From left to right: Attendees of the 2013 Acanthus Awards Ceremony at the Elks National Veterans Memorial. Center; The Acanthus Award presented to O’Brien Metal. On right; John O’Brien, founder and CEO of O’Brien Metal prepares to receive the award.
The Institute of Classical Architecture recently awarded O’Brien Metal Inc. an Acanthus Award in Allied Arts & Craftsmanship. The Acanthus Awards recognize excellence and distinction in classical and traditional architecture within the areas of architecture, interior design, allied arts and craftsmanship, preservation & restoration, landscape design, and un-built and student work.
The award was given for our role in helping to restore Northwestern University’s Charles Deering Library to its striking historic condition and add period pieces to uphold the collegiate Gothic style of architecture. The Acanthus Awards 2013 event took place at the majestic Elks National Veterans Memorial on the Chicago lakefront and was attended by a diverse group of notable architects, designers and business leaders.
“We at O’Brien Metal are honored to have received this award and be a part of the ICAA and this special event. This is just one example of the outstanding results we have been able to create in partnership with HBRA Architects,” said John O’Brien, founder of O’Brien Metal.
Blending old with new.
From left to right: The entrance to the historic Charles Deering Library at Northwestern University. Center; Glass vitrine case that holds library treasures. On right; The welcome area and turnstile entrance to the library.
Working closely with HBRA Architects and Northwestern University, the goal of the team was to preserve the intricate elements of the original architecture, most notably the bronze castings and authentic steel forgings inspired by legendary blacksmith Samuel Yellin’s contributions to the library in the 1930s. They say there is no greater form of flattery than imitation. At O’Brien Metal, we couldn’t agree more. Yellin crafted hand-forged lighting fixtures, grillage panels, ornate railings, doors, and intricate bronze castings to replicate the Gothic grandeur of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. But time can exact a toll on such metal masterpieces, leading the University to contact HBRA to help restore the Library to its original luster.
We used modern technology combined with authentic blacksmithing techniques to hammer, contour, darken and antique hand-forged vitrine stands that hold library treasures, such as the scribbled lyrics of Eleanor Rigby by John Lennon. Lamp posts were custom molded, cast and fabricated in bronze, topped off with a statuary bronze patina. Double-bar exterior bronze handrails were meticulously designed to contrast with the darkened lamp posts, then fabricated out of extruded bronze that was darkened and scuffed back to show the luster of the metal. Even the way finding signs were hand-forged and designed to mimic the Library’s dramatic interior from the 1930’s.
About O’Brien Metal, Inc.:
Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 2007. We are digital & artisanal metal fabricators and renovation experts who understand the relationship between design and function, shape and finish. Partnering with some of the country’s most notable architects, interior designers, and landscape architects, we have been crafting beautiful interiors and striking exteriors throughout Chicago and New York. We are experts at working with specialty metals such as bronze, brass, nickel, silver, gold leaf, copper, stainless steel, and aluminum. For more information, visit O’Brien Metal online at obrienmetal.com.
About HBRA Architects, Inc.:
HBRA Architects has maintained offices in Chicago since its founding in 1961, and designs buildings for a range of purposes and scales. They have worked with a prestigious client list, including The Art Institute of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo, Princeton University, The Disney Institute, and Yale University. The firm has been recognized for excellence in design by professional organizations across the country in all categories of building. In addition to seven National Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects, HBRA has received over 29 American Institute of Architects Chicago and other local Chapter Distinguished Building and Honor Awards. For more information, visit HBRA online at HBRA-arch.com.
When most of us think about metalworking, images of workers beating red-hot rods with ringing hammers, hell-hot forges, and molten liquid pouring from huge looming buckets come to mind. But gone are the days of the dark, dingy sweat shops with craftsmen in leather aprons shearing, welding and pounding away to wrestle works of art from metal through heat, talent and sheer brute force.
Technology is molding the future.
