JOURNAL

Climbing the University of Arizona Tower Crane

By: Chris Kaiser

Driven by my interest in understanding processes and tools used to construct the buildings we design, I reached out to our contractor to arrange a climb up the tower crane at the Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building in Phoenix, to experience it first-hand. After delays from a bee infestation, massive dust storms, torrential downpours, and the usual meetings on site, I was eager to finally be able to climb the 220-foot tall crane. 

(Left) The tower crane from afar. (Right) The view from the bottom.

(Left) The tower crane from afar. (Right) The view from the bottom.

On this trip, I was accompanied by Casey Helburg from DPRSundt (below, in photo of the catwalk). The climb consisted of a series of switchback ladders, which took about 20 minutes to complete including some breaks. Once we approached the top at the pivot, Casey contacted the crane operator to let him know that we were going to be climbing through what is called “the hatch.” It was imperative the crane didn’t rotate as we climbed through this part because there are a number of electrical cables and structural components we had to climb through and over in order to reach the catwalk safely—that was the tricky part.

A series of switchback ladders culminated in the hatch.

A long series of switchback ladders led to the hatch (right).

Once through, we radioed the crane operator once again to let him know it was safe for him to rotate and make another pick. We witnessed (and felt) the crane pick up a piece of stair one and hoist it into place. As the crane operator adjusted the crane by rotating and stopping, you could feel the subtle sway of the crane, which can deflect up to about 6 feet at the top. After witnessing the pick and enjoying the view for about 10 minutes, we safely climbed back through the hatch and down to solid ground.

(Left) Out on the catwalk. (Right) The view from the top.

(Left) Out on the catwalk with Casey. (Right) The view from the top.

It was particularly interesting to see and experience the building from a vantage point that was temporal, acknowledging the fact that the crane will soon be taken down and the building will be experienced from the levels within building and the street level.

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