One of my favorite projects has been the renovation of the historic Hobbs building in Aurora, Illinois. Seeing this ca. 1895 building come to life once again is really a sight to behold, with its original windows, millwork, flooring, and countless other materials being brought back into service and resulting in a one-of-a-kind destination in Aurora’s downtown.
During one of my site visits, I noticed one of the original elevator weights laying on the floor. The original shaft utilized a counter-weight system, with multiple weights like this offsetting the load. Although the weights were functionally obsolete, I couldn’t let it end up in the landfill. After the foreman said “there’s a pile of them in the basement that will be tossed”, I went down to the basement and dug through the dirty, greasy pile of elevator weights to see if I could find a good one. I had no clue what I was going to do with an old elevator weight. After all, the weights are not light in the slightest. After a few more site visits, I had an idea: Let’s make a display piece out of it!
I began by scrubbing and degreasing the weight, being careful not to lose any of the hand-painted writing. I made a base out of rotted flooring that also came from the building. The base itself was fairly easy; with some warm, soapy water and a little elbow grease, the flooring came right back. I did nothing to the flooring finish other than giving it a coat of sealer.
Then came the tricky part: Attaching the weight to the wood base. I tried to drill and tap it, but drilling through the cast iron was going to take more heavy-duty equipment than I had. This is when having a family member who’s also a machinist comes in handy! A quick drop-off to my father-in-law and he was able to drill and tap the weight. The finished product is now proudly on display in our office: A Christmas 2021 gift to our team, and a massive paper weight that no one will want to move!
I’m so thankful to be a part of the historic Hobbs building renovation project. All too often, historic buildings and their materials end up in the landfill, and that doesn’t sit well with me. This small task of repurposing the old elevator weight and flooring is a little microcosm of what we do at Studio GWA. Whether it’s digging deep into historic archives—or piles of discarded elevator weights—we approach every project with a love and appreciation for the building’s past AND its future potential!
“As designers and architects, we should strive to take our designs that live in our dreams and bring them into reality to share with others.”