Disaster-Proof: Taipei 101

Discover the ingenious technology inside the world's most quake-resistant skyscraper
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Oct 13, 2014 | By Alex Zimmer

an Francisco is a city whose architecture is steeped as much in Victorian influence as it is in earthquake-readiness. But the readiness of our city's tallest building — the Transamerica Pyramid, pales in comparison to the Taipei 101, formerly the tallest skyscraper in the world. Taipei, much like San Francisco, also finds itself supporting a windy climate with occasional earthquakes (31 this year to be exact), necessitating special measures to insulate its buildings against certain geological events.

In the late 90s, Taipei 101's structural engineer, Thorton Tomasetti, set out to construct the world’s tallest building in the one of the world’s most uninviting cities for skyscrapers. His engineering solution for this unstable environment? An enormous, 700 ton ball, constructed out of steel, that hangs like a uvula between the 87th and 92nd floors of the building.

When daily winds whip around the building, or when earthquakes shake things up in Taipei, the steel ball acts as a massive counter balance, ensuring that the individual pieces of Taipei 101 (which is cleverly stacked like a wedding cake), will not take the plunge. The weight enables the tower to sway up to five feet in any direction, which has allowed it to survive several powerful 'quakes. Moreover, it’s not the only steel-damper in Taipei 101; there are two much smaller balls installed in the top floors of the building, which minimize sway in the more dangerous, uppermost sections of the tower. Taipei 101 was opened in 2004, has already survived over one hundred earthquakes, and continues to be the pride of this ultra-modern Asian metropolis.

If ever find yourself in Taipei, the engineers of the famous skyscraper not only made sure the building was earthquake and wind-proof, but they made sure to design a way you could see their inspiring work. Pay a visit to the 92nd floor, where you'll find an observation deck of the 728-ton ball, and if you're (un)lucky, you might even get to see it in action.

Images ©: 1, 6. TravelHD; 2-3, 5. Homesthetics; 4Bombay Outdoors.