Rooftop Innovation

An excavator operates on the rooftop of the Shanxi Science and Technology Hotel, Yingze West Street, Wanbailin district, Taiyuan city, Shanxi province

When our attention was first directed to this picture on China Smack of an excavator demolishing a hotel in Taiyaun in Shanxi from the roof down we thought it a mere curiosity, or possibly even a fake. Yet after our man in a hard hat dismissed our initial suspicion that the image might be the result of some photoshopping, telling us that tearing down a hotel that way was feasible from a civil engineering point of view, we came across this post on WebUrbanist, giving several examples of the practice and linking to some TV video of this particular one.

On reflection, it all makes some sort of sense. Explosives are kept closely within the provenance of the military and police and the former hotel is cheek by jowl with other buildings so blowing it up to bring it down is out of the question. A crane can easily hoist an excavator fitted with a concrete breaker in place of its bucket to the roof. The no doubt shoddy construction would help the excavator operator make short work of knocking the building down, working his way down half a floor by half a floor. The debris goes down elevator shafts or over the side.

It is is probably the most cost effective way of demolishing a building, if not necessarily one of the safest in what is already a perilous undertaking. Health and safety laws are unlikely to be much of an impediment, though excavators are more stable and maneuverable in small spaces than might be imagined for such large pieces of machinery. Our man says it is no more difficult and dangerous for a skilled excavator operator (with a head for heights) to do the work at that level than it would be on the ground. It is just that the margin of error is smaller 12 stories up. Rather him than us.

In its peculiar way, this is another example of China’s frugal and process innovation: good enough results for a fraction of the cost.

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