go up or down but since then, to my delight I have documented it on another site.
An Eight Month Wait
There is an eight month wait for a crane in Seattle.
Crane Rents as High as $55,000/Month
Sneak Peak of the Almost Completed South Tower
Reflections of the North Tower
The South Tower of the Troy Block was completed first and the North Tower has yet to have the windows placed.
The crane operator begins each day, before sunrise, with about a half hour ascend into a world all his own. The quiet of the site ends the moment he is situated.
Scenes Loading Crane from Below
Ready When You Are
Load for Recycling
Complete Faith in the Crane Operator
These heavy chains are used to attach loads to the crane.
Inch by Inch with Total Confidence
Weighty Metal Staircase Meticulously Placed
Another Fly By
Delivering Straps for Load
Load Above Original Facade
The top of the Troy Laundry facade. Another Seattle landmark preserved.
The ornamental brickwork and terra cotta detailing of the original buildings will be maintained in the new facade.
Locked and Loaded
A Light Load
Careful Not to Drop
The Troy Block is located in the heart of South lake Union, one of the fastest growing, greenest neighborhoods in Seattle.
Northwest facade in the background.
A Team Awaits the Giant Load
80,000 Yards of Cement is Poured
When it Rains, it Pours!
Seven cement trucks on Thomas cause the road to close. A serious pour for both cement and rain.
It's not likely that a site in Seattle will escape the rain. Construction projects cannot be postponed until the most ideal weather conditions occur.
Rain can actually be conducive to good concrete curing. With high humidity, there is little chance for evaporation of mix water and with temperatures moderate during rain, it provides a beneficial curing environment, assisting with strength development and decreasing the chance for uncontrolled cracking.
The sound of tons of cement moving through the piping below is really, really LOUD.
The pressure of the cement moving through the hose is powerful. You need earplugs to avoid the deafening sound.
Directing the cement.
Filling the gaps
A Giant Cement Funnel on Boren
The crane gently guides the empty funnel to street level where the cement trucks are lined up, ready to fill.
The Multi-Purposed Two by Four
The cement funnel is put into the exact place thanks to direct contact with the crane operator.
Independent and reliant
Concrete Smoothing Machine
Suspended by the crane, the cement smother is cleaned immediately.
Strength and Balance
Duct Tape and Blue Jeans - Foolproof
The Boom Takes a Break in Center Court
A Clean Slate
Cement Smoother Taking the Corner
Directing the Boom
Wrangling the Cement Hose
Cement is poured on the north side of the North Tower where there is a stunning view of Lake Union.
80,000 Yards of Cement Pours Completed on Both Towers
Ten Tons of Rebar is Placed and Connected by Hand
Twist & Snip
Rebar are steel bars used as a tension device in reinforced concrete to strengthen and hold the concrete in compression. The patterned surface is used to form a better bond with concrete.
Rebar dates back to the 15th century.
A Beautiful Balancing Act
May as Well be Toothpicks
Calm Before the Storm
Rain or Shine
In the Clouds
The crane operator relies on their line of vision and the crew on the ground to guide them.
Walking on Rebar While Carrying Rebar
Taking the Corner
And to Think I am Afraid of Heights
Something happens when you are in the zone. Suddenly, all inhibitions disappear.
I See Fire and I See Rain
So one would think that since it rains a LOT in Seattle there would be umbrellas everwhere, right? Well, no. This was the one and only time I saw an umbrella on the site.
Group Shot the Iron Workers
One of the guys asked me to take a photo of the group. It was the only time I ever took a posed shot.
The Daily Grind
Another Day Begins Well Before Dawn
Morning Exercises Reduce Injuries
Each morning, Josh, the Safety Coordinator leads the mandatory morning stretches
We Got Your Back
Safely Clamped and Angling In
White Ox Gloves
Known as the most popular gloves in the Pacific Northwest, White Ox gloves have been worn by loggers and woodsman for over 70 years.
Another Pair of White Ox Gloves
Alone in the Crowd
Reinforcing the Facade
Over the Top
Elevator aka "Manlift"
Woman Mans "Manlift"
This is a physically taxing job. Manually opening and closing the heavy metal doors all day long takes stamina.
Horses on Manlift
Pedestrian Through-Block Crossing with Spectacular Views of the Space Needle.
Queen Anne and Lake Union as a Backdrop
Location, location, location...
Queen Anne is northwest of downtown Seattle. It sits on a super steep hill, as you can see, with an elevation of 456 feet. Queen Anne was one of the last neighborhoods to be developed, where, back in the day, developers offered two plots for the price of one as long as the land was developed immediately.
Museum of History and Industry
View of MOHAI and Lake Union from the roof of the South Tower before the North Tower was complete.
This shot was taken between 4:30 and 5:00am
View of the Olympics
"Art" on Site
Winged Dragon Watches Over Crew in North Tower
Don't you dare or you answer to the boss man.
"Graffiti" on Honey Bucket
Lost and Found
Same Time Everyday
There are lunch trucks surrounding the block, but most of the crew bring lunch from home.
Heading for the Lunch Truck
Lots of Climbing
A Simple Descend in Comparison to the Crane Operator
Man on Beam with Fire
Boom in the Background
It's Cold. It's Wet. Just Another Day
There is an elevator. I use it when I enter the site to go to whichever floor has the most action. It is more convenient; however, to climb the ladders between floors when I need to change my angle or photograph a different crew is often more efficient.
The Sky is the Limit
Yabba Dabba Do
The end of another days hard work!
I trailed Josh Ditzenburger, the Safety Coordinator, on his rounds whenever I visited the Troy Block. Josh kept me out of harms way. Once Josh leaves the site, I imagine he hits the gym. Clearly, he is a body builder.
I wanted to close with a special thanks to Josh. Without him, this project would have never transpired. Josh is dedicated to keeping the crew safe. I respect Josh's integrity and goodwill.
Project: Co-Mingle Show
Thanks to the 65 Kickstarter donors, including the Lear Family Foundation, and additional financial backing from developers Touchstone, NW, the Project: Co-Mingle show was successfully presented on May 3, 2018 in the Troy Block Arcade. The FareStart restaurant, Maslow's did an amazing job catering and local event services, PNTA helped build and strike the rigging for the four large panels.