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The largest Demolitions in History

From ruined cities to devastated bridges, tales of demolitions are not rare in history books.

And while a huge chunk of these demolitions spun from acts of war, terrorism, and nature, there is a reasonable percentage of demolitions that occur completely controlled.

Controlled demolitions can be done in a number of ways, from the use of bulldozers and wrecking balls to the application of explosives.

Indeed, if you’ve ever witnessed a building imploded by engineers, you’d have probably felt that you were being—involuntarily—featured in a Hollywood movie.

Here, we will be covering some of the most monumental controlled demolitions of all time, featuring skyscrapers, stadiums, dams, and bridges! 

Let’s dive into it!

Singer Building

The Singer Building was once the world’s tallest building, from 1908 to 1909. Now it stands as the tallest building ever demolished in the history of controlled demolitions.

Also known as the Singer Tower, it served as the headquarters of the sewing machine manufacturing company, Singer Corporation, and was one of the early skyscrapers of Manhattan. 

The building consisted of a 14-story base and a 41-story tower, ultimately soaring to 187 meters (612 feet).

Despite being seen as an iconic structure for its unique shape, the Singer Building’s downfall became imminent in 1961 when the Singer Company announced its plans to sell off the building and move to Rockefeller Center. 

According to evidence from the book New York City Architecture, the building was sold to Iacovone Rose, who immediately resold it to Financial Place Inc.

It was then acquired by William Zeckendorf, a real estate developer, who hoped to get the New York Stock Exchange to move there. However this didn’t work out.

However, in 1964, the United States Steel Corporation acquired the building with one goal in mind: demolition.

Apparently, the Singer Building had been considered obsolete and unfit for the booming growth of modern business owing to its relatively small interior space.

The demolition of the building began in 1967, and by 1969, the last piece of scrap had been carted away.

In the words of Sam Roberts, a New York Times Journalist, “The Singer Tower fell victim to a malady called progress.”

The Building will soon be overtaken by 270 Park Avenue as the tallest building ever demolished. The demolition of 270 Park Avenue began in 2019, and the 216-meter giant will be making way for an even taller building, set to house JP Morgan Chase.

 

The Deutsche Bank building was a 39-story skyscraper also located in New York City.

Towering at 157.6 meters (517 feet), the Deutsche Bank building was part of the skyline of Downtown Manhattan.

It was located adjacent to the World Trade Center, which would fall to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

During the 9/11 attacks, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and in the process, it tore a massive gash on the facade of the Deutsche Bank.

Owing to the structural damage suffered by the building, the executive board of Deutsche Bank insisted that it would be taken down despite being advised by its insurers to treat it as repairable damage.

Furthermore, the discovery of human remains and large amounts of toxic substances in parts of the building would seemingly seal its fate.

The demolition of the building was a rather lengthy process marred by several unforeseen circumstances.

In May 2007, while work was in progress, a 7-meter long pipe fell from the 35th floor and crashed on the roof of a nearby building. Two firefighters sustained injuries from falling debris. 

In August, a severe fire happened on the 17th floor due to some workers smoking in violation of safety rules. The fire incident would kill two firefighters and injure 115 others.

Ultimately, the building’s demolition was completed in February 2011.

The site is currently occupied by the Vehicular Security Center and Liberty Park.

The J.L Hudson Building

The J.L Hudson was a department store in Detroit, Michigan. Consisting of 29 floors with a total height of 134 meters (520 feet), and it is the tallest and largest building to have ever been imploded.

Completed in 1911, the store took up an area of over 200,000 m2 (2 million sq ft) and immediately set itself as the tallest department store in the world.

However, the aftermath of World War II affected many Detroit businesses, including J.L Hudson.

Ultimately, in January 1983, when downtown Detroit was at the lowest point of its economic decline, the store decided to shut down. 

At exactly 5:47 PM (Eastern Time Zone) on October 24, 1998, the demolition of the J.L Hudson building began.

The building was wired with explosives, and over 20,000 people watched as the countdown began.

In a matter of seconds, the J.L Hudson building, was reduced to an 18-meter (60 feet) pile of rubble. Windows of nearby buildings were also shattered during the implosion.

AfE Turm

The AfE Turm was a 38-story, 116-meter (381 feet) skyscraper situated in the Westend district of Frankfurt, Germany. The building belonged to the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University and was used to house offices and seminar rooms.

It took two years to be constructed, and by the time of its completion in 1972, the AfE Tower became the tallest building in Frankfurt. This rank would, however, be quickly snatched from it in 1974 by City-Haus, which was 142 meters (466 feet) tall.

The AfE Tower was a rather controversial structure, with frequent technology failures occurring within the building. These errors would also result in an elevator accident in 2005, killing a university employee

The building was eventually abandoned in 2013. In 2014, the university was given the green light to proceed with the demolition

On February 2, 2014, with over 10,000 spectators cheering, the AfE Tower was reduced to rubble.

Almost 1000 kg of explosives were inserted into 1,500 holes. Barriers of up to six meters (20 feet) were erected around the building to prevent injury from flying debris.

The success of this demolition made the AfE Tower the tallest structure to have ever been imploded in Europe.

Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams

All dams have negative effects on the aquatic environment where they’re located. But these adverse effects are usually canceled out by the benefits of hydroelectric power and flood control.