A new breed of metal fabricators is on the forefront of a digital revolution of technology and artistry that is evolving at a dizzying pace. Take, for instance, O’Brien Metal, Inc. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Their high tech and spacious fabrication and finishing facility bears little resemblance to the black caldrons of old movies and industrial films. Improved methods and processes allows for even the most intricate work to be done to the most exacting standards in a fashion that’s easily repeatable, using state-of-the-art digital mapping, computer-aided dimensional design, and virtual cast engineering. The more crucial the piece to an architect’s or designer’s vision, the less room for error.
At O’Brien Metal, most pieces begin in the virtual world of 3D CAD (computer aided design), where ideas come to life and options are explored without ever casting a single mold. Here, in-house architectural detailers work side by side with metal artisans, mold-making and casting professionals, and creative patina specialists and rely on the new tools of track pads and high-def monitors as much as their predecessors did on the hammer and anvil.
“We have integrated high tech into traditional metal fabrication – replacing a lot of cumbersome and time-consuming processes. Modern day tools and techniques allow us to work faster, smarter and more efficiently, while still crafting luxury furnishings that are timeless,” said John O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Metal. “We use technology to improve efficiency and enable a more fluid design-build approach – all the while remaining true to the architects’ vision. We’re now partnering with architects and designers early in the process to rapidly help evaluate feasibility and engineer solutions that will far exceed customary functionality, usability, and aesthetic goals.”
Everything old is new again.
Take for instance this highly ornate corner section for a new custom historic bar cart. Chicago’s HBRA Architects wanted to capture the timelessness of intricate bronze and silver details, with equal scrutiny on how these precious metals would embellish an integrated, highly polished black veneer. CAD modeling was used to produce 3D plastic resin printouts that serve as initial casting patterns. The patterns are then used to create silicon bronze castings inlaid with jewelry quality silver filigree.
When Dirk Denison Architects of Chicago and New York wanted a show-stealer for a client’s dining room, they envisioned an aluminum structure that would support a generously proportioned, sustainable resin top. Digital 3D CAD modeling was used to produce a 3D plastic resin printout that served as the initial pattern to create cast aluminum dining table bases. The need for absolute precision was influenced by the structural properties of the multi-radius table base design. Tight tolerances for the radii had to be kept in order for the base to properly support the LightBlockstm top.
This ornamental grillage and frieze design was specified for a landmark home designed by Eric J. Smith Architects in New York. Forged from the latest techniques and processes, these intricate ornamental silicon bronze panels look as if they were crafted more than a hundred years ago. Back then, it was a tedious process of hand work and sweat equity. Instead O’Brien Metal used detailed CAD drawings to replicate the pattern, and water jets to cut entire grillage & frieze panels – bypassing the need to make molds and then extensively chase and grind away any imperfections by hand. Any size grille can be made at the push of few computer keys, rather than starting anew for each new size. Then final panels were then hand etched to give them character and finished with a rich historic patina to create an aged bronze appearance.
Very few in the United States are capable of achieving the type of detail and quality O’Brien Metal can.
“They are masters at stripping back the ideas to help uncover the how behind the design inspiration. O’Brien Metal is changing the game on their competition and takes a highly intelligent and refreshing approach, unlike traditional cumbersome metal shops that are frequently difficult to work with and produce lackluster results. They are smart, talented, fun to work with and produce the high quality results our clients demand, “ said Aric Lasher, Architect Principle, Director of Design, HBRA Architects.
About O’Brien Metal, Inc.:
Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 2007 and are metal fabrication and renovation experts who understand the relationship between design and function, shape and finish. Together with some of the country’s most notable architects, designers, and landscape architects, they have been crafting beautiful interiors and striking exteriors throughout Chicago and New York. The company employs a diverse group of Architectural Detailers, Fabricators, Artists, Metal Technicians, Restorers, Finishing Experts, and Forging and Casting Professionals. They are experts at working with specialty metals such as bronze, brass, nickel, silver, gold leaf, copper, stainless steel, and aluminum. For more information, visit O’Brien Metal online at obrienmetal.com or contact email@example.com, 1-888-973-4442. O’Brien Metal is located at 2100 N. Southport Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
40 East Erie Street, Chicago, IL
The Driehaus Museum is housed in the Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson (1830-1914). The 25,000-square-foot mansion, built from 1879 to 1883, was one of the grandest residences of nineteenth century Chicago. Between 2003 and 2008, a meticulous restoration transformed the building into the Richard H. Driehaus Museum. Today, the Driehaus Museum preserves and interprets the home in order to promote the understanding and appreciation of historic architecture and design. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum and O’Brien Metal, Inc. collaborated to reproduce three new 7-ft-tall approximately 500-lb cast urns and pedestals as part of the Garden Entrance Restoration.
