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Wyly Theatre One Step Closer to Completion

Concrete supports on the Wyly

By Jerome Weeks

Dallas, TX – Those are the last bolts being hammered out of a giant support column at the Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. Six of the steel columns were removed Wednesday, leaving much of the 10-story building seeming to float in the air.

Jeff Wagner is senior project manager for McCarthy Building Companies, the general contractor for the Wyly. The theater is so unusual, he says, he hated it at first.

I didn't think it was attractive. And the more I looked at it, the more I worked on it, the more I came to like it. Now I love it. It's a building you may not appreciate when you first look at it. Your first response is going to be, what is that?

And your second response, he says, will be how does it even stand up?'

Designed by architects Rem Koolhass and Joshua Prince-Ramus, the Wyly Theatre will look like a tall aluminum box. One side of that box is a concrete wall, containing the elevators and other support systems. The other three sides are held up only by thin, tilted concrete beams. These leave the bottom two stories, where the performance hall is, looking like they're mostly air and glass. Much of the building is cantilevered out 50 feet over its foundation, seemingly unsupported.

But once the concrete beams were poured and set, the six steel support columns were no longer needed. Chris Arpaia is superintendent for McCarthy Building. The look of the Wyly and its entire construction process are unlike anything he's worked on, he says. And they're not likely to be duplicated.

It's once-in-a-lifetime, nobody's going to do this. It's a very expensive way to build. But of course, you end up with a unique structure, which is what they were aiming for.

To remove those temporary supports, the Wyly was lifted a quarter inch. It's a procedure familiar to anyone whose home has needed serious foundation repair. But here, the theater was raised by a hydraulic jack capable of lifting 400 tons Once a corner was jacked up, the bolts on the bottom of the support column were undone, the steel shims were slid away.

It was an anticipated moment, a moment when the building's unconventional design would be put to the test. Wagner and Arpaia predicted that all would go smoothly.

But then the bolts on the top of the steel column were hammered out or cut away with torches. A construction crane began lifting the column free. And there it goes. 60 foot of steel hanging in the air.

After five more hours, and five more columns pulled away, it was the Wyly itself that was hanging free in the air.