A Little Happier: A Problem of Advanced Technology Gets a Funny, Old-Fashioned Solution

A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago seeing some old friends, and we went on a Chicago architectural boat tour, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

During the tour, as we floated past, I was particularly intrigued by our guide’s discussion of the skyscraper that stands at 150 North Riverside.

This 54-story high-rise building is very striking. It has an uncannily narrow base for its size—our guide compared its appearance to a pencil standing on its point or a ballerina balancing on her toes—and this shape makes it unsettling to look at. It doesn’t seem possible that such a giant building could rest safely on such a narrow base.

Our guide explained that its unusual design means that the skyscraper would have a problem with the challenge of wind loads pushing on it. So, to reduce the sway, the upper floors of the building have giant tanks holding 160,000 gallons of water. Apparently when the wind pushes the building in one direction, the water sloshes around in the opposite direction, which reduces the movement.

I laughed when I heard this story—it struck me as such a primitive solution for such a sophisticated problem.

It reminded me: In the end, as advanced as we get, the forces of nature remain at work. I find that both a comforting and sobering thought. 




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