7 Deadly Engineering Disasters of the Industrial Age

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[ By Steph in 7 Wonders Series & Travel. ]

Engineering Fails Industrial Era

Messing around with money-saving shortcuts or failing to understand basic physics can have deadly consequences when it comes to engineering structures like suspension bridges, dams, towers and even storage tanks. These 7 historic disasters killed over a thousand people between 1845 and 1940 thanks to shoddy craftsmanship or the unanticipated strain of heavy snow, large crowds and strong winds.

The Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge Disaster, 1845

Modern Engineering Fail Yarmouth Bridge

79 people, many of them young children, were killed on May 2nd 1845 when the Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge collapsed under the weight of the crowd that had gathered to watch the stunts of one Nelson the Clown. The widely-advertised event drew people from all over England to watch the performer swim in a barrel drawn by four geese from Haven Bridge to the Suspension Bridge. Three to four hundred people rushed onto the suspension bridge to get a look at him as he passed underneath, and one of the rods gave way, spilling them all into the water. The youngest victims were just two years old.

Pemberton Mill Collapse, 1860

Modern Engineering Failure Pemberton Mill

Considered one of the worst industrial accidents in American history, the sudden collapse of the Pemberton Mill in Massachusetts on January 10th, 1860 killed 145 workers and injured another 166. The five-story textile factory buckled and then collapsed at 5pm on a Tuesday, while everyone was still at work. Attempts to illuminate the wreckage with fire in order to rescue the injured added even more chaos to the situation in the form of rapidly spreading fire. An inquiry found that the calamity could have easily been avoided; the owners had loaded far too much heavy machinery on the upper floors of the factory in order to boost production, and the building wasn’t up to standards in the first place, with cheap and brittle iron pillars and improperly mortared bricks.

St. Mark’s Campanile Crumbles, 1902

Engineering Fail St Mark Campanile

When Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Campanile was struck by lightning, burned and damaged in earthquakes repeatedly over 500 years, it probably would have been best to scrap the whole thing and start over. Instead, they left the base intact and simply rebuilt the damaged parts, occasionally adding more height to the tower that was originally constructed sometime between 1148 and 1157. That wasn’t the greatest idea, given that the tower’s foundation consists of no more than some oak beams on a bed of clay. So it’s no big surprise that the tower finally collapsed on July 14th, 1902. A large crack formed in the morning, rising diagonally across the main corner buttress. Falling stones within the bell chamber prevented any fatalities by warning bystanders that something was amiss. A new tower, with a much sturdier iron foundation, was built in the lost tower’s image.

The Boston Molasses Disaster, 1919

Modern Engineering Fail Boston Molasses Disaster

Drowning in molasses isn’t exactly a pleasant way to die. On January 15th, 1919, a large tank of the sticky stuff burst in the North End neighborhood of Boston, sending a wave rushing through the streets at about 35 miles per hour. The Boston Molasses Disaster killed 21 and injured 50 (along with many animals, including horses), and for many decades afterward, residents claimed they could still smell the molasses on hot days. At the time, molasses was the standard sweetener, and was often fermented to produce alcoholic beverages. The tank was said to be poorly constructed, and witnesses claimed that when it burst, rivets shooting out of it produced a sound like a machine gun.

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3D-Printable Connectors Make DIY Furniture Assembly Easy

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[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

diy joinery design closeup

Leveraging the best features of available 3D printers and the materials they can print, this kit-of-parts approach opens up an amazing array of possibilities for do-it-yourself furniture construction.

diy table surface supports

Studio Minale-Maeda presented their Keystones system at Milan, using elegantly simple table and coat rack designs to show off the potential of this connective system.

diy coat rack connected

Their core idea is that the larger wooden pieces can be flat-packed more easily for shipping. Customers can then complete the assembly process using included or locally-printed pieces. Still, the potential of this approach goes well beyond that system as such.

diy furniture connector plastic

diy black 3d printed

There is really no reason to limit the process to a ship-and-print combination. With a similar but open-source variant, would-be buyers could take off-the-shelf dimensional lumber and construct their own furniture effectively from scratch. Perhaps unintentionally, the simple and standardized shapes of the components shown here already suggest such potential implicitly – at most a few cuts would be needed for the table, if even that.

diy angle view table

diy side view table

diy standing table vertical

diy joint intersection wood

Regardless, the solution-as-presented is quite crafty, whatever its potential future might be – it leverages the strengths of 3D-printed plastic (rigidity with flexibility), uses strong triangular shapes for structural support (like trusses) and requires only the most basic tool to tighten the finished product (a screwdriver).


