1.20 meters to danger of collapse – The leaning tower of San Francisco continues to topple

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1.20 meters to danger of collapse – The leaning tower of San Francisco continues to topple

San Francisco's Millennium Tower needs to be stabilized at great expense

San Francisco’s Millennium Tower needs to be stabilized at great expense

Which: photo alliance / dpa

The Millennium Tower is the tallest and most luxurious residential building in San Francisco. But the skyscraper has been slowly leaning sideways for years. Everyone now chased everyone – and the first rescue attempts only made things worse. There isn’t much time left.

An some days, residents of the Millennium Tower hear creaking. Other windows suddenly burst. And way down on the Mission Street sidewalk, the sidewalk is creaking now. It’s been like this for years – because the skyscraper in the city of San Francisco is slowly tilting to the side. Inch by inch, it slopes northwest.

The issues have been known since 2016. They are not yet resolved. A report from the engineers responsible for repairing the tower now shows that over the past year it has tilted another 7.5 centimeters.

Overall, the imbalance is more than 60 centimeters. But the owners of the apartments, experts assured in a hearing by the city, are safe and sound, at least for now.

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Behind the blue-gray glass facade of the skyscraper hide 419 luxury units. Almost all have been sold, including the 580 square foot penthouse on the 58th floor for $13 million. The Millennium Tower measures 197 meters from the ground floor to the top of its antenna, making it the tallest residential building in San Francisco. It is located in the financial district of the city.

Repair costs $100 million

There are leaning buildings in the world. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course. Or the Leaning Tower of Neviansk in Russia. Big Ben in London also tilts slightly. Examples can also be found in China, India and Malaysia. But all these buildings are old. It is surprising that an inhabited and almost new skyscraper leans to one side.

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The Millennium Tower cost $350 million to build, and repairs will likely cost another $100 million. The work should be completed in September. Until then, the engineers told the hearing, the skyscraper will continue to tilt.

The experts are in a race against time. If the inclination exceeds one meter, it is unlikely that the elevators and water pipes will work properly. From an inclination of 1.8 meters, there is a risk for the inhabitants, because the building may then no longer be earthquake-resistant. San Francisco is still experiencing small tremors. And geologists think it’s likely that a big one is coming soon.

Will a new station cause the imbalance?

Who is to blame for the mess? Some locals say: the city. They believe that a pit dug in the immediate vicinity for a new station led to the imbalance. Others see the responsibility of the companies that built the Millennium Tower. Because they built – in the truest sense of the word – on sand. Their engineers drove the pillars that support the skyscraper just 25 meters into the ground and did not reach the bedrock.

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Now everyone sued everyone. The parties – merchants, building owners, architects, structural engineers, the city and the surveyors who inspected the basement before construction – are fighting a long and costly legal battle. If it ever turns out that everything is actually in the new public station, the taxpayers of San Francisco would have to pay the repairs and the legal costs.

Experts tasked with saving the Millennium Tower began last year installing 70-meter-long columns that reach into the bedrock. But at first, his efforts seemed to make matters worse. Because the building suddenly tilted even faster. 25 centimeters of the total inclination of 60 centimeters would be due to stabilization attempts alone. Therefore, the engineers temporarily stopped their work in the summer of 2021.

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An investigation revealed that during the construction of the new retaining piles, the excavators apparently shook the ground more than expected and removed too much soil. In order to protect the sensitive basement, the number of columns has now been reduced from 52 to 18. Work should resume in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, the skyscraper apartments will continue to be sold. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit found a new owner in December. Price according to the American real estate portal Zillow: 1.16 million dollars. A godsend for a luxury building like the Millennium Tower. But also a bold bet that the engineers will know how to fix it. Because otherwise the money is – so to speak – thrown away.

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