In 1930 the Indiana Bell building was rotated 90°


Sometimes things can get terrible wrong. On 5th April 1906 more than 50 people died and another 100 were injured, when in the town of Nagold, Germany an attempt was made to lift a building while people were celebrating inside. There is only a German Wikipedia page about the incident, but it has some disturbing before and after photos:


A similar feat was accomplished in Chicago.

"During the 1850s and 1860s, engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks, and buildings were physically raised on jackscrews."


See also: the canceled 1970s plans for taking the "L" underground:


The Red Line and Blue Line of the L both run underground.

I once lived in a building that connected to the pedway, so I was able to dress in shorts and a T-shirt in a Chicago winter, navigate underground through the pedway to the Blue Line, then take the Blue Line to O'Hare for a flight to Tampa.

The train part was a bit chilly, but it was better than having to drag a winter coat with me on the plane.


it was done a few months ago as well to make room for new train tracks


Let's demolish this building. How about we just rotate it 90°? Yes, that seems like a fair compromise.

In case anybody was wondering - the important part was that it was moved to an adjacent lot (to clear space for a new building) and happened to be rotated as part of that process.


Moving the building rather than demolishing it meant that they could keep telephone services running. I suspect they moved services to the new building sometime in the intervening years before demolishing the moved building.


Ah, zero downtime upgrade.


>Yes, that seems like a fair compromise.

For ~30 years, then they tore it down anyways.


Isn't 30 years considered a lifetime for current generation buildings?


For a master-planned tract house built in the 1990's... maybe.

Current skyscrapers are designed for a minimum 100-year lifespan.

/Source: I actually asked a skyscraper architect this question once.


The "why" is what I was wondering about, thank you.


Past related threads:

In 1930 the Indiana Bell Telephone Building was rotated 90 degrees - - March 2021 (2 comments)

Indiana Bell Building Move (Of 1930) - - March 2021 (9 comments)

Indiana Bell moved a functioning building in 1930 - - Nov 2019 (24 comments)

Rotating the Indiana Bell Building (2014) - - Sept 2019 (5 comments)


I get how they can keep electricity and telephone service running this gradual move. But how do they keep water and sewers running? Did they use temporary flexible pipes, or maybe a rotational joint at the pivot point?


I'm not in a place to find the source, but I recall reading that they used long flexible hoses.


The amount of stuff people used to just get done in the 20th century constantly boggles my mind.

It feels like everything is so hamstrung and bottlenecked today by comparison.


I forget what the effect is called but when some new technology or industry becomes the dominate method or form of productivity it tends to cause other areas of industry to suffer. Partly due to brain drain from previous industry X to new industry Y. It's also just that people think Y is newer and worth more so more time and energy gets moved from X to Y.

In the 20th century, new building materials was one of the new technologies of the day so it makes sense that a lot of time and energy was spent doing things related to buildings/construction. The end of the 20th century and the 21st are dominated by technology and software being the growing method of productivity. Plus now we have software and math that (probably) shows moving a building 90 degrees is going to cause 10 new problems we didn't even consider in the 20th century.

It's all about opportunity cost. In the 20th century we built a ton of buildings that stored and manipulated giant volumes of paper documents and physical files. Now we have databases and virtual filesystems so we don't need giant clerk offices or document storage buildings. Giant data-center buildings might be the most apt comparison on some level.


It's related to Jevon's "Paradox",, which actually isn't a "paradox" at all, but merely an entirely foreseeable consequence of supply/demand.

It's also related to "The pinnacle of {technology} happened right as it was superseded by {other technology}". (Well, duh. People stopped trying to improve {technology}, so no improvements happened.)


I think you’re thinking of “Dutch disease”:

“In economics, the Dutch disease is the apparent causal relationship between the increase in the economic development of a specific sector (for example natural resources) and a decline in other sectors (like the manufacturing sector or agriculture).”


Interesting, thanks.

I guess in a way we perform majestically-large relocations of digital storage buildings all the time now, which as you put it is roughly equivalent.


