This connection is made up of 10 separate elements. Add the 4 different angles involved and you have one complicated little spot.

This connection is made up of 10 separate elements. Add the 4 different angles involved and you have one complicated little spot.

As I continue to work on the drawings for the steel staircase,* there’s one area that has proven to be very complicated to visualize and understand. That is the top section of the landings. The use of angle iron lead to some rather ingenious uses of brackets in several sizes and orientations to attach one piece to another. This, combined with the angles at which the pieces enter the connections, had me a little stumped. In order to better understand the connections, I employed two techniques. One was decidedly high-tech, the other is an old-school as architecture gets.

My 3-d model. Not perfect, but helpful!

My 3-d model. Not perfect, but helpful!

The first thing that I put together was a   3-D model in the computer. Utilizing the same drafting software as we use to generate the drawings, I was able to draw my pieces and extrude them into 3-dimensional objects in the world of 0’s and 1’s. I hadn’t done this before, which made it fascinating and frustrating to learn. Once the objects are “made”, they have to be rotated and moved to their proper place. While that sounds so easy, it is more difficult to learn how to do than one might imagine. Just as everything is perfectly lined up…you realize that one of the brackets is actually 5′ away from the rest of the structure! It requires careful attention to which view you are in and a lot of fiddling. I hope to refine this more if there’s time, but what I came up with was helpful for my purposes.

Even with the 3-d computer model, I still felt compelled to do something else to help me with the drawing. I wanted something easier to manipulate, something tangible. With this in mind, I headed to the art supply shop and picked up some wood pieces and wood glue. The plan was simple, to make a model, small and not to scale, of the joint in question. This way, I could hold it in my hand, look at it from any and every angle, and really viscerally understand how the pieces were put together. This I found to be very helpful. What’s great is how everyone who sees my little models is amused as they fondly remember the days when they made models like this (and not just in a computer).

*If you want to know more background on this project, read my earlier post, Hidden History at Ellis Island!

Wood model. Being able to manipulate it in real-life was great.

Wood model. Being able to manipulate it in real-life was great.

Wooden model. The actual process of assembling this was invaluable.

Wooden model. The actual process of assembling this was invaluable.

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