Due to the large size and intricate detail required to reproduce the original urns and bases, we were faced with complex challenges including a few highlighted below:
Wax on. To begin fabrication, our Creative Team used a rubber mixture to apply multiple coats over the original cast iron urn.
(L) Rubber application (R) Rubber mold over the original cast iron urn
Mother mold construction. Piece by piece, plaster was applied onto the dried rubber in order to create the mother mold. A mother mold is the shell that supports the flexible rubber mold helping it to retain its shape during the casting process. Clay (shown in grey) was used as dividers to split each plaster application into sections.
Shims and sections of mother mold construction
Plaster was applied, dried and repeated until every section of the urn had its own mold.
Mother mold construction by section
Breaking the mold pt. I. After each section of the plaster was applied and hardened, it was detached and for reconstruction later. The rubber mold was cut in order to remove the original cast iron urn during the pattern making process.
Taking off the rubber mold from the original urn
Mother mold reconstruction. The plaster pieces were put back together and prepared for casting the pattern in plaster.
Pattern making. After the rubber mold is placed inside the mother mold, plaster is poured inside to create the pattern.
Breaking the mold pt. II. Once the plaster pattern hardened, the rubber was peeled off to reveal a detailed surface.
Detail of plaster pattern surface after removing the rubber mold
Sand casting prep. Plaster pattern elements are ready for sand casting at the foundry.
After sand casting at the foundry, the aluminum alloy castings were brought back to our shop for extensive chasing, cleaning and welding by our Technology Team. The surface was detailed, primed and finally, faux-painted in a marble finish.
Driehaus Museum urns (L-R): pattern, cast aluminum, faux-painted in marble
Final product. The cast urns as seen in front of the Driehaus Museum in downtown Chicago.
A similar reproduction process for the urns was used in creating the pedestals.
Presently, the faux-painted urns and pedestals can be seen welcoming visitors through the museum’s East Erie garden entrance in downtown Chicago.
For more photos of the project, please visit www.pinterest.com/obrienmetal.
Read more on our efforts to expand our restoration services or the Northwestern University Charles Deering Library Restoration project.
HBRA Architects and O’Brien Metal, Inc. collaborated on a project for one of the country’s most prestigious universities. Northwestern University needed to restore the famous Charles Deering Library’s West Entrance to its striking historic condition and add period pieces that uphold the collegiate Gothic style architecture. The goal was to create bronze castings and authentic steel forgings inspired by legendary blacksmith Samuel Yellin’s notable work in the 1930’s.
The Charles Deering Library in Evanston, IL
Custom-made vitrine cases inside the Charles Deering Library
Historic lamp posts at the entrance of the Charles Deering Library
Bronze double bar handrails at the entrance of the library
Some of the hand-forged signs for the Way Finding System
All components of the project were custom fabricated—either in bronze or steel—designed especially to match the historic metalwork of Samuel Yellin. It was important to maintain the integrity, tradition and history of the Deering Library’s Gothic architecture. O’Brien Metal, Inc. worked closely with Northwestern University, HBRA Architects and WB Olson, Inc. for six consecutive months to complete the restoration project in time for the reopening of the West Entrance Lobby to the Main Library in October 2012. The finished work can be seen at 1937 Sheridan Road at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
As seen in CS Interiors: Winter Issue (January 2013). To view the digital copy, click here. This ad is on pg. 83. A company profile on O’Brien Metal, Inc. is on pg. 154.
