Beauty and the Beams


This project involved a 2-½ story, 4,300 sq. ft. single-family home that was built in 2007 in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago. Our clients wanted to expand their living space with a third story addition and also urgently needed to address major structural issues throughout the building which were caused by the negligence of the original developer. In collaboration with Laura Fehlberg Architects and Clark T. Baurer Structural Engineering, both goals had to beaccomplished with attention to achieving a seamless integration with the contemporary aesthetic of the interior and exterior of their home.


Although the 3rd story living space was originally the main focus of the project for the clients, it became quickly apparent that the exterior work, including the structural reinforcement, was going to be the most critical and demanding element of scope. To complicate matters, a delayed start due to city permitting issues pushed the project into the unfavorable weather conditions of the fall and winter seasons. The prevalence of bad weather during the project as well as other unforeseen events presented constant challenges to the completion of the project. Coordinating and sequencing crews around the weather and maintaining momentum in the project despite unforeseen delays was a constant focus. Additionally, after starting demolition, we discovered that the entire original roof system was retaining water and had to be completely torn off and rebuilt.


The addition we constructed was to be the living and study area for the client’s children. It consisted of a living area, two bedrooms, and one bathroom. The exterior roof spaces flanking both ends of the addition were also converted into functional patio and balcony spaces.


The interior space of the addition is as seamlessly integrated into the original house as the exterior. The millwork throughout was entirely custom fabricated  and the new flooring was exactly matched to the original.


The conversion of the 3rd story roof spaces flanking the new addition into an appealing outdoor south deck and north balcony involved the careful fabrication and installation of elements that adhered to the buildings contemporary style. We used durable IPE decking installed with a pedestal system to convert the 3rd story roof flanking the addition into beautiful deck spaces.


The aluminum siding for the sides of the new addition roof was custom fabricated. It was essential that it match perfectly with the original from the neighbor’s roof located just a few feet away.


The largest challenge by far on this project was to resolve the structural instability of the building while respecting the aesthetic integrity of the client’s home. The entire house was racking and needed to be stabilized through the addition of significant structural reinforcement at both ends of the house: the south (front) and north (back) facades.


The network of steel beams on the south side were installed on the interior of the façade, but on the north side, the majority of steel reinforcement beams needed to be installed in plain sight.


Our solution was to custom fabricate a network of steel beams running an entire vertical section of the building that were masked by a custom fabricated curtain wall. These screen-like panels not only enhanced the building’s exterior design aesthetic, but were also highly functional – allowing light into the home and the residents to see out of their home. The creation of this aesthetic and structural solution as well as its installation was only achieved through a close collaboration and coordination with both a structural engineer and our steel fabricator.


The installation of these reinforcement structures was complicated by the logistical limitations of the site. The ideal way to install the steel structural components would have been to fabricate the steel structure off-site as one piece and install it with the assistance of heavy machinery; however, both the interior installation in the south façade and the exterior installation on the north side had no room to accommodate the necessary heavy equipment. Only human power was available for both installations.


As a result, we asked the structural engineer to re-design their original plans in order to break the structural system into small enough components that they could be lifted by hand and assembled on site. The lack of heavy lifting machinery also necessitated that the installation had to proceed from the bottom towards the top. The preferred sequence to avoid errors would have been to assemble it from the top down.


All these complicating factors increased the need for precision in the design, fabrication and installation of the steel reinforcement structures. Any small discrepancies would have had major ramifications.


Ultimately, our team was able to deliver a reinforced structure with an aesthetic appeal. Our clients now enjoy additional living space for their family and the comfort of knowing their home is Ultimately, our team was able to deliver a reinforced structure with an aesthetic appeal. Our clients now enjoy additional living space for their family and the comfort of knowing their home is safe, sound, and secure.


Project Photos

West Town, Chicago, IL