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Invisible Barn: Mirrored Surfaces Create Camouflaged Folly

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[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

 

invisible structure windows reflections

Like a mirage on the horizon, the structure seems to shimmer into and out of existence, playing tricks on the eye with a combination of see-through portals and reflective surfaces.

invisible barn at night

Designed for the 2014 Folly Competition held by The Architecture League, the idea was to slip something into an existing park context that would draw attention and generate interaction.

invisible architecture mylar plywood

Deceptively, the building itself is nearly two-dimensional, adding another element of camouflage depending on the angle of view or direction of approach. Unlike its more solid cousin the invisible cabin, the result in this case could really catch you by surprise, but is still probably less dangerous to walk into by accident than a mirrored fence.

invisible mirrored architectural concept

One of the self-imposed problems its designers sought to solve revolved around the question of year-round engagement – how to make something that changed and was worth revisiting from one season to the next.

invisible building site plan

From the design brief: This mirror-finished folly is placed in the middle of the grove and reflects its surrounding environment: different species of trees and plants, sky, ground and the seasonal changes of the site. The reflection of the folly within its enclosed grove allows the structure to smoothly assimilate into the nature.”

invisible design concept drawing

“The incisions that penetrate through the folly allow visitors to maneuver in, out, and around the structure. Invisible Barn is a folly that loses its man-made architectural presence in nature but adds novel experience and interaction to the users.””


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Beats on Fire: Music Visualized with Movement of Flames

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Pyro Music Visualizer 3

We’ve seen what audio frequencies look like in mesmerizing resonance experiments using sand – so how does the same concept translate to a more volatile medium? The science video blog Veritasium carried out an experiment that uses flammable gas to create the pyromaniac music lover’s dream: an audio visualization in the form of fire.

Pyro Music Visualizer 1

It all comes down to the vibrations produced by sound. Veritasium teamed up with physics and chemistry demonstrators to create a ‘Pyro Board’ based on the Rubens’ Tube, also known as a standing wave flame tube. Invented by a German physicist, the Rubens’ Tube shows the relationship between sound waves and sound pressure.

Pyro Music Visualizer 2

Sealed at both ends and perforated along the top, the pipe is attached to a speaker or frequency generator at one side and a supply of flammable gas at the other. Variations in sound cause vibrations in the air to affect the flow rate of the gas, causing the flames to change in height.

Pyro Music Visualizer 5

The team translated this idea to two dimensions with what’s essentially a plane of bunson burners, with 2,500 holes. The louder the music is played, the higher the flames become.


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No Lot Too Challenging: 13 Ingenious Odd-Shaped Houses

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Odd Lots Main

The lot purchased by a homeowner might be seemingly impossible – clinging to a sheer cliff, squeezing into tight spaces, or consisting of an odd geometric shape – but by god, architects will find a solution. Whether by building up from a postage-stamp-sized property, zig-zagging a house between its neighbors or designing a home in the shape of a giant X, architecture firms have found ways to use seemingly undesirable spaces, leading to some very unusual and imaginative residences.

Twisting Zig-Zag House

Odd Lots Zig Zag House 1
Odd Lots Zig Zag House 2

To most people, it wouldn’t seem like there was actually room for a new house in this extremely narrow, oddly-shaped space between several other residences. But in Japan, every square inch counts. Alphaville architects came up with a novel approach: a zig-zagging house that might skim its neighbors by mere inches in some spots, but still manages to feel private inside thanks to very careful placement of windows and courtyards.

X-Shaped Cliffside House

Odd Lots X Shaped House 1
Odd Lots X Shaped House 2

How do you build a house on a sheer cliff that has views on every side, but still feels private, and is virtually invisible from the street? Cadaval & Solá-Morales architects created a two-story, X-shaped residence that clings to the cliff, with the roof functioning as a driveway and terrace. Each side of the home’s edge gets its own sweeping view of Barcelona without facing any of the neighbors. Incisions at the top and bottom of the ‘X’ let in light while maintaining that privacy.

Super-Skinny Cliff-Hugging House

Odd Lots Cliff Hugging Skinny 1
Odd Lots Cliff Hugging Skinny 2

The slightest wedge of a lot on a rocky cliff gave way to this narrow, sloping house by Shuhei Endo. The triangular lot was confined by a Y-shaped intersection and several other residences, and gets as narrow as 5 feet at some points. Tucking the home beside the retaining wall anchors it, and a narrow space between the wall and the home provides a light-filled, private outdoor space with architectural interest.

