Preserving The Foundations Of Some Of Boston?s Oldest Buildings

Atwood, Michael J.
Organization: Deep Foundations Institute
Pages: 10
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2011
Many buildings in Boston are founded on untreated wood piles, which can deteriorate and lose their structural capacity if groundwater levels are lowered below the tops of the piles, exposing the wood to air in the unsaturated soils that surround the piles. The problem of wood pile deterioration due to lowered groundwater levels in Boston first became evident in 1929 following discovery of rotten piles beneath walls of the Boston Public Library building. Repairs to reconstruct the library building?s wood pile foundations were made in 1930 using pit underpinning methods. Today, more than 80 years later, the subsurface conditions beneath several of Boston?s historic neighborhood areas continue to be plagued with low groundwater levels - regrettably resulting in ongoing deterioration to the wood piles that support some of Boston?s oldest and most beautiful buildings. Pit underpinning is still recognized as the preferred approach to repair wood piles and restore uniform foundation support beneath the impacted buildings. This paper provides a brief historical review of the land filling in Boston through the early 1900s that led to the use of wood piles as building foundations. Also discussed is the impact that groundwater level can have on the long term performance of wood pile foundations and the pit underpinning procedures used to reconstruct decayed wood pile foundations in 1930 beneath the Boston Public Library, and today beneath some of Boston?s oldest buildings. Also included are discussions on engineering controls and permitting requirements that help ensure safety and protection to the workers and buildings during underpinning, and some procedures being used to supplement and improve the loading capacity of the reconstructed foundations and facilitate construction of new useable below-grade space.
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