Lessons Urban Planners Can Take From The Leaning Tower of San Francisco
This building was going to become the talk of the town. When it opened in 2009, the 58-storey Millennium Tower of San Francisco earned the reputation of being the tallest residential building in the city. A high-rise that was “designed and constructed to the extraordinarily high standards", provided residents, among other high-profile amenities, wine cellars and screening rooms. One only had to push a button and the maintenance staff would, say, fix a leaking tap in minutes. Of course, this all came at a price. The 420 units in the building reportedly fetched $750 million upon sale. Before the news about the sinking state of the building became public in August this year, a 3BHK unit in the Millennium Tower was valued at $9 million. Today, many residents say their houses are worth $0, $1 or $2. Its claim to fame is the very reason why the building now has the dubious distinction of being known as the Leaning Tower of San Francisco—the tall tower has sunk 16 inches into landfill and many inches towards the northwest since it was constructed.
Trashing the earlier claims of the developer that the sinking has stopped, the European Space Agency (ESA) recently said it was sinking at a steady pace.
Amid all this, a blame game ensues.
The developer, Millennium Partners, has accused the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) for the damage it has caused by removing a huge quantity of ground water. This government agency is building a transit terminal close to the tower. Then there are claims the city's department of building inspections gave its clearance to the building despite a beforehand knowledge of the fact that "larger than expected settlements" are expected.
"All buildings settle into their foundations, but this building was only projected to sink between four and six inches over its lifetime. The revelation of the building's unexpected decline has set off a round of lawsuits, government inquiries, and recriminations that promise to last for years," says a report by The Guardian.
It is worth mentioning here that San Francisco is a seismically active city and is flanked by seven subparallel fault lines, making to prone to earthquakes.
Tragic as it might be, the sinking tower of San Francisco stands as a case study for the developing world. In emerging economies, constructing high-rises is being seen as the only option to house the teeming millions. Laws are being introduced to relax floor space index norms to allow taller constructions. However, it will all, as is the case with the Leaning Tower of San Francisco, will go wrong without digging deep at the planning stage.
"The prospect of the next "big one" has long kept San Francisco architecture relatively low to the ground, but in the early 2000s, developer ambitions shot skyward. Despite the fact that much of the city is at risk of "liquefaction" during an earthquake, and despite the fact that a group of engineers from the University of California Berkeley reportedly pushed for stricter standards for skyscrapers, developers raced ahead," adds The Guardian report.