Oceanfront Cabin on Stilts

Odd Lots Oceanfront Cabin Stilts

The strip of land this oceanfront cabin is built upon is hardly larger than a parking spot. But owner of that land wanted Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects to create a relaxing weekend getaway overlooking Sagami Bay, with views of Mount Fuji in the distance. The result is ‘Window House,’ a slim residence built on steel poles to protect it from storm surges and enable those stunning views. The interior features staggered lofts accessible by stairs and ladders.

Spite House Built on Pie-Shaped Lot

Odd Lots Seattle Spite House

The Seattle Spite House was built on a pie-shaped piece of land adjacent to a larger home, and gets so narrow at one end that it’s hard to open the oven door all the way. The story goes that it was built in 1925 out of spite because the tiny, odd-shaped lot was all that was given to a wife in a contentious divorce, and she was determined to make the most of it. The home sold for nearly $400K in 2013.

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Shape-Shifting Furniture: Interactive 3D Surfaces from MIT

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[ By WebUrbanist in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

shape shifting interactive surfaces

The Tangible Media Group from MIT has developed an approach to responsive design in physical space that is both conceptual and plausible, futuristic yet already a reality.

shape changing dynamic interactive

Displaying their work this year at Milan, the group unveiled Transform, an extension of their amazing interactive inFORM user experience invention from last year.

shape shifting furniture design

1,000 independently-mobile squares shift up and down to shape bowls and surfaces – with even more such ‘pixels’ of a soft material the same technology could be applied to chairs and couches, too.

shape transforming table interface

The morphing surfaces in play can be manipulated in all kind of ways, from passively sensing your mood (and changing shape accordingly) to responding directly to commands, gestures, movements or remote control. Their approach grows out of a notion that we increasingly take for granted: computers are moving into everything, not just dedicated laptops or handheld devices but everyday objects all around us.

This last video shows where it all started, with inFORM, a “Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface. Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance.”


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Brushed Off: 12 Dried Out & Abandoned Car Washes

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[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

abandoned car washes
Hold the hot wax and spare the soap, these abandoned car washes have blow-dried their last vehicle and will no longer thank you for coming again.

Scentless In San Mateo

abandoned Hillsdale car wash San Mateo(images via: phillipalden/abandonedplaces/LiVEJOURNAL)

Hillsdale may not be what it used to be but this little slice of suburbia in San Mateo, California still boasts the 120-store Hillsdale Shopping Center and the convenient Hillsdale Caltrain Station. Perhaps the popularity of the latter has caused a drop in private auto ownership, thereby reducing business at the former Hillsdale Car Wash to an unsustainable level.

abandoned Hillsdale car wash San Mateo(image via: phillipalden/abandonedplaces/LiVEJOURNAL)

As photo-documented by Phillip T. Alden, the Hillsdale Car Wash appears to have been relatively recently abandoned and most of its machinery and signage is intact, if a little worse for wear. OK, maybe more than a little. One imagines the car-owners of Hillsdale will now have to search far and wide for a car wash that offers custom interior fragrances such as Summer Breeze, New Car, Baby Powder, and Jasmine.

Dry Down Under

abandoned car wash Adelaide Australia(images via: Ryan Smith)

That’s not a car wash, THIS is a car wash and if any place NEEDS a car wash it’s Australia, what with all that red dust flying about. Flickr user Ryan Smith (RS 1990) captured this long-abandoned 1988 Kleindienst Euro-Combi car wash in Salisbury, a northern suburb of Adelaide, South Australia. As might be expected in one of the more arid areas of OZ, the car wash is more dusty than rusty. Sorry Mad Max, you’ll have to take your filthy Falcon XB Pursuit Special somewhere else.

Abandon All Soap

abandoned Detroit car wash church(image via: Detroit Liger)

Praise the Lord and pass the hot wax! Credit Flickr user Detroit Liger (Robert Monaghan) with this hauntingly beautiful image of a former Detroit car wash reborn (no pun intended) as a community church, then abandoned once more.

abandoned Detroit car wash church(images via: Detroit Liger and Houses Of God)

Located on on Mack Avenue two blocks east of Detroit’s historic Indian Village neighborhood, the “Gospel Hands Car Wash” has been shuttered so long it’s not certain whether it functioned first as a car wash and then as a church, or operated as a curious combination of both. Pimp my ride? No thanks, but how ’bout baptizing my Buick?

Cubs Club

abandoned car wash parking Chicago (image via: I Hate Clark Street!)

