• 23 April 2022
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In 1930, in the state capital city of Indianapolis, a building was purchased by Indiana Bell Telephone Company and was to be demolished to make room for a bigger headquarters on the location. It was known as the Indiana Bell building. There was a call center located in the building and its demolition would mean an instantaneous cut in the supply of service. Architect Kurt Vonnegut Sr. had something else in his mind. He stated an alternative, to relocate the structure, maintain landline connections and save a completely functional infrastructure. He argued that the building can be moved to make more space for expansion. This idea of a madman was seen with skepticism; no such project was seen before. Until its success, it was to be seen with scrutiny. Lucky for Mr. Vonnegurt, he convinced the right people that needed to be won over. They knew madness and genius are two faces of the same coin as stated by John Hendy.

Surprisingly, he won the support of John Eichler Co of Pittsburg contracted the project,  Bevington, Taggert, and Fowler were the hired engineers, and Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller were the head architects.

The weird question here is If I were to ask you if we are going to rotate your residence while you live inside. How would that make you feel? If any part of you is sane you will probably have a lot of questions. How are we supposed to do that? What about household utilities? Is there any risk involved? Much much more. The residents of that story had the same notion yet they stayed.

Between October 20th and November 14th of the same year, the eight-story building was transferred more than sixteen meters to the south. It was rotated about 90 degrees. This was not an easy job.

To accomplish this task, the 8-story building, about 100-135 feet high, with 11,000 tons of weight, was first elevated using hydraulic jacks. Then, the transfer was carried out with hydraulic rollers on a concrete surface on 75-ton spruce beams, precisely located for this purpose. While the building was resting on one roller, the workers positioned the next and repeated. In this manner, the building was moved at a speed of 40 centimeters every hour. Even the entrance to the building was connected by a walkway that allowed rotational movement and was kept accessible at all times.

According to first-hand experience, people did not even notice when the world was being shaken beneath their feet, literally. This was because the movement was almost negligible.

As for utility supplies, they were also maintained during the project. Even telephone service went without disturbance. The cherry on top was that all of this took only 34 days and people never faced any problems. This achievement remains to be one of the greatest feats of modern engineering. The structure was used till the late 1950s and was demolished in 1963 to host other company operators. Now, the location has the offices of another 22-story building that has some part of the original art-Deco style of the 8-story known as the Indiana bell building.

It was one of the first buildings in the world that was relocated and not demolished. Many structures over the years have also been relocated, similar to this project. Some of them include the Empire Theater in New York and the Belle Tout Lighthouse in Sussex, England. Also, the Shubert Theatre in Minneapolis was subject to change.

The transfer of buildings gives second chances to structures that otherwise would perish to the bricks for making space for better constructions.

Solid, constructed, and very heavy. Buildings are supposed to remain where they were first built. But from this historic project, we can confirm, that engineering knows no barriers.

For me, this project marks a new beginning in engineering. It marks that there is nothing off-limits in modern times. It affirms that we miscalculate the capability of man and that new thought should prosper. A mad idea is only half a success away from genius.

The great Architect Kurt Vonnegut Sr. proved a great German philosopher’s saying, “Genius lives only one story above the madness.”

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