The Grapple: Demolition in progress on the North Wing Expansion

Cross section rendering of the North Wing ExpansionOn August 22 and 23, the office spaces of the old North Wing of the Corning Museum of Glass were torn down to prepare for building the expansion. Architect Tom Phifer’s design will add a 100,000-square-foot gallery space, making the Museum the largest venue for contemporary glass in the world. Our old offices needed to be demolished to make room for these new galleries. As seen in the cross section rendering above, the orange and black roofed ventilator building of the former Steuben Glass factory, which is adjacent to the Museum’s current building, will remain intact. In fact, the building, topped by the iconic Robertson ventilator, will not be demolished, but renovated to continue to be a site for live glassblowing as it has been for decades.

The roof airgapped.

The roof airgapped.

Since only a portion of the buildings were being removed, it was necessary to “airgap the building.” All connections between the building to be torn down and the building to remain were removed.

The demolition was done by Environmental Remediation Services Incorporated. The machine used for the demolition is called a “grapple.” It is said to cost about $300,000. Many people use incorrect names for this machine:  “Grappler” is a term for certain wrestling styles. “Clamshell” is a term for a tool often used for dredging with a crane. “The Claw” is  the name for one of Dick Tracey’s criminal foes.

The grapple with a pad of paper for scale

The grapple with a pad of paper for scale.

The grapple uses pincher at the end of the arm to grab onto the building and to pull it apart.

Demolition in progress.

Demolition in progress.

As the grapple dismantled the structure, the debris was sorted into three main piles: structural steel, mixed metals and other.

Steel beams are cut with oxy-propane torches for transport

Steel beams are cut with oxy-propane torches for transport.

The structural steel was cut into pieces with oxy-propane torches for transport to the scrap yard.

Spraying the debris with water to control dust

Spraying the debris with water to control dust.

A steady stream of water removed the dust from the air.

The old old North Wing offices of the Corning Museum of Glass

The old old North Wing offices of the Museum.

The demolished building’s removal exposed Hot Glass programs manager Steve Gibb’s old office through the back wall.  The paper tacked to the side wall is an old Celebrity Cruise line gaffers’ schedule.  This was the only item left in any office.

The Museum remains open throughout the Expansion project and demolition, since only office spaces were torn down. Visitors inside the Museum are not affected by the work happening outside. Our neighbors in the adjacent Corning Incorporated building had a bird’s eye view of the demolition, as seen in this photo taken from the seventh floor.

View of the demolition from the adjacent Corning Incorporated building

View of the demolition from the adjacent Corning Incorporated building.

Posted by

John Cowden works with special projects at The Corning Museum of Glass and supported the Hot Glass Show Innovation theater construction project in his retirement. Cowden was a supervisor and narrator at the Hot Glass Show from 1999 to 2011. Before joining the Museum, Cowden had more than 10 years of experience in the field of glassworking, primarily using cold working techniques, processes such as slumping, making molds, grinding, and polishing, where time is not a pressure.