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This company puts robot legs on buildings to ‘walk’ them to new locations

(TECH NEWS) China is balancing preserving its architectural heritage with rapid modern expansion, using unique technology inspired by 19th century.

Looking up at a building in a city environment.

It’s a big enough pain to rearrange the furniture in my living room. Whether permanent, or looking for that cookie I swore I dropped behind the couch, even something that might take me 30 seconds of exertion is usually above my tolerance threshold.

Let’s magnify that problem by about a billion and start asking questions on how an entire building might be moved.

Not a shed in your neighbor’s backyard (which makes odd sounds some nights), not something designed to be portable on a trailer, and not a glorified tent or collapsible structure. We’re talking about a concrete structure weighing hundreds of tons and the need to have it move to a new permanent location.

Shanghai Evolution Shift has developed support that act as robotic legs, and a few hundred of them together can be placed under a building and literally have it walk to a new location. I’m simplifying it a bit here, so don’t let it sound too insane – there’s still a lot of physics and real world and astronomically heavy things involved, so it’s not exactly some miracle fix that can be deployed in one afternoon. But it is still remarkable – half the supports lift, the other half move into place, the load-bearing first group shifts the building forward a few feet, the second half rise to hold, and this process repeats.

Ultimately, a structure can be moved across the ground and be placed elsewhere; in this case, it was the Lagena Primary school – an 85 year old building weighing 7600 tons built in 1935 by the former French Commission – moved 62 meters (203 feet) along a curved path over the course of 18 days, turning 21 degrees in the transition. More impressive, the historical building is not a standard square/rectangle, but instead an odd T-shape. This was done to make room for new commercial and office space, which is set to be completed by 2023.

Some of you are thinking crutches don’t sound too awful right now.

This has set off a debate about conservation of architectural history, as there is a concern to keep storied buildings of the past in the ever-increasing march toward modernized expansion. Former Chinese Emperor Mao Zedong even waged a cultural war on “The Four Olds” in an attempt to erase previous examples of earlier Chinese civilization, prompting the destruction and razing of monuments and numerous buildings. Even with this type of mandate no longer in place, urbanization has become relentless and threatens to erase entire cultural cornerstones.

There have been attempts to draft plans to ensure conservation of such sites is achieved, and in doing so, this has brought about the need to see building relocation as a viable option. Shanghai has especially been a strong example of this preservation, setting itself as a leader in making sure the past is represented, saved, and respectfully maintained.

Interestingly, some of the ideas here are literally from over 150 years ago, and were deployed en masse in Chicago. At the time, there was a drainage problem – the city had no clearance above Lake Michigan, making all of its roads and buildings at water level. This meant that water and sewage would not run off, causing stagnant pools to appear across all roads, leading to outbreaks of diseases yearly.

Here, too, was an outlandish solution proposed and then executed – raising Chicago itself several feet. Trenches would be dug under a building, thousands of giant jackscrews would be placed in a giant grid pattern, and hundreds of workers would turn them in unison until the building was suddenly well above its original footprint. Interestingly, not only did this work, but there were no fatalities and only a small handful of incidents.

This process went on for twenty years, and despite some hiccups with sidewalks being hilariously uneven during that time, the results were a resounding success. The increase in height meant that a sewer system could be installed on the roads and buried, which fixed the original problem. Maybe the craziest thing about this is that so few people remember it, despite Chicago having always been a hub of American history.

There’s actually an entire history involved with moving houses using logs and animals and other means, in case anyone is interested. Apparently it is much more common than you’d think; we’ve got better technology today, but sometimes people just made do.

Last joke because I would be disappointed in anyone who didn’t reference this (including myself): Howl’s Moving Castle anyone?

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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