This mass damper is very cool — and probably saved a lot of lives

So, I’m really impressed by the engineering that went into all the buildings that didn’t collapse in Taiwan yesterday. I thought, 7.4, that’s big, a lot of people must have been killed. It turns out, no. A few people, yes, and of course that’s tragic, but … I’m just stunned at how non-terrible this earthquake was. I just checked and the death toll right now looks like about ten people. From a 7.4 earthquake near a major city. A much weaker earthquake in Iran in 2003 killed 34,000 people. A very similar earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 killed almost 90,000 people. I’m so amazed by reports I’m seeing about this earthquake. I don’t think St Louis would do NEARLY as well if the New Madrid fault let go.

Here’s something I didn’t know about that probably deserves a lot of credit for preventing fatalities in Taiwan:

This 660-ton pendulum protects Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper from earthquakes

  • A 660-ton steel sphere hangs between the 87th and 92nd floors of Taiwan’s tallest building.
  • The “tuned mass damper” can reduce the building’s movements by up to 40%.
  • With the ability to move about 5 feet from side to side, the pendulum protects against earthquakes and high winds.

And as a result, that building, 101 stories tall, is still perfectly fine. That’s remarkable.


Not only that, but the architects and engineers did something extra cool with this weight damper: They put in an observation area so you can see this giant pendulum.  What makes Taipei 101’s unique is that viewers can watch it in action from an indoor public observatory. What a great idea. It’s very attractive, really. It looks like a 660-ton work of art.

Various other buildings only partially collapsed, which is also pretty amazing. The pictures of buildings leaning way over, it looks like about a 45 degree angle to me, that’s astounding. Apparently there’s going to be an investigation about why they collapsed that far, but honestly, leaning way over and not completely collapsing is so much better than crashing to the streets.

Definitely great to see these reports, and I hope they get all the trapped people out safely, but wow, good job by all the engineers who safeguarded this city against serious earthquakes.

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