Old buildings, new insight: We can learn from demolitions

Old buildings, new insight: We can learn from demolitions

The end is just the beginning.

Buildings that have been condemned usually don’t appear to be of much use. These dilapidated structures are usually just taking up space at best, and blighted eyesores at worst.

But for civil engineers, they’re golden wellsprings of potential solutions.

A team of civil engineers at the University of Nebraska recently mined nearly a terabyte of data from the demolition of two dormitories. They set up almost 4 miles of wires to collect information about the teardown that can help improve the buildings that go in their place.

The data shows how the structures respond to different types of stress, including the sort of battering that severe weather can dish out. Here in Southwest Florida, where half the year is spent under the daily threat of storms and the looming threat of hurricanes, it’s vital to have buildings that can withstand Mother Nature’s worst.

That’s not just for the sake of the building and its occupants. If the wind blows apart the building next door, it’s a problem for everyone in the neighborhood.

We’ve learned so much in the past few decades about how to build to withstand hurricanes, as each major storm imparts a new set of lessons. But we don’t have to wait for the next Irma, Wilma or Charley to better prepare ourselves against the elements. We have opportunities to study buildings every time one is cleared to make way for another — an occurrence almost as common in these times of economic recovery as summer thunderstorms.

At EnSite, we’re constantly looking for ways to make Southwest Florida more sustainable. Sometimes that means looking in places that won’t sustain much longer.

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