Not entirely related, but I’m sort of sad that these giant storage buildings don’t need to exist any more. There’s something about having everything on paper, and getting a printed memo on your desk that can’t be replaced by email.


At time of writing this reply I don’t see anyone challenging this premise, so fine I’ll go for it.

Tons of stuff gets done all the time. All around us. A lot of it is unremarkable because it’s so commonplace. Where I live, most of Seattle’s most vulnerable buildings have been retrofitted for earthquakes with nearly no fanfare. It’s an enormous task, but it happened gradually and in compliance with regulations. It doesn’t fit the narrative of getting stuff done I’m some big show of accomplishment, but it certainly fits the narrative of the original tweet.


That's a good point, thanks.

I was thinking of it in contrast with all the subway projects that don't happen and cost ten times as much now, and things like that - think Collison's lists.


The huge and hugely expensive East Side Access project in NYC is almost finished. Test trains are running and the Governor of New York just made a visit. That involved putting an 8 track, two level railroad station underneath Grand Central Station, 140 feet below ground.

San Francisco's subway from SOMA to Union Square to Chinatown opens in 2022.


The amount of stuff people used to just get done in the 20th century constantly boggles my mind.

Yep. The downtowns of entire cities were elevated dozens of feet. Rivers were reversed. Tunnels were blasted through mountains because it was the most direct route, initial cost be damned.

In the 20th century, renumbering the addresses of an entire city was so inconsequential that in some places it happened multiple times. Today, that could never happen. People just don't have the will to do anything big anymore, unless there's a buck in it.

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir mens’ blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency." — Daniel Burnham (1846-1912)


Put another way, "it's amazing what people can do when you get out of their way."

I feel as if I'm always swimming up a river to get things done, "well so-and-so wouldn't approve", "what about XXXX", "YYYY wont be ready until March, etc. etc."

People used to grow up needing to milk the cows every day. There wasn't time to waste, get going and get it done. Regulations were more minimal and everything was contractual.

Today, you need permits to change a kitchen sink, you'll get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, etc. etc.


I feel as if I'm always swimming up a river to get things done

We used to call those "salmon days." You spend all day swimming against the current, only to get screwed in the end.


Screwed isn't the worst case for salmon. They can get eaten by a bear.


In my opinion it feels like regulation has gone from serving a purpose (we will review a to protect b) to the default standard (we will deeply review a-z because it is ‘best practice’).


It's the startup vs Enterprise dilemma. Startups have no red tape, so anyone can get anything done immediately. Enterprises are the opposite. It's always been fascinating to me that billion-dollar-revenue companies will spend zero dollars on anything they don't have to, whereas a startup will blow through 50 million in a few months on an experiment.


Draw two columns for each business, and compare:

1) "What we have to lose"

2) "What we have to gain"


What amazes me more is that antique stuff is often so much better than the stuff we make today, not only build quality but also design. And it is not survivor bias, because often I cannot even find equivalent new stuff with equal quality.


It's not very surprising, it's by design. They're intentionally not pursuing maximum quality and longevity. In most cases they're pursuing an optimization for lower to moderate cost, margin, volume of sales, manufacturing optimization, supply chain matters (including shipping).

You'll make more money selling 10 humidifiers to a typical consumer over a 20 year span at $40-$60 each, than what you could ever max them out on for one humidifier that will last that full 20 years. If you're the business in question, it's illogical to pursue any other path unless you're making a conscious choice to give up profit to specifically build something of vastly superior quality.

It's obviously not because we can't do it. The great majority of consumers won't pay for it and or can't afford it.

It's cheap-rotational-product-as-a-service. Most consumers don't have the purchasing power to buy a $500 humidifier (and or don't want to save up to do so), and they want to allocate their money elsewhere at a given time, so the $39.95 plastic cheap humidifier that'll last 2-3 years wins every time (that way they can buy 10-12 things that last a few years for $40 instead of one per year for a decade).

