Why the Leaning Tower of Pisa is Incredibly Resilient

As travellers, we often forget to educate ourselves about the places we visit beyond the usual trivia. Our sources often include the tour guide mumbling facts every time the bus stops or last-minute Google searches before the tour starts. This is why a high-quality map detailing the origins of all the country names in the world should be interesting and helpful to all of us who are even the least bit keen to travel. Well, it should be fascinating to read up on stuff like this even before or without actually travelling, right?

Today’s wave of info has to do with romance, the pope, empires and emperors, pizza and pasta. I’m kidding. But close enough. If you were ever an 8-year-old who obsessively read about the architecture of the world in children’s encyclopedia (like me) or if you ever spent your honeymoon in Italy (unlike me, I’m single), of course you must have heard about the Leaning Tower of Pisa and its secrets — secrets that have finally been unlocked by a team of engineers.

[They] finally solved the mystery of how the seemingly unstable Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy has managed to stay standing for more than six hundred years, even in a seismically active region. A team led by Roma Tre University concluded that the tower’s height of 183 feet, the soft soil in which it stands, and the structural strength of the its marble all contribute to its remarkable resilience. This phenomenon is known as dynamic soil-structure interaction (DSSI).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa began construction in the 12th century. Even then, engineers seemed to understand how the soil mix of the area contributed to the leaning, which reportedly started when the third storey was being built. This truth has again been recently uncovered.

The Roma Tre University researchers further developed previous studies by analyzing structural and seismic data records over time, the material composition of the tower (and its physical, chemical, and mechanical properties), as well as the rock and soil itself in the area. Their findings say that frequent and powerful earthquakes in the city didn’t damage the Leaning Tower of Pisa because of the insulation caused by the DDSI.

“Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the Tower to the verge of collapse, can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events,” said University of Bristol researcher George Mylonakis in a statement.

If people are equal to buildings or structures, then I suppose this is the perfect time to say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh?

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Magical Wooden Classroom Helps Children Bond with Nature

The past decade has probably seen the worst environmental damage humans have ever caused in history. However, it is also probably witness to the best human efforts in reversing the tragic situation and working towards accountability. Chile will create five new national parks in a preservation effort, China will reforest an entire area as big as Ireland (6.6 million hectares!), and announced most recently, Australia will spend 500 million dollars to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

If we are to continue these attempts at environmental preservation, then financial support from the government has to be accompanied by cultural efforts.  By which I mean we need education. And who else can we educate more than those who will inherit this earth? To continue our environmental progress, it is children who foremost need to understand how nature works.

That’s exactly the objective of this magical wooden classroom designed by Studio Weave for Belvue School.

[T]he building was created to help reconnect students with nature and it opens up to an adjacent woodland recently acquired by the school to serve as an educational nature reserve . . . Constructed from a low budget originally allocated for a cargotecture school expansion, the 1,600-square-foot Wooden Classroom comprises a “cozy lounge” informal teaching space and a “sociable kitchen” student-run school cafe next to the woods.

With curved ceilings and clerestory windows, the wooden classroom is entirely provided with natural lighting and ventilation. Students may appreciate the neighbouring woodland through large window walls. To constantly check in with the nature aspect, a forest management specialist was consulted by Studio Weave throughout the construction process for Belvue School.

“We identified that the boundary between the playground and woods marks the border between familiar school territory and the magical, mysterious world of trees,” said Studio Weave. “This very important threshold, symbolising the entrance to another world, like the gate to the secret garden, or the cupboard to Narnia became a focal point and we consequently designed the woodland classrooms to act as a gatehouse between one world and another.”

If that doesn’t sound magical, I’m not sure what does. It makes me want to be a child and rediscover the earth with fresh eyes again. Maybe that’s what we all need to really care for nature. Then again, bringing back the past is totally impossible. So here’s to hoping the children retain the wonder and magic they experience in this gorgeous wooden classroom to the bigger world once they themselves grow bigger in the future.

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Concrete Structure Can Harness Solar Energy

Running on solar may seem simple enough, but it isn’t always the most affordable option. Some institutions, such as the famed solar high school in Copenhagen, can afford to maintain thousands of panels. But for those on a budget, alternatives such as solar blocks may be a more suitable option. Either way, engineers continue to develop more efficient methods for going solar. Designed in Zurich, this concrete roof prototype can generate solar power.

The self-supporting, doubly curved shell roof has multiple layers: the heating and cooling coils and the insulation are installed over the inner concrete layer. A second, exterior layer of the concrete sandwich structure encloses the roof, onto which builders install thin-film photovoltaic cells.

The fully-developed prototype will create more energy than it consumes. The structure’s components are reusable and the concrete itself is highly robust. The team considers its success a milestone — and rightfully so.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting, thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction.”

There isn’t yet word on recreating the roof commercially, but after four years of research, the wait shouldn’t be much longer.

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Dragonfly Bridge Can Fold Up And Sail Rivers

With concepts such as floating islands becoming a reality, it seems the stuff of sci-fi are more than just fiction. For pedestrians in Inner Mongolia, this solar-powered dragonfly bridge that can sail rivers could soon be a thing.

The futuristic concept is the vision of London-based architect Margot Krasojevic, who is known for her experimental and cutting edge designs.

Her latest ambitious creation would have the ability to fold up for transport, as well as to adapt itself to its surroundings.

This would allow the bridge to move up and down the river, which would be achieved either by towing the massive structure or by onboard sails which would allow it to propel itself.

The bridge complements the city’s ever-changing “urban fabric” and dense population. For this very reason, Krasojevic believes it is important that the bridge is moving as opposed to stationary.

“Why can’t it have another use when it is not a bridge?”

“Cities demand adaptable design rather than a static and debilitating architectural presence.”

The bridge’s projected functions are far too complex for me to enumerate in a nutshell. However, I do find it worth mentioning that the machine will be solar-powered.

While Mongolia is a ways away from seeing the dragonfly bridge come to fruition, it’s concepts like these that never fail to impress.

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