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Demolition (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

It doesn't surprise me that we live in a disposable society, its the scale that startles me.

I'm thinking of the recent demolition of two sports stadiums: Both Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and the Kingdome in Seattle have disappeared. The Kingdome seemed young as structures go: It was only twenty four years old. And successful too: It had seen seventy three million visitors who watched the Mariners, Monster Truck shows and even religious rallies.

Some days I think about how we dispose of huge buildings and wonder whether the Romans would have got rid of their colosseum. Perhaps they would have. I don't think human nature has really changed much over the centuries - most likely the Romans just didn't have the technology to demolish the colosseum. To get rid of a superstructure like Seattle's Kingdome takes an incredible amount of knowledge about structures, mathematics and explosives.

The Kingdome, for example, presented a special problem to the demolition team. The dome is based on the Roman arch - in a sense the dome is one large solid arch - which is a very, very strong thing. Its held up only by supports around it edges. Now it would seem that all you have to do is knock out these supports and let the dome fall. But if you did this the Kingdome would shake the ground and destroy nearby buildings. Mark Loizeaux, head of the demolition team, said that the trick is to let it fall gently.

To do this Loizeaux first had teams remove the Kingdome's seats and bleachers, then fill it with twelve thousand cubic yards of concrete rubble to cushion the fall of the dome. Next his explosive experts drilled five thousand five hundred holes throughout the dome, filling them with over four thousand pounds of explosives. Loizeaux's goal was to time the explosions to cut the dome into six pie-shaped pieces - each falling before the other, thus avoiding the huge shook of the entire dome crashing to the earth - and his goal also was to leave unharmed buildings as close as one hundred feet.

Just before the demolition of Seattle's Kingdome, on a Sunday morning in March, Mark Loizeaux and his team, as is their custom, took a moment to pray. Next they started a ten second countdown, followed by a wait of five seconds to let crews shout a final warning. Then they pressed the button. {Explosion sound} The explosions took out the dome in six pie-shaped slices in sequence, pulling the structure inward - creating an explosion equal to an earthquake of two point three on the Richter scale. In total it took 16.8 seconds to fall - they'd guessed it would take 17.8, this is very precise work.

The Kingdome, home to a billion happy memories, was now a pile of rubble only thirty-two feet tall. Surely the ultimate monument to our disposable culture.

Copyright 2001 William S. Hammack Enterprises