How to disassemble a skyscraper (if you have the money)

The engineers who designed and built the very tallest, most skyscraping skyscrapers said very little about whether – let alone how – someone could safely disassemble such a colossus, should the need arise. About the only person who thought about it long and hard was the writer and illustrator David Macauley. Decades ago, Macauley published a children’s book called Unbuilding. It explains, in words and highly detailed drawings, how to carefully, lovingly take apart the Empire State Building.

In the race to build ever-taller buildings, a problem lurks. These towers are so costly, and the real estate market unpredictable enough, that some of them could become financial failures. To simply abandon something nearly a quarter of a mile tall (the Empire State Building), then let it rot and crumble, would be unneighbourly on a grand scale.

Indeed, how would one disassemble one of the tallest skyscrapers without risking huge damage to its neighbourhood? And how would this work financially, if the tower needed to be disassembled because the owners ran out of money?

David Macauley tells how, if you have the money, to unbuild in a way that is “practical and safe”….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

[NOTE: This partially answers the set of questions floated in a blog posting here recently. Unanswered is the question of how to safely disassemble if everyone has run out of money.]