REPORT: ABANDONED SKYSCRAPERS IN MAJOR US CITIES COULD START FALLING OVER BEFORE 2030
COULD OUR UNUSED OFFICE TOWERS SOLVE AMERICA’S HOUSING CRISIS?
By D.T. Franklin
Radio Free Ozarks Great Lakes Reporter
August 24th, 2022
Many abandoned skyscrapers in our largest US cities could collapse or freaking fall right over within the next 5-10 years, according to a startling new report to be issued by the Council on Really Tall Buildings.
The group’s report is expected to be released by the end of the year and includes a recent survey of the nation’s largest commercial skyscraper management companies. The survey was limited to the companies that did not go out of business before or during the survey. The term skyscraper generally refers to buildings that are more than 300 feet tall, but there is no formal definition and the architects and engineers that we spoke with prefer the more precise term of “really tall building.”
“We’ve seen so many really tall buildings become mostly abandoned due to the pandemic,” said Dr. Fredi Gupta, a structural engineer and current Chairman of the CRTB. “The newer and more desirable office buildings, the so-called Class A ones built in the last 10 years, they may find enough tenants to keep the building upright indefinitely. It’s the older buildings, the Class C office buildings that really be stank and even some of the Class B buildings, that we worry about keeping upright. God forbid, they could potentially fall over onto the Class A buildings.
“Our extensive lab testing has shown that stormwater and sewage backup into a building is, broadly speaking, really bad for that building. If it’s left there in the basement a few years it will rot out the steel in the columns. Air won’t hold up a building, like my professors used to say. Our calculations show that a strong breeze or some organized street bums could tip the sucker over.”
Moreover (nice word, isn’t it?), Gupta warned that many basements of really tall office buildings in the US are already being left to fill up. Gupta cited regular reports of the so-called “ghost” buildings in China finally toppling over, plus he recounted some anecdotal evidence from his own city.
“I spoke with a building engineer that I know here in Chicago a couple of months ago. Nice guy. Fully licensed boiler operator. He runs the Brickhouse Tower here in the Loop. Built in the 1960’s. Modern then but mostly a dump now. After the heavy spring rains he said that the lowest of his three basement levels was fully flooded. Turns out the sump pumps had been part of his expansive campaign of “deferred maintenance” (air quotes).
“He couldn’t afford to rent pumps to suck the water out and he said he would just let it dry out on its own. He texted me a photo of these two big carp that he’d caught inside.
“I tried to call him last week for an update but he never answered. I talked with the security desk and they said that all three basement levels were now flooded and the lights were flickering and they couldn’t use the elevators in case they got trapped. The lady I spoke with was not happy. She had not seen the building engineer in weeks and he wasn’t answering his radio. She wanted to know when I’d last talked to him.
“Deferred maintenance. I hear that term a lot. What I don’t get is that calling it deferred maintenance seems to suggest that someone would eventually get around to maintaining it.”
Gupta grew emotional while describing the plight of his own CRTB office location, in Chicago’s historic Whitefish Building.
“Even our building, a Class B property, is having some financial wobbles. Only 2 of the 6 elevators are working. I come to work and hardly ever see anyone else in the building. The Popeye’s Chicken on the ground floor closed last year. I claim to be full vegan, but OMG, have you ever had one of their spicy chicken sandwiches? I mean, the pickles. And the sauce. And I could get there without going outside in the winter. (expletive)! If a Popeye’s Chicken in your building closing isn’t a (expletive) signaling event, I don’t know what is.” Gupta put his head in his hands. Gupta wept.
But where some see our civilization circling the drain, others see opportunity. Radio Free Ozarks spoke with Bysexx Buckthorn Justyce (they/them/we?), an architect and housing advocate in Detroit. Although Justyce used the pronoun “we” repeatedly during our interview, Radio Free Ozarks is uncertain if Justyce was referring to more than one person.
“We’ve heard the reports about abandoned office buildings becoming a safety hazard,” Justyce told us. “And let we tell you, Detroit is certainly at the leading edge of having to deal with empty, hazardous buildings. It’s the office buildings downtown, not the residential towers, that are slowly turning into a public health threat. So we see an opportunity by turning these unwanted office buildings into housing for low- or no-income residents.
“We are still working out the details of our proposal. It may or may not be Woke enough. We’s first thought was to convert these unwanted buildings into proper condo buildings. But then we ran into miserable bureaucrats determined to crush we’s ideas by citing all sorts of building and fire codes, like windows that open for sleeping quarters and all that nonsense.
“Showers. These people expected someone to install showers in these buildings. All sorts of things. Kitchens. Are you (expletive) kidding we? With all the proper plumbing stacks. We called around to some contractors but they never called back. So now we think we’ll have to campaign—we did not say riot—for Detroit to give an exception to the codes and just declare these structures as 100% fair game for the unhoused. The pioneer spirit. They’d just move in. First come, first served. With government intervention and government funding we feel that we could keep these buildings stable. It could at least keep the elevators working and the basements mostly dry, but there might become issues with trash building up and the limited restroom facilities.
“So we’re proposing to take a couple of the elevator shafts out of service, and use one as an all-purpose trash chute and one as a sort of all-purpose sanitary drain. And most of these buildings have fire sprinklers, and we’re looking at repurposing them into some sort of washdown system. The unhoused are good people, we’re told. Give them the chance and they’ll take the initiative to make all of this work.
“We really hope to get the code exceptions approved by the city council and get a pilot program going before the start of winter,” Justyce concluded, “unless we land that job as a production assistant on Star Trek: Discovery.”
A Radio Free Ozarks reporter tried to contact Dr. Gupta for an authoritative, article-closing followup comment on the proposed housing plan in Detroit, but his office’s phone system was apparently out of service. Per a local contact of this reporter, the entrance to the building housing the CRTB’s office appeared to have been newly boarded up.
Man (modified by RFO) Jorge Royan under CC BY-SA 3.0
Camp 1 (modified by RFO) Murray Bush – Flux Photo under CC BY-NC-ND 2.5
Camp 2 (modified by RFO) Ted McGrath under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Camp 3 (modified by RFO) Ted Hayes under CC BY-SA 4.0
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