Lyric Virtuoso Continues His Melody

Walter P Moore’s Diagnostics Team utilizes 3D laser imaging technology to relocate iconic statue

Built in 1983, Lyric Virtuoso has stood as an emblematic Downtown Houston figure for decades. However, with the construction of a new above-grade garage located next to the Lyric Centre, the statue needed to be moved. The 36-foot cellist is permanently poised in mid-song on the eastern corner of Smith and Prairie streets adjacent to the Theater District.

“It was a complex project because there were so many unknown variables such as weight, strength, and construction of the statue,” explains Ray Drexler, Diagnostics Senior Project Manager for Walter P Moore. “There were a lot of intricate calculations and testing done in the initial stages to discover how, and if, we could in fact relocate the statue.”

The Great Unknown

Walter P Moore’s structural team was working on a building modification next door when Hines, the building owner, indicated that they wanted to move the art piece. In the process of changing their plaza to allow for a new half-block garage, the landscape architect determined that it would be best to move the statue in order for it to blend in well with the new design — approximately 20 feet northwest of its current location.

The diagnostics team was brought in to help assess the unknowns of the statue and determine the best route for relocation. “As we began to think through who would be the best team managers for this project, I brought in Hakim Bouadi, who was the Design Manager at the time, and Kasra Ghahremani who had recently worked on the ‘Arms of Christ’ relocation,” adds Drexler.

Although armed with decades of experience, the team faced initial challenges not knowing what materials the statue was made of, undetermined weight and volume, and how the statue was attached. “I had the idea that if I used a 3D laser scanner that I could then calculate the weight,” explains Ghahremani. “But we still had the issue of not knowing how the statue was built.” Going the extra mile, the team began researching to find the original artist.

Artist Insights

After close examination of the statue they found a signature, “Adickes.” Ghahremani researched and found out the artist was none other than David Adickes — also responsible for Mount Rush Hour. Utilizing social media, Ghahremani was able to find the artist’s Facebook page which listed a phone number. “After I had made several phone calls and not heard back, I discovered that his studio was near the edge of Downtown Houston and decided to go there in person,” he says. Laughing, Ghahremani adds that 90% of Houstonians have likely unknowingly seen his workshop marked by a large Charlie Chaplin statue.

After locating the artist and discussing the statue with him, Ghahremani was then invited by Adickes to his home and given a box of around 300 pictures from the original construction. “The pictures were immensely helpful because it was the only way to truly find out how the artwork was built,” says Ghahremani.

Based on photos and his interview with the artist, Ghahremani discovered that the statue included a steel skeleton and that it was actually made of three separate pieces that were assembled on site — meaning they could not take it apart to relocate it without damaging the statue. In addition, they were able to conclude that the base plate was welded to a steel beam embedded in the base of the statue. Fortified by turning some of their unknowns into knowns, the team reconvened to plan their strategy.

Original construction of Lyric Virtuoso

Laser Scanning Magic

3D Laser Scanning — a specialized surveying tool — is a non-contact, non-destructive technology that digitally captures the shape of physical objects using a line of laser light. 3D laser scanners create “point clouds” of data from the surface of an object. 3D laser scanning has the ability to capture a physical object’s exact size and shape subsequently creating a digital 3-dimensional representation. “Think of it as a 3D photograph. A digital photo stores a color, and an x and y coordinate. A laser scanner point cloud stores x, y, and z coordinates as well as color,” explains Drexler. Gilbane Building Company, a partnering team on the project, provided the information from the 3D imaging to the team at Ghahremani’s request.

Now in possession of the 3D version of the statue, Ghahremani was able to calculate the volume and surface of the statue as well as the approximate weight and center of gravity. He adds, “This information became the basis of our design and determining if the new location was strong enough to support it.”

Delicate Balance

Essentially, the statue used to be sitting on “beam 1” and the owner wanted to move it over to “beam 2.” Because there were no record drawings of the garage, the team had to perform invasive and non-destructive testing — using ground reinforcement radar (GPR) — to find out where the steel reinforcement was in the new beam. “We had them cut away some of the concrete so we could expose the steel and measure the size and depth of the steel. We also took a few concrete cores for strength,” explains Drexler. “So then we knew the strength of the concrete, spacing of the reinforcing, age, and were able to run numbers which determined that if the statue was more than 30 tons it required strengthening and if it was less than 30 tons, it did not.”

The question emerged, “How are we going to move the structure?” “Once we knew how it was put together, we had to figure out where we could pick it up from. We had no idea how the structure was anchored,” explains Hakim Bouadi, Diagnostics Senior Project Manager at Walter P Moore. “There were delicate considerations involved because we had to keep it balanced and avoid any damage.” This information ultimately led to the design of a lifting rig system that basically secured to the foundation block by way of cables. “We determined the best approach was to utilize and reinforce the beams embedded in the base in our rigging system so that the statue with its base could be lifted altogether,” explains Ghahremani. “Our rigging system was composed of two sets of beams. Three steel beams running perpendicular and welded to the existing embedded beams that were then connected to two larger lifting beams, and then one on each end of the base.” By using this approach and providing chain falls at the lifting points, the art piece could be lifted and kept roughly level without causing any damage.

“We determined a weight of 25 tons and explained that if you get to max lifting load on the hydraulic jacks, stop! We obviously did not want to rip the statue apart or damage the garage,” adds Drexler. The riggers reached 25 tons, went a little bit above it, and still the statue did not move. Based on this, it was determined that the statue was likely anchored into the structure below.

Unique Opportunity

The next step was to use a rope saw, which has a tensioning pulley system that pulls around the object utilizing tension on both ends and a motor that continually moves it. Sure enough, the team discovered nine vertical rebars that were holding down the concrete mat. “It finds the weakest plane of concrete and cuts. If you have the right amount of tension, it cuts a reasonably straight line,” says Drexler. “But if you don’t, it can cut a wavy line, which was the case in our scenario.” The shape of the saw cut ended up mimicking the outside of the bottom of a bowl. “So now we had the statue sitting in a crater and if we go to sit it somewhere else, it’s going to be like a Weeble and wobble,” Drexler laughs.

With a goal in mind to move the statue all the while keeping it roughly level, ingenuity became a factor because the team was now dealing with a bowl-shaped bottom. “We evaluated the numbers and based on that we were able to provide them with the new center of gravity and how to balance the statue,” explains Bouadi. “However, we pointed out that it was a delicate balance and the statue would only be secure as long as winds were below 15-20 mph.” Ultimately, the statue was cut, secured, and moved in a three-day timeframe. Once the statue was moved to its new location, shims were put in place to help support it while the space between the belly and base was filled in with concrete. As an additional measure, the Walter P Moore team designed a new anchoring system that matched the original.

Courtesy Kaplan Public Relations

The unique opportunity to partner in the relocating of Lyric Virtuoso allowed Walter P Moore to engage in the improvement and revitalization of downtown Houston by safely moving one of Downtown’s most beloved landmarks. In addition, it gave the team an occasion to show their dedication to research, reverence to art, and innovative design.

Courtesy Kaplan Public Relations