There’s no stopping the force of Mother Nature. Whatever way you look at it, we can’t prevent hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods from trying to bring down the buildings we put up. However, architects and engineers have attempted to design ways to counter nature for decades. Their work is seen in the structures across the world which use specialised engineering features to protect them from destruction. Here we outline our top 10 toughest buildings.
Public Safety Building, Salt Lake City, Utah
For years, scientists have been predicting that Salt Lake City will become the victim of ‘the big one’: a potential 7+ magnitude earthquake that could devastate the city. This potential disaster was clearly at the forefront of the minds of architects that designed the Public Safety Building. Not only will this $125 million building structurally withstand a huge 7.5 magnitude earthquake, but it will remain entirely functional afterwards. The building’s foundations incorporate the combination of a stiff framework and large concrete blocks called dampers, which make the building strong enough to not disintegrate and flexible enough to ride out the vibrations of an earthquake. However, the building’s defence against earthquakes doesn’t stop at its structure. All of the interior partitions and equipment have been designed to endure the same forces so that none of the building’s contents would be damaged. In other words, this building is a haven in an earthquake.
The Doomsday Seed Vault
Ever wondered what would happen to all the crops and plants of the Earth in the event of a global disaster? On the small Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, you can find the answer. Here, an underground bunker called the Doomsday Seed Vault, stores all of the genetic codes for the essential crops that humanity would need if we ever faced a world-wide disaster. Completed and opened in 2008, its position on Spitsbergen has been specifically chosen for a number of reasons: its naturally cold conditions make it perfect for genetic storage, it’s 130metres above sea level which would prevent any water damage if the ice caps were to melt and the surrounding sandstone bedrock would keep the seeds cold without the refrigeration system for two centuries. The structure is built from steel and reinforced concrete, which is so strong that it can withstand nuclear strikes. The vault has already survived a 6.2 earthquake and has been designed for longevity which would see it outlive even the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Shanghai Tower, China
Due to its location in eastern China, Shanghai is home to extremely strong winds which make it prone to hurricanes and flooding. In 2012, Typhoon Haikui hit this part of the country, knocking out power and severely disrupting transport. Architects have made the Shanghai Tower extra resilient to any future natural disasters. The building measures 2,073 feet tall which should make it especially susceptible to damage caused by extreme wind levels. However, its unique triangular design which reaches a twist of 120° as it rises, reduces the impact of strong winds by 24 per cent and practically ensures that the building will remain upright. This is even more impressive when considering that the Shanghai Tower is built with 25 per cent less steel than skyscrapers of a similar size.
Torre Mayor, Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico is no stranger to earthquakes. They have been struck various times over the centuries with the most recent being the 2014 Guerrero Earthquake, which was a staggering 7.2 in magnitude. When the Torre Mayor was completed back in 2003, this colossal building was the tallest building in Latin America. The 738-feet office tower is also one of the most earthquake-proof structures on the planet, as it can withstand a quake of 8.5 on the Richter scale. Its design features 96 diamond-shaped dampers (shock-absorbents) which makes it incredibly resilient and withstand earthquakes four times more efficiently than any other conventionally damped building in the world. In 2003 in fact, the area was hit by a 7.6 earthquake and the building was so unaffected that the workers inside reportedly didn’t even feel the tremors.
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital is vulnerable to flooding due to its location being right beside the Boston Navy Yard. The hospital’s first floor is built 30 inches above the 500-year flood elevation mark to prevent against the building’s precarious position. However, the first floor of the building is also surrounded by several landscape and granite berms, which can deflect flooding. This would act as a pre-warning to the people inside to move people from the first floor in an emergency flood situation. Finally, the building’s design also means that it can intake water that would fill its entire first floor whilst the upper floors would be able to function properly.
Ancient Chinese buildings, China
Steel and concrete are the go-to materials for building structures, but there is one material that has helped maintain the structure of Ancient Chinese buildings – sticky rice. This food has been a part of the Chinese diet and culture for centuries, and has been the unlikely key to ensuring the longevity of their buildings. Although some were built thousands of years ago, they have managed to survive numerous earthquakes, storms and typhoons. This is a result of heated lime and sticky rice used as mortar, which has proven to dramatically increase the strength of the structures. It has been found in numerous famous temples, as well as in the Great Wall of China, where in some places the sticky rice creates such a tight bond between bricks that weeds still can’t grow through them.
CMG Headquarters, Beijing
Earthquakes are a part of China’s history and they have claimed many lives and caused huge devastation. Most recently, the 2014 Ludian Earthquake killed over 600 people. Beijing’s CCTV Building was completed in 2008 and can hold out against an 8.0 level earthquake. The building’s shape features two leaning towers bent at 90° at the top and bottom to form a continuous tube – this is referred to as a ‘three-dimensional cranked loop’. This design puts great pressure on the structure from gravity but is equalled out by the external diagrid which helps reduce the strain. This balance greatly increases its strength and keeps the building standing upright even when withstanding extreme exterior forces.
One World Trade, New York
The current design of the One World Trade Centre is extra-tough and prepared to withstand any pressure from potential terrorist attacks. The entire tower is built on top of a 56-metre-tall windowless concrete base which prevents any damage from truck bombs. Additionally, the tower’s entire façade consists of steel panels and blast-resistant glass, making the structure resistant to anything that would destroy ground-levels of the building. The incredibly durable concrete it’s made from also preserves the structure in the face of incredibly powerful winds. The One World Trade building is also the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth tallest building in the world.
1450 Brickell, Miami
Even though Miami is more commonly known as a place of picturesque scenes of sun and sand, it’s an area that’s also highly vulnerable to hurricanes. In fact, Miami has a 16 per cent chance of experiencing a hurricane in any given year. So, it’s necessary to always build hurricane-proof structures in the city. 1450 Brickell is an all-office skyscraper and the entire 35 story building features large-missile resistant glass, allowing it to withstand winds of up to 300mph. At the time of its competition, the building had the strongest curtainwall window façade of any commercial building in America.
Airforce Technical Applications Centre
The military facility Airforce Technical Applications Centre is based at Patrick Air Force, USA. It’s an air force surveillance centre and its mission is1 to detect nuclear detonations anywhere in the world. With such an important function, it was necessary for the building to be astoundingly strong. Built in 2014, it has a steel framework and a concrete exterior, as well as eight-inch thick walls. The building can easily withstand 140mph winds, 13.5-foot storm surges and a category 3 hurricane.
From tectonic shifts to high winds, some buildings are built to not just stand the test of time but to survive any disasters that time may bring with it. These structures are all works of impressive and dedicated engineering that are set to withstand some of the deadliest catastrophes that our planet has ever seen.
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This post was originally published in February 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness since.