The Water Towers of Chicago


Potential for innovative thinking and new technologies
There are options other than the way that Chicago currently addresses issues with its water towers. There is potential to utilize new technological advances in the way that water towers are used or to innovatively fund repairs to them. Attesting to this is a computer-operated control system purchased by the Manhattan Village Board in 1997 to operate its water tower. The system turned the water in the tank on and off and was its control center. The new system was determined to be cheaper than repairs to the existing system. It should also be noted that none of the water towers in New York, which are approximately the same age as those in Chicago, have collapsed in recent years. in 2005, the city of Chicago and the Chicago Architectural Club, recognizing the potential to transform water tanks, ran a competition to find new purposes for them. Architect Rahman Polk won with a proposal for using the towers to expand free Wi-Fi. Considering this in conjunction with a water tower in Minneapolis which was utilized by an advertising agency as a canvas for videos projected onto the side of the water tower as artworks and bringing in potential income, it seems that there is potential to consider the use of water towers in innovative ways. In the meantime, as the fate of Chicago’s water towers stays uncertain, perhaps it is an idea to document as many as possible through whatever media – paint, the written word, photography, or video. YouTube videos can now easily be converted to mp3 files and back again for the widest distribution possible, and Facebook, Twitter, et cetera are other possible mediums to let people see documentation of Chicago’s water towers.

How the city of Chicago sees the situation
The city of Chicago has no official plans to reconsider the way it looks at the safety of water towers. Presently, legal responsibility lies with the owners of the buildings with water towers on their roofs. Several departments of the city also have overlapping jurisdictions over the inspection of water towers, including the Fire Department and the Department of Buildings. There are no forensic architects on the payroll of the city of Chicago who could provide specialized expertise on the exact reasons for the collapse of the water tower atop the Brewster building.

Further complication lies in the fact that because many of the towers are on top of historically noted buildings and are in themselves of interest to architectural historians, artists, and others, the towers are protected under city laws. The towers can not be demolished without permission from the city. There is a 90-day waiting period for permits for demolishing, allowing the city time to consider all preservation or re-purposing options.

Figuring out a long-term solution taking in all the factors could be a rewarding and significant challenge for Chicago engineers.

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Posted by on Oct 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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