It isn’t easy being a Cubs fan, and living within shouting distance of Wrigley Field ain’t no bowl of cherries neither. A few privileged car-owners have found a sheltered oasis just off Clark Street, however, as this long-abandoned Chicago car wash now provides a precious few parking spaces conveniently close to The Friendly Confines.

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Digital Street Eraser: Rubbing Out Reality, Photoshop-Style

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[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Street Art & Graffiti. ]

street eraser graffiti wall

Analog stickering is taking on a new dimension in the hands of these street artists, a pair of creatives selectively defacing signs, billboards, mailboxes, graffiti and more.

street eraser construction process

street eraser red paint

From DsgnWrld: “Guus Ter Beek and Tayfun Sarier , two creatives behind the Street Eraser blog, are merging the digital world with the analog, sticking their adobe-inspired art throughout London’s urban fabric.”

street eraser fried chicken

Anyone who has used Adobe Photoshop should be familiar with the circular edges of the default tool and the spaces it creates.

street eraser no entry

And then there is the square checkered background that shows up when you wipe out all the layers in front of it to reveal the void.

street eraser bilboard face

The concept is clear: the world becomes a facade and the backdrop a digital no man’s land, or, better yet, a blank slate on which to re-add another layer of creative art.


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Bad Ads? Funeral Services Struggle with Sense of Humor

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[ By Steph in Design & Guerilla Ads & Marketing. ]

Funeral Home Ads 1

This billboard, reportedly spotted in a subway station in New York City, may not be the most tactful way to drum up business for a funeral home. But you have to admit, it’s clever. Naturally, the funeral industry doesn’t have too much trouble with supply – everyone dies eventually – but they have to compete with each other just like any other business. Are the ads that manage to stand out in poor taste, or just bringing a much-needed sense of humor to the realities of death?

Funeral Home Ads 2

The Devanny-Condron Funeral Home in Massachusetts raised a few eyebrows with this billboard congratulating a local resident on her 100th birthday. Conflict of interest, anyone? In Florida, the Beckman-Williamson Funeral Home & Crematory used a little dark humor to get attention in the form of ‘Thank You for Smoking’ lighters.

Funeral Home Ad 4

These ads are funny, sure, but probably not helping diffuse the public perception of the funeral industry as a bunch of vultures lurking around waiting to pick at people’s bones. That’s especially true considering the hundreds of suicides and murders that take place on subway tracks, and the millions of smoking-related fatalities. But other ads seen as insensitive – like the one below, touting funeral pre-arrangements as a romantic Valentine’s Day gift – are simply trying to call attention to a basic fact of life that most people ignore until the last possible minute.

Funeral Home Ads 3

Attitudes about death vary wildly between cultures, religions and geographic areas, so it’s no surprise that what one person finds incredibly tacky is greeted with a smile and a shrug by another. The mere existence of cell phone-shaped caskets is enough to testify to that fact.

And while it’s easy to laugh at things like Compton’s drive-thru funeral parlor (complete with bulletproof glass) – which many people see as cheapening the lives of the dead, making the mourning process as casual as grabbing a burger and fries – perhaps there’s more to it than that. After all, your attitude about death would probably be different if you lived in a place where drive-by shootings happen on a near-daily basis, and gang-related cemetery shootouts aren’t uncommon. If you’re interested in the demystification of mortality, check out the Order of the Good Death.


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Rad Rides: Nuclear Power Plant Turned into Amusement Park

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

nuclear plant central swing

The iconic central cooling tower has been turned into a swing ride and climbing wall, but the re-purposed complex as a whole features over a dozen attractions including rides, restaurants, bars and hotels.

nuclear plant spinning carousel

nuclear plant rollercoaster ride

Wunderland Kalkar is set near Düsseldorf, Germany, the site of a nuclear power plant that never went live due to local protests and construction problems. The recognizably menacing centerpiece of its industrial landscape is no less noticeable for having been painted with a mountain-and-sky mural.

nuclear plant aerial view

Now that Germany is officially phasing out its use of nuclear energy, this solution (drawing in over a half-million annual visitors) may inspire other projects along similar lines.

nuclear plant park conversion

nuclear plant play space

In this case, billions in funding were ultimately scrapped and a developer was able to pick up the pieces for mere millions before turning a hefty profit through an unlikely conversion.

nuclear plant swing ride

Since the location’s transformation in 1995, visitors from around the country and the world have come to ride its wonderful merry-go-rounds and carousels. Some are drawn by its overt offerings, but many also feel the pull of experiencing a unique look into an what remains of an amazing abandoned nuclear compound.


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