Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Rats", Not Earthquake, Caused TechnoMart Building to Shake

The mystery of the shaking TechnoMart shopping mall in Seoul earlier this month, which caused hundreds to evacuate the swaying building, may have been solved.

Initially the event was blamed on the latest in a series of highly-localized earthquakes which have plagued high-profile Korean buildings and infrastructure in recent years, challenging their excellent and robust construction. But despite the assurance of the owners, some questioned whether the mid-air quake, which left the lower floors of the building unaffected, could have an alternative cause.

According to building tenants, staff had originally suggested the building had been subject to a fire drill, but the fire department denied such a drill would have led to movement in the building since the alarms "are loud, but not so loud as to cause concrete displacement". Tests were run and the next morning the local District Office withdrew the evacuation order, saying it concluded that "there is no big problem with the structure of the building", though it declined to say what the small problems with the structure of the building might be.

Suspicions then fell on the building's new 4-D movie theater, with some questioning whether the fourth-dimensional nature of the area was causing dangerous temporal disturbances. Experts had warned of the dangers of creating 4-D theaters when so little was known about the technology and its possible quantum effects, but the entertainment industry denied the technology could cause space-time to be warped in a way that was likely to lead to structural failures. The government however, fearing an inter-dimensional fringe event may have occurred, ordered other 4-D theaters in Korea to be checked, though no problems were found.

The building owners now finally believe they have isolated the cause of TechnoMart's shaking. The reason, according to the owners, was 17 middle-aged people - so called 'gym rats' - in a 12th floor fitness center performing a mixture of boxing and taekwondo excercises known as 'Tae Bo', or 'Street Fighting', which became popular after the fall of Korea's benevolent dictatorship in the 1980s. This, they say, resulted in the building swaying for 10 minutes. In order to prove the theory, the situation was precisely recreated yesterday with 23 middle-aged people who performed two minutes of warm-up exercises, three minutes of light 'Tae Bo', followed by three minutes of vigorous 'Tae Bo' exercises. Exactly the same song, "The Power" by Snap was played, and people in the building above the gym said they were "all shook up" by the experience.

The original 17 gym rats refused to participate in the reenactment, and the teacher, who had just started his or her job that day, has disappeared because he doesn't want any media attention. But some said that inexperience may have led to 28 year-old Kim turning up the gym's amplifier up to '11', which may have exacerbated the event.

While 'Tae Bo' is designed to counter any kind of street threat, including those of aggressive buildings, experts say that even 17 'Tae Bo' practitioners are not enough to bring down a building of TechnoMart's size, and what the event seems to demonstrate is the increasing problem of obesity in Korea, with Koreans' bodies becoming dangerously more 'Westernized' according to scientists. There are fears that as the trend worsens, more and more well-designed Korean buildings will be subject to this foreign threat.

In 1831 the Broughton Suspension Bridge in England collapsed due to mechanical resonance caused by British troops marching over it. After earlier problems the distinguished Manchester engineer Eaton Hodgkinson said the construction should be properly tested but it was not. In June 2000 the Millennium Bridge in London also shook when a large group of people used it. While the TechnoMart Building is not a bridge, British people are known to have entered the building before and it is possible some were inside at the time it began shaking.

Despite conclusively proving the gym rat theory, other experts have continued to question it, saying that people beneath TechnoMart's fitness center should have felt the shaking if this was the cause. In the original incident, tremors were felt above that floor. But a professor involved in the experiment has assured the public that there is "very little possibility" that the steel-framed building would collapse any time soon.

Individuals on Twitter have nevertheless been critical of the inspection outcome. "If the real cause of the tremor is the exercise, then aren't the people who built the shoddy building be held accountable?" a tweeter called Stefanet asked. Another tweeter, honeypooh37 said "It's really ridiculous that a building shook up due to an exercise at a gym."

The final results of the detailed safety inspection will be released in two months, but the building's owners would like to stress that it is open as usual in the meantime and is perfectly safe.

Related Links
Highly Localized Earthquakes Plague Korean Buildings
TechnoMart Building Moves Again, Runs Red Light
Tae Bo Shake Yo
Evacuated building reopens, but tremors remain mystery
Mysteriously Trembling Shopping Mall Open to Public Again
TechnoMart shaken by gym: Test
Gym rats shook TechnoMart: Owner
Fitness fanatics may have caused mall shaking
Aerobic exercise blamed for tremor at Techno-Mart
Tae Bo
4D film
Now it's 4D film: The high-tech cinemas which will make you feel sick, damp... and punched
'More Korean women to be obese'
Korean body types become more ‘Westernized’
Broughton Suspension Bridge

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