Keeping skyscrapers from collapsing

Problem solving when failure is not an option

It’s pretty amazing that we hardly ever hear about skyscrapers collapsing. Keeping a skyscraper upright is insanely complex. To complicate matters there is no room for failure: most often built in highly dense populated areas a collapse would be a major disaster. Yet, they’re springing up like wildflowers. How do they keep from failing? Can we tap into and leverage those ideas ourselves?

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Construction near Alexanderplatz in Berlin; shot from the tv tower by Aapo Haapanen (https://flic.kr/p/jW5sQ)

A world of specialists

Before the 20th century buildings were successfully put up by a Master Builder: a single person who oversaw the entire process of design, engineering and construction from beginning to end. When problems would pop up their heads they would use their mastery and understanding of every little detail to come up with a solution to counteract it, resulting in a buildings that mostly stayed upright. However, as every stage of the construction process kept advancing, the complexities eventually outgrew the abilities of the human individual. Master Builders started to disappear to the point of having practically vanished by the middle of twentieth century.

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The Master Builders are responsible for some of the most beautiful and iconic buildings. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tall_buildings_1896.jpg
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Despite the loss of the Master Builder we didn’t stop building ever more complicated buildings. Source: https://flic.kr/p/7DuGD1

Thinking as one

While the construction industry lost their Master Builder, they haven’t stopped planning. Incredibly detailed construction plans describe how the building is to be put up, with each trade having their own sections. What starts as an architects sketch is expanded and transformed into plans that depicts everything from how the structural foundation is built to how carpet will be laid on the 52nd floor.

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Construction workers discussing the construction plan. Source https://flic.kr/p/f1dQZ5

For the rest of us

When I first learned about what it takes to keep a skyscraper from collapsing I was working together with Baz Deas on an app called Rallypoint. With it, at that point not more than a couple of poorly thought out prototypes, we tried to solve — what turns out to be — a very similar problem: how do we keep small issues encountered in the making of apps from turning into way harder to fix problems. How can we make decisions as a team rather than as individuals?

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Baz Deas and I working on a problem in Rallypoint

I really hope you enjoyed reading this article, I put quite a bit of work into it! You can support me by recommending it to others using the button below. Thanks!

Design focused app developer, working with @BazDeas on Rallypoint: https://getrallypoint.com . Can be hired to build simple & elegant UI / back-ends for you too

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