How do you move a fragile 15-ton painting?

The fresco named Structure on the other side of this masonry wall depicts the original museum being built. Our team was determined to protect their predecessors’ legacy.

With the recent opening of our Harvard Art Museums renovation and expansion project in Cambridge, Mass., it’s worth recapping one of the most significant activities of this landmark project. That was moving and lifting a 76-year-old, 13- by 12-foot irreplaceable painting that’s integral to fragile plaster affixed to a 16-inch-thick masonry wall. Rarely do lifts personally matter so much to all involved, as this painting – called a fresco – depicts the builders of the original art museum in action in the 1920s. The fresco had to be moved for the project to proceed, and our team was determined to protect their predecessors’ legacy.

Skanska’s sophisticated approach involved encapsulating the fresco and its supporting wall in a massive steel frame, then using a diamond-bladed cable saw to cut the 15-ton section free of the surrounding structure, and finally using a crane – with its boom towering 140 feet in the air – to land the fresco in its final location. At every step, the loading on the fresco needed to be constant so the artwork wouldn’t crack. Thanks to our team’s unrelenting precision, it didn’t. Click here to watch our team explain their accomplishment.

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