All projects are important – from the iconic super stars to the mundane quality of life improvements, we approach all of our work with the same dedication and reverence for the science and craft of engineering.  But every once in a while a project comes along that we just can’t wait to get to work on; those special opportunities that give even the most seasoned and experienced engineer a case of the goosebumps when they are awarded…and still do when we drive past them. Join us this week as we talk about these projects that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Today for Engineers Week 2021 we are featuring the soulful geotechnical stylings of an engineer that we just love to wax poetic about.  Oscar Merida has been celebrated and lauded numerous times throughout his career here at F&R.  This year he was awarded our most distinctive recognition – The Guiding Star Award, which is bestowed upon the most seasoned technical professionals who mentor junior staff, serve as trusted advisors to our clients, and above all, help create a built world that is supported on the most solid foundations.

We are proud to have someone clients consider a go-to guy handling projects involving precious cultural treasures in our national capital region.  When asked, Oscar is the last to toot his own horn – after all, it’s just dirt and rocks, right?  Some projects are clear cut from the start.  Others make the most experienced of engineers wonder, “well, now what do I do?”  These are the projects Oscar lives for.

A true “renaissance” engineer, his vast knowledge of capital region substrata and the intricacies of geotechnical engineering leads him to excel on every type of project imaginable; a fifteen story building with below grade parking next to a Metro Station, the replacement of a nearly two mile bridge or, in the case of this featured project – an iconic and high profile museum built within mere yards of the Washington Monument.

Oscar works closely with the Smithsonian Institution – he, and the rest of us at F&R consider it one of our highest privileges.  So when the new $500 million National Museum of African American History & Culture was slated to be constructed on the only remaining parcel left on the National Mall, on a spot so precariously close to a very tall and somewhat foundationally unsound monument to our national identity …well, you get the picture.  Pretty scary, and possibly a C.E.E.:  Career Ending Event.

While designs were being conceptualized, Oscar and his team were tasked with overcoming significant challenges regarding site development, including the very high groundwater levels taking up residence in our nation’s capital.  The new museum was designed to extend 47 feet below the groundwater table.   Analysis showed that dewatering associated with excavation would result in a conical depression extending below the Washington Monument, inducing further settlement of the structure which is constructed, unbelievably enough, on shallow foundations.

Working with Clark/Smoot/Russell JV – the general contractor managing the construction program – Oscar developed a Support of Excavation Scheme that acted as a permanent hydraulic cut off during excavation, thereby isolating the site from adjacent historic structures.  Once the significant challenge of possibly knocking over the Washington Monument was averted (no big deal!), Oscar designed a hybrid mat foundation and driven pile system to support the massive column loads of the proposed six story museum.

The final challenge presented to Oscar and his geotechnical team was to perform near-constant groundwater monitoring during and post-construction to ensure that not one drop could cause settlement issues.

We’re pretty biased, but this is just one of those projects – and Oscar is just one of those engineers – that we’ll love to talk about for decades to come at F&R.  Thank you Oscar, and thank you to all the engineers out there who strive to make our world a better, safer, more livable place.