About Charles Deering Library
The Charles Deering Library was built in emulation of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge that opened in January 1933 and designed by James Gamble Rogers. Set on higher ground overlooking Deering Meadow, it is recognized today as the university’s most prominent landmark. (Northwestern Library History) The Library’s gates, lighting fixtures, grilles, railings, doors, and ironworks were by the legendary Samuel Yellin who was America’s master iron craftsman of the twentieth century. Yellin’s work often emphasized traditional styles but he still molded those styles to the needs of the clients and to his own ideas regarding craft. (NYC Architecture)
O’Brien Metal, Inc. continues to expand and enhance its Creative capabilities and now provides Restoration services for historical objects both large and small. Within the scope of our capabilities are refinishing of interior and exterior bronze, brass, silver, nickel, and gold leaf gildings along with repairs to damaged castings and recreation of missing elements.
We will continue to invest in people, new technologies, and enhance our facilities to allow for professional restoration and specialty finishing services.
Exterior bronze gate during restoration
Exterior bronze gate after restoration
Restoration is defined as “bringing back to a former position or condition.” In restoring a historic metal object or architectural element, the most important requirement is the quality and aesthetics of the final product. We work closely with architects and designers to determine the most desirable period of an object’s life, and then design a treatment necessary to return the object’s appearance to a specific period of significance.
Original British kiosk for restoration at our shop
O’Brien Metal, Inc. offers a variety of services for the restoration and care of metal objects, all based upon our experience, expertise, and knowledge of materials and treatment techniques. The incorporation of traditional metal working methods and contemporary standards for the care and restoration of materials is our upmost goal.
Our services include:
Leading the Creative team are Ryan Greene and Dawid Czerniejewski, both highly experienced metal artisans and technicians.
O’Brien Metal, Inc. partners with some of the finest conservation experts in the United States. We are also a proud member of the following organizations: American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Institute of Conservators (AIC), American Preservation Trades (APT) and Society of Architectural Historians (SAH).
For a project at one of Chicago’s most prestigious buildings, Eric J. Smith Architect of New York City needed to replicate highly ornate cast iron balcony railings—a defining feature of the century-old residence’s unique aesthetic. Originally designed by Benjamin Marshall in 1911, the historic property is a crown jewel of the affluent Gold Coast neighborhood. Its existing railings accentuate the surrounding terra cotta surfaces and underline picturesque vistas of Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park. The new railings had to match every meticulous detail of their counterparts. To achieve this goal, Eric J. Smith partnered with O’Brien Metal and coordinated a unique design solution.
“The railings are a wonderful addition to the property – a perfect compliment to the building’s historic features. Eric & John worked well together throughout the process, bringing life to the most intricate details in the design. The results are great and it’s a pleasure to work with them.” - Tim Schwertfeger, Owner
"A true collaboration in every way. O’Brien Metal beautifully captured all of our goals for this portion of the project." - Eric J. Smith, AIA
Peter Gluck and Partners Architects, along with their construction arm, ARCS Construction Services, partnered with O’Brien Metal to create an stainless steel railing solution for the exterior of a lakeside Chicago residence. The goal was a railing which would blend with the residence’s defining beauty—both its unique architectural design and the neighboring Lake Michigan shoreline.
Photo: LJ Porter/ Courtesy Peter Gluck and Partners
The Cascade House, designed by New York architecture firm Peter Gluck and Partners, cuts into the Lake Michigan bluff. The property is orientated for panoramic views of the Great Lake. Harmonizing the new railing with both the landscape and the house’s unique design required strong, consistent coordination between the on-site design team (ARCS, led by Jim True) and O’Brien Metal.
“John and his team exceeded our expectations despite the demanding level of detail. The consistent enthusiasm, craftsmanship, and technical knowledge they brought to the table made for a productive working relationship. I look forward to working with John again.”
— Jim True, Architect and Construction Manager, Peter Gluck and Partners/ARCS Construction Services