Tearin' It Up

Taking a building apart - piece by piece

Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. It is second after Monaco (and not counting Hong Kong or Macau, which aren't independent countries). And that means lots of high rise buildings. Office buildings in the Central Business District are skyscrapers. Shopping malls on Orchard Road are built up, not out like in the US. Malls are usually four or five stories high with multiple basement levels. Most people in Singapore (us included) live in high-rise apartment buildings. Between 80% and 90% of Singaporeans live in the ubiquitous HDB flats (Housing Development Board). These are high rise apartments built by the Singapore government. The individual units are sold to citizens (like condominiums) at affordable prices. Other people live in private high-rise apartments, which is what we do. Single family, detached houses, are quite rare.

With all these tall buildings packed in so tightly, I always wondered what happened to old buildings. Since so much of the construction in the city is new, I didn't see a demolition project till this summer (mentioned in a previous blog). But now one of the buildings right behind ours is being torn down. So looking out from our balcony we have a perfect view of just how it is done and how it progresses.

Slow progress - compare after a week's work

The first step is to construct scaffolding around the top of the building and then hang material from it. This reaches all the way from the roof of the building to the ground. This is obviously to prevent any fragments that break lose from flying off where they might hit someone or damage property. I certainly wouldn't want to get hit by a piece of concrete that had fallen ten or twenty stories, or have one go though the windshield of my car (oops, in Singapore it's a windscreen).

The next thing is to lift several pieces of heavy equipment onto the roof of the building. I'm sorry I missed seeing that. It must have been impressive. All of a sudden, one day there were just two pieces of heavy equipment on the roof of the building out back! One has a jack hammer accessory mounted on it's arm. This breaks up the walls and floors of the building, which are all concrete. The second piece of heavy equipment has a conventional digger-type scoop and it picks up the loose pieces and deposits them in a chute which is constructed from the roof to the ground. There it falls into a dump truck (oops, lorry) and is hauled away.

This means that we get to listen to a jack hammer pounding away, from about 8:00 in the morning till about 6:00 at night, six days a week. Even now as I type in my office with the windows closed I can hear it quite clearly. So much for sleeping in late. And from the rate of progress they are making, I will guess that it will take them about two months to tear this building down. And it wasn't that tall really. Only about eight or ten stories.

Lot's of black smoke - that can't be good

Not that I am being critical. The process seems pretty amazing to me. First of all, I can't believe that the roof and all of the floors of every building around can support the weight of the heavy machines they are using to break up and move away the concrete. They each must weighy many tons. Tearing apart the walls around you seems straitforward, but tearing apart the floor that you are standing on seems kind of tricky to me. And as you start to break up part of the floor, you have to do it in a way that it isn't so weakened that the part you are standing on collapses. Yup, if it was me I would take my time.

Of course it doesn't always go smoothly. There is another building being torn down on Orchard Road about two blocks from our house. For those who have been here, it is the Specialty Shopping Centre which was right next to the Somerset MRT station. We can't really see it very well because there are other buildings in the way, but one Saturday morning about two weeks ago I glanced out the window and the whole area was covered in smoke. They had a fire in one of the ventilation systems on the roof of the building. It was put out quickly and fortunately no one was hurt. But it does show that you have to be very careful and really know what you are doing to tear down a tall building in the middle of a dense, heavily-populated city like Singapore.