Or put another way, it's payday loan consumerism.


> If you're the business in question, it's illogical to pursue any other path unless you're making a conscious choice to give up profit to specifically build something of vastly superior quality.

The logic is that customers will prefer your product and you'll take market share from competitors.

But that logic only works if you're small. If you have 2% of the market and making a better product would allow you to take 5% of the market, you do it. If you have 30% of the market and making a better product would allow you to take 33% of the market, at the cost of having a longer interval between repeat business, eh.

So the real problem is that we have too much consolidation and vertical integration. It's too hard to start a new company that goes from zero to 5% of the market in the first year by making a better product. So that's not what happens anymore.

And it's in the interest of the consolidated incumbents to sell you a new device every three years, not to sell you a 20% more expensive device that lasts for decades.

Although I wonder if an upstart couldn't still disrupt this in some markets. The Korean automakers took a big chunk of the market from out of nowhere by offering triple the usual powertrain warranties. What happens if you design a washing machine to last for decades and sell it with a 30 year warranty?


There's also a large element of survivorship bias. Everything that's left is the stuff that was built well enough to last, and we don't see all the other things that are long gone.


I have been using three Vicks brand $30 or $40 humidifiers for 7+ years now.


I think to some extend it is. Only the good stuff is worth preserving, so that’s the only thing that remains.

On the other hand, since it’s now so cheap to produce stuff, there’s no real reason to make it last longer any more.

I also feel like the marginal cost of labor is much lower now with everything being machined. If labor costs $1000 it’s easy to justify $200 in materials. If labor is $10, not so much.


Is that caused by survivor bias?


On the other hand, those 20th century projects casually accepted quite a lot of deaths and permanent crippling injuries as just the cost of doing business.


I don't think they were "casually" accepted, as many workplace safety rules and agencies were developed in the 20th century. There may have been a certain feeling that some level of injuries were inevitable in large industrial/construction settings, but there definitely were efforts to reduce them.


We accept this now we just off shored the injuries to other countries.


How about SpaceX? It's like shooting a bullet into the sky so that falls back into the barrel of the gun. I think it's up there.

Sadly, I can't come up with much else.


A similar thing happened in my back garden last summer. Not as impressive, but still a feat of engineering for me and a few mates. Similar tech too! We had a couple 2-ton car jacks and a handful of 3 inch fence posts. Lift, lower, push. Lift, lower, push. It took most of a weekend but the result was a 3x4 metre shed being relocated from the south-west to the north-east corner of the garden.

Electrics were never disconnected, but shut off at the box. And it's not plumbed in. But it was still quite an effort.

I would have a loved to have done a time-lapse of the project, but sadly didn't think of it until after the move.


Nice one. Determination and a lever is pretty much all that you need to do a lot of major construction. I lifted up the top floor of this building to be able to slide a new support beam underneath, just a 30 ton jack and a lot of patience. It fits like it has always been there :)


Some of the most amazing feats of the 20th century were inflicted by Bell. It was an innovative organization (body of organizations) whose inventions impact our everyday life today.


Forgive my word policing, but "perpetrate" is only used in a negative context.


Suggest an alternative while the edit button is still warm






I'm amazed that buildings tolerate this kind of stress, or maybe I underestimate how accurately they can apply equal pressure to rotate the building safely.


Assuming it has a properly-designed & constructed foundation (which, if the building tolerates just being there at all, especially for decades, it probably does; but this is something that would be checked anyway), it's just a matter of adequately supporting that and taking everything slow. After all, the foundation supports the entire building, so moving the foundation will move the building. The stresses involved here (this Twitter thread says it was moved 15 inches per hour) are practically nil; it also says the people inside didn't even notice it happening.


Incidentally, the architect who proposed rotating the building was Kurt Vonnegut Sr, father of the well-known author.




TIL Kurt Vonnegut was a Wikipedia kid (someone who's dad had/would've had a Wikipedia article about them)


And brother too.