A topping out ceremony is held when the last beam is placed on a new bridge or building. Iron workers attach an evergreen tree and a flag, paint the final beam, autograph it, and then hoist it into place and secure it. The origins of the tradition are variously thought to go back to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, or Native Americans. The addition of the evergreen tree dates back 1,300 years and is claimed by both Scandinavian and German construction workers. It is thought to originally represent a thank-you to the tree spirits for contributing the construction materials. Wherever it started, it is a solid tradition in American steel construction.
If you ever get the chance, you should definitely go at least once in your life. I attended my first Topping Out Ceremony, along with two of my peers, last month in Everett. Being as it was a construction site with heavy steel in the air, appropriate party gear included a safety vest, safety shoes, and hard hat.
Turns out, it wasn’t really much of a party or ceremony really, just a cool tradition. The contractor, Howard S. Wright, along with the building owner, Snohomish County Public Utility District, and a few other design and construction team members gathered and signed the beam, took a few pictures, then watched as the ironworkers attached an evergreen tree and a flag. Looking at the iron workers, who were 50 feet up on an unfinished building waiting to bolt the beam into place, it occurred to me that fearlessness is probably key to being a successful iron worker.
As the beam was lifted into place, the sun was setting and it felt like we were part of something important. Maybe that will bode well for the future occupants and users of this new Operations and Data Center. I know that I will always look at this building with a sense of pride and ownership having been the lead structural engineer but also since my signature is there on the top beam, in perpetuity.