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Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

March 31, 2010 at 5:04 PM

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Earthquake safety on a pedestal

Posted by Gabriel Campanario


March 30, 12:26 p.m. [Click sketch to view larger]

The New York Times ran a guest editorial column last Saturday with the catchy title Shake, rattle, Seattle. The author, a structural engineer named Peter Yanev, writes that many of the Pacific Northwest iconic tall buildings would probably collapse in the event of a mega-quake like the recent one in Chile.

That made me think of the 40-story Rainier Tower, built in 1977. It is Seattle's 11th tallest skyscraper at 514 feet. Based purely on appearance, you can't help but wonder how stable the wine-glass shaped skyscraper may be. Tina Pierce, who works on the 37th floor, told me you can feel the building sway when it's really windy.

But it's supposed to be that way with skyscrapers with a "steel moment frame system," explained Peter Somers, a structural engineer with Magnusson Klemencic, a firm on the 32nd floor. "It functions like a normal building, there just aren't floors on those lower levels," he said. In other words, even if the space around the wine-glass handle had floors, they wouldn't add to the building's strength. "Our offices are located here, that speaks of our confidence in it," he said.

Editorials, steel frames and engineering aside, this is just a reminder for me to sit down with my family and figure out an emergency plan. We've talked about it many times but never seem to get to it. You never think that mega-quake is going to happen, until it does.

Some links for other skyscraper geeks like me
Unico properties page about the Rainier Tower
Rainier Tower Wikipedia entry
Rainier Tower at
What are steel moment frames?

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