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Explained: How Taiwan's tallest building 'Taipei 101' survived strongest earthquake in 25 years (WATCH)

Innovative engineering solutions employed in Taipei 101, such as the tuned mass damper and seismic design, ensure stability and safety amidst earthquake-prone regions like Taiwan.

Explained How Taiwan's tallest building 'Taipei 101' survived strongest earthquake in 25 years (WATCH) snt
First Published Apr 4, 2024, 2:44 PM IST

As Taiwan reels from its most powerful earthquake in a quarter-century, claiming the lives of at least nine individuals, causing building collapses, and prompting tsunami alerts, an eerie sight emerged on Wednesday amidst the turmoil. The island's iconic landmark, the $1.8 billion Taipei 101 skyscraper, stood tall, gently swaying like a supple reed in the wind.

Reaching a staggering height of 1,671 feet, Taipei 101 boasts an innovative engineering solution designed to mitigate the effects of seismic activity and strong winds. This ingenious mechanism reduces the building's overall sway by an impressive 40 percent during earthquakes and gusts, demonstrating the resilience and foresight incorporated into its construction.

Inside the building, suspended from the 92nd floor, resides a colossal 660 metric ton golden sphere known as the 'tuned mass damper'. This engineering marvel serves a crucial role: as the building sways in one direction, the steel sphere elegantly oscillates in the opposite direction, effectively counterbalancing the movement and preserving the overall stability of the structure.

Also read: Nurses scramble to protect newborns during Taiwan earthquake; heartwarming videos go viral (WATCH)

In the event of wind or seismic forces pushing the tower in one direction, the sphere promptly responds with an equal and opposite force in the opposite direction, effectively neutralizing the initial movement. This ingenious mechanism ensures that, despite the tower's swaying, it remains steadfast and avoids toppling.

Termed a 'passive damping system', this setup operates solely on the principles of gravity and the building's motion, requiring no external power or control. It's a testament to the elegant simplicity of engineering solutions.

Beneath the massive sphere, hydraulic pistons play a crucial role in absorbing and dissipating the energy generated by the building's movement, converting it into heat.

Dr. Agathoklis Giaralis, a professor specializing in structural dynamics at City, University of London, likened the sophisticated spherical device to a pendulum, highlighting its efficiency in maintaining the building's stability.

"This steel sphere rests on damping devices which are designed to dampen the relative sway movement between the structure and the sphere, acting in a similar way to the shock absorbers in car suspensions," he was quoted as saying by MailOnline.

In seismic regions such as Taiwan, it's not uncommon to witness buildings swaying, but this is a deliberate design feature in modern skyscrapers. They are engineered with flexibility to withstand earthquakes, ensuring the safety of inhabitants despite the unsettling sight of their movement.

"The materials they are made out of are elastic which means that they stretch or contract according to the changing loads acting on them," Professor Antony Darby at the University of Bath's Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering was quoted as saying by MailOnline.

"The amount of this deformation in an individual element (e.g. a beam or column) is only very small, but when you multiply this across all the elements in a tall building, this can lead to significant lateral [sideways] movements. These movements are not dangerous to the structure itself, but, if excessive can lead to discomfort to occupants," Darby added.

Construction of Taipei 101 commenced in 1999 and reached completion just in time for the New Year's Eve of 2004, marking its grand opening to the public. Its design was conceptualized to mirror the graceful ascent of a bamboo shoot, divided into eight sections resembling stacked square buckets.

Each floor was meticulously equipped with reinforcing steel 'outrigger trusses' spanning from the building's core to its outer columns, bolstering the tower's rigidity. Unlike many tall structures where tuned mass dampers are concealed, Taipei 101 proudly showcases its damper, becoming an intriguing stop for tourists on floors 88 through 92.

Also read: Explained: What is 'Ring of Fire', the phenomenon behind Taiwan's strongest earthquake in 25 years?

Even amidst the frequent earthquakes that afflict the island, intrepid visitors have captured footage of the damper's movement during seismic events. Taiwan's susceptibility to earthquakes is amplified by its geographical location, situated at the convergence of the Philippine Sea plate and the Eurasian plate, where intense seismic activity occurs due to the friction between tectonic plates.

Nevertheless, Taiwan's proactive earthquake preparedness stands as a model for the world. Stephen Gao, a distinguished seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, lauds Taiwan's readiness as 'among the most advanced globally.'

"The island has implemented strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety," he said.

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