Tuesday, July 1, 2008
For whom the bell tolls
[Image: Diagram of Taipei 101's earthquake ball via the Long Now Foundation].
Earlier this week, the Long Now Foundation looked at earthquake dampers inside skyscrapers, focusing specifically on Taipei 101 – a building whose unanticipated seismic side-effects (the building's construction might have reopened an ancient tectonic fault) are quite close to my heart.
As it happens, Taipei 101 includes a 728-ton sphere locked in a net of thick steel cables hung way up toward the top of the building. This secret, Piranesian moment of inner geometry effectively acts as a pendulum or counterweight – a damper – for the motions of earthquakes.
[Image: The 728-ton damper in Taipei 101, photographed by ~Wei~].
As earthquake waves pass up through the structure, the ball remains all but stationary; its inertia helps to counteract the movements of the building around it, thus "dampening" the earthquake.
It is a mobile center, loose amidst the grid that contains it.
[Image: Animated GIF via Wikipedia].
However, there's something about discovering a gigantic pendulum inside a skyscraper that makes my imagination reel. It's as if the whole structure is a grandfather clock, or some kind of avant-garde metronome for a musical form that hasn't been invented yet. As if, down there in the bedrock, or perhaps a few miles out at sea inside a submarine, every few seconds you hear the tolling of a massive church bell – but it's not a bell, it's the 728-ton spherical damper inside Taipei 101 knocking loose against its structure.
Or it's like an alternate plot for Ghostbusters: instead of finding out that Sigourney Weaver's New York high-rise is literally an antenna for the supernatural, they realize that it's some strange form of architectural clock, with a massive pendulum inside – a great damper – its cables hidden behind closet walls and elevator shafts covered in dust; but, at three minutes to midnight on the final Halloween of the millennium, a deep and terrifying bell inside the building starts to toll.
The city goes dark. The tolling gets louder. In all the region's cemeteries, the soil starts to quake.