However, when the negative effects start to outweigh the benefits, a dam becomes eligible for demolition.

The largest dam removal ever done is the Elwha Ecosystem Restoration project in western Washington. This project’s aim was to demolish the 33-meter (108 feet) Elwha Dam along with the 64-meter (210 feet) Glines Canyon in a bid to restore the Pacific Salmon habitat, which had been heavily degraded by the presence of the hydroelectric plants.

The demolition of the two dams began in September 2011 and ended in 2014.

The demolition of the Glines Canyon involved the use of barge-mounted hydraulic hammers, which removed the first 5 meters (17 feet) of the dam. The next 52 meters (173 feet) were then chipped away by excavators, layer by layer.

With only a few meters left of the once towering structure, some good old explosives were planted into the concrete walls. The series of blasts that followed would ultimately reduce the dam to fragments of concrete.

The Elwha dam was a different case, though. Its demolition was slower and more methodical. It simply involved creating temporary channels which slowly drained the dam until all that was left was concrete and fill materials. These were then excavated under dry conditions.

Landmark Tower

The Landmark Tower was a 120-meter (380 feet) skyscraper in Fort Worth, Texas. It was home to the Continental National Bank of Fort Worth, and at the time of its completion, it stood as the tallest building in the city.

After its groundbreaking in 1952, the building was halted when construction got to the fourth floor due to the economic crisis of 1953. Construction resumed in 1956 and was completed the next year. 

A 12-meter (40 feet) tall revolving clock was planted at the roof of the building, and at that time, it was the largest revolving clock in the world. The clock also had the initials of the Continental National Bank, and it was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest sign in the world.

Unfortunately, on March 28, 2000, a tornado struck Downtown Fort Worth, causing damage to the Tower. The clock was consequently removed for safety reasons.

Over the years, the building was purchased and resold several times and, ultimately, in 2004, it was purchased under foreclosure by XTO Energy, who considered restoring the building. However, the company concluded that the best course of action would be demolition. 

Thus, on March 18, 2006, 165 kilograms (365 pounds) of explosives were planted around the Tower, and at exactly 7:40 AM, the building was imploded.

The Kingdome

The Kingdome was one of the most iconic buildings in Seattle. However, it had a rather short lifespan of 24 years.

Owned and operated by King County, Washington, the Kingdome was a multipurpose stadium that hosted countless events.

Opened in March 1976, the Kingdome measured 200 meters (660 feet) wide and had a sitting capacity of 59,000 for baseball, 66,000 for football, and 40,000 for basketball.

One of the major problems the Kingdome had was its failing roof. Even before it was opened, leakages were already being discovered around the stadium, and attempts to fix them up only made things worse.

In 1994, waterlogged ceiling tiles weighing over 12 kilograms (26 pounds) fell onto the seating area just an hour before a scheduled game, resulting in the stadium being closed for repairs.

These structural problems, coupled with some internal altercations between board members of the different clubs that used the stadium, all contributed to the stadium’s closure and the ultimate decision to blow it up. 

The demolition of the Kingdome took place on March 26, 2000. This was approximately the 24th anniversary of the stadium’s opening. 

According to the Guinness Books of Record, the Kingdome did, however, go down as the largest building, by volume, ever demolished through controlled implosion.

It was also the first large, domed stadium to be demolished in the US. 

K-25

K-25 was the codename for a World War 2 project which produced enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. One such nuclear weapon produced by this project was the Little Boy bomb, which was used to bomb Hiroshima in 1945. 

Located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the four-story K-25 facility comprised over 489,000 m2 (5,264,000 Sq. Ft) of floor area and an enclosed volume of about 2,760,000 m3 (97,500,000 cubic feet).

In 1944, when it was built, the K-25 stood as the world’s largest building. While the K-25 was successfully used to produce enriched uranium during the war, it would become obsolete during the post-war period as more energy-efficient ways of producing uranium emerged.

In response to an order from then US President Lyndon B. Johnson to cut the production of enriched uranium down by 25%, K-25 was closed in 1964. 

1997 would see the decommissioning of the K-25 facility by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The demolition of the K-25 began in 2008, and by 2014 the last debris of the facility was carted away.

The Zhuan-yang Viaduct

The Zhuan-yang viaduct was a two-lane bridge in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Its length was over 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles), and it currently stands as the longest bridge ever demolished in China.

Built in 1997, the bridge was an essential part of China’s National Highway 318, running from Shanghai to Tibet. However, owing to China’s fast-paced infrastructural development, the bridge was considered too old even at just 16 years.

Thus, it was marked for demolition, to be replaced by a six-lane bridge spanning over 3 miles.

But how do you blow up a 3.5-kilometer bridge in a residential area without anything going wrong?

Further, there were 100,000-volt power transmission cables along with several gas pipes running underground parallel to the road.

To pull this off, the engineers adopted a rather primitive-sounding yet effective technique.

They swaddled the viaduct with a cloth apron, tightly tied it with wire, and then padded the covering with sandbags and large bladders of water.

The result was a soft, improvised armor that slightly muffled the sound of the explosion, dampened the blast’s energy, and prevented the billowing dust cloud that is common with controlled implosions.

Interestingly, while this was the longest bridge ever demolished in China, it took only twelve seconds to reduce it to rubble.

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