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Heavy Load-Exerting Concrete Body and Other Structural Near-Analogues
Schwerbelastungskörper


During a seemingly endless nighttime hypertextual journey through Wikipedia — one that took us from Tempelhof to a crash course on Nazi architecture and inevitably on to Hitler's imagined future capital, Welthauptstadt Germania, a city that became a ruin without first having existed, and to Albert Speer, whose post-war gardening activities are worth detailing, which we will in a future post, i.e., if we still have the stamina to trudge through his excruciatingly long diary for the few relevant entries, before looping back to the start to then read about the Berlin Airlift, whose infrastructural and spatial organization, including the three air corridors above the blockaded Soviet Occupied Zone, we find so utterly interesting — we discovered the Schwerbelastungskörper.

It's a massive cylindrical block of concrete, standing 18 meters high and weighing in at 12,560 metric tons. It is located in the Berlin neighborhood of Tempelhof, where the eponymous airport is found. Under all that tonnage is a slimmer cylinder with a lower and an upper chamber, both of which were outfitted with measuring instruments. In profile, the whole structure would look like a mushroom.

But what exactly is it? And what are those instruments measuring?

Schwerbelastungskörper


The name is translated as “heavy load-bearing body,” although someone in the discussion page of the wiki article has suggested that “heavy load-exerting body” might be more accurate. It was constructed in 1941 to test how well the marshy ground upon which Berlin sits could handle the massive projects planned for Germania. More specifically, it was built to see how the landscape would react to Hitler's gigantic Triumphal Arch, whose opening would have accommodated the triumph in Paris.

The results were not encouraging:

The Schwerbelastungskörper sank 7 inches in the three years it was to be used for testing, a maximum depth of 2.5 inches was allowed. Using the evidence gathered by these gargantuan devices, it is unlikely the soil could have supported such structures without further preparation.


Hitler dismissed these findings, perhaps confident that the landscape can be subjugated with fine Teutonic engineering. But his Third Rome had to wait; there was a war to be waged.

Of course, history then happened, and the Schwerbelastungskörper remained where it stood, waiting for a city that will never come, sinking, still taking measures of the landscape, accumulating trash and graffiti, outliving its original function and its planned 20 weeks' worth of existence.

In 1995, it gained historic status and thereafter given some preservation work that continues today. And if we deciphered the BabelFish translation of this webpage correctly, the structure is to be turned into a history museum, a major component of a redevelopment plan to revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods.

Schwerbelastungskörper


Meanwhile, we are reminded of an article published in The New York Times earlier this month about two full-size mock-ups of the future Freedom Tower, one built in California and another in central New Mexico, which “can be reached only over dirt roads in four-wheel-drive vehicles.” In order to see how well the facade and the structure perform under extreme conditions, they were subjected to simulated hurricanes and earthquakes, among other things.

Water jets simulating winds of 74 miles per hour were sprayed at the facade. During the 15-minute test cycle, each square foot of glass was hit with more than a gallon of water.

In another test, a dismounted airplane propeller was switched on to simulate even-stronger and more-scattered winds.

[...]

Hydraulic jacks were used to simulate the different horizontal sway of various floors, both fully occupied and empty. The surface was also chilled to 10 degrees (refrigerated piping was applied to the glass) and baked at 100 degrees (by heat lamps).

Gusts up to 167 m.p.h. were simulated by using pumps to pull air out of the chamber, creating a condition in which the external air pressure was far greater than the internal pressure. The process was reversed, too, by pumping air into the chamber, simulating conditions on the side of the tower away from the wind.

An earthquake was simulated by jacks pulling the mock-up in different directions.


And since everyone believes that the tower will be a prime target of terrorist attacks, the mock-up in New Mexico was blasted with an “explosion that shook the earth a quarter-mile away.”

Freedom Tower


These near-analogues are actually not the only ones. Three years ago a mock-up of the WTC memorial fountain was also built, installed somewhat incongruously above ground in a suburban backyard in Canada. Of all places!

Unlike the simulated Freedom Towers, however, this lobotomized fountain wasn't placed under structural duress. Instead, it was used primarily to help determine the ideal hydrological conditions in which the “billowing silvery curtains of falling water” do “not splash visitors or disintegrate in the wind or roar deafeningly or freeze in winter or clog up in autumn when the oak leaves begin falling in the surrounding plaza.”

WTC Memorial


WTC Memorial


WTC Memorial


One wonders what actually happens to these structures and others like them after all the tests have been carried out?

One of the Freedom Tower replicas was built for $537,000. It would sound rather wasteful to have it scrapped and dumped in oversaturated landfills instead of being repurposed.

Give it to us, in other words, and we'll convert this representational “corner of three typical tower floors” into our new HQ, its “enclosed steel chamber” chicly decorated. When things are slow or when we need a little breather from mining the interweb, we will simply gaze through the laminated glass panes out to the waters of our ¼ fountain cascading down into a truncated void.

Architect and Landscape Architecture Magazine will come knocking on our armageddon-proof aluminum doors to do a feature. The article will come with hyper-glossy photos of us on another clicker-happy run through Wikipedia. And we will be quoted pretentiously proclaiming that “Near-Analogues are the new prefabs.”

5 COMMENTS —
  • Talking Plants
  • April 30, 2008 at 10:04:00 AM CDT
  • One of my blog readers just turned me on to you. Love your mind, good to find you.

    Ketzel Levine, NPR's Talking Plants
    www.npr.org/talkingplants


  • jimmy
  • April 30, 2008 at 11:54:00 AM CDT
  • Another fantastic post, Alex. "Near-Analogues are the new pre fab." Love it. Maybe these temporary pieces of architecture can be collected and repurposed for new World's Fairs — another event that results in the creation of semi-permanent structures that usually end up forgotten or nearly empty. At the site of the EXPO2000 in Hannover, I once sat in the middle of a vast concrete plaza, surrounded by enormous purposeless architecture, watching a F1 race with 4 other people and a beer vendor. A bizarre and sublime experience that could—and should!—be made even more bizarre and sublime if that collection of purposeless architecture was taken from world-wide Near-Analogues.


  • Alexander Trevi
  • April 30, 2008 at 3:27:00 PM CDT
  • jimmy, your post reminded me of photos I once saw of MVRDV's pavilion languishing in the now shuttered and barren grounds of EXPO2000.

    Its trees are either dead or dying, getting replaced by vegetation that wasn't designed to be there, coming up from cracks or through the metal grating. Its color fading, things peeling off, rust dripping down walls, entrances barricaded, its windmills shorn off.

    Unfortunately, I can't now find those photos. It was a very, very long time ago. But a quick search on Flickr does return similar ones, like this one. And also this one.

    Like the ruins of a sci-fi civilization.


  • adrian2514
  • May 2, 2008 at 5:16:00 PM CDT
  • Thanks for the info….I am trying to put together a list of what celebs are doing to help the environment. Ed Begley Jr. is having a sweepstakes where he flys you to Hollywood and gives you tips on how to go green ( http://www.earthlab.com/life/livingwithed/ ) Pretty crazy stuff. Obviously there are many others. Drop me a link if you have any on the top of your head. Thanks again for the info!


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