Building implosion

Building implosion

Building implosion is a term in use in the controlled demolition industry. It refers to strategically placing explosive material and timing its detonation so that a structure collapses on itself in a matter of seconds minimizing the physical damage to its immediate surroundings. Despite its terminology, building implosion also applies to the controlled demolition of other structures, such as bridges, smokestacks, towers, and tunnels.

Building implosion (which reduces to seconds a process which could take months or years to achieve by conventional methods) typically occurs in urban areas and often involves large landmark structures.


The term "building implosion" can be misleading to laymen: the technique is not a true implosion phenomenon. That is, a true implosion occurs when the difference between internal (lower) and external (higher) pressure is so great that a structure collapses into itself.

On the other hand, building implosion techniques do not rely on the difference between internal and external pressure to collapse a structure. Instead, the technique weakens or removes critical supports so that the building can no longer withstand the force of gravity and is pulled down under its own weight.

Numerous small explosives, strategically placed within the structure, are used to catalyze the collapse. Nitroglycerin, dynamite, or other explosives are used to shatter reinforced concrete supports. Linear shaped charges are used to sever steel supports. These explosives are progressively detonated on supports throughout the structure. Then, explosives on the lower floors initiate the controlled collapse.

A simple structure like a chimney can be prepared for demolition in less than a day. Larger or more complex structures can take up to three months of preparation to remove internal walls and wrap columns with fabric and fencing before firing the explosives.

Historical overview

As part of the demolition industry, the history of building implosion is tied to the development of explosives technology.

One of the earliest documented attempts at building implosion was the 1773 razing of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Waterford, Ireland with 150 pounds of gunpowder, a huge amount of explosives at the time. The use of low velocity explosive produced a deafening explosion that instantly reduced the building to rubble. [cite news | author = Dick Grogan | title = Pillars of the church may save the nave | page = 2 | publisher = The Irish Times, City Edition; Home News Section; From the South-East | date = 1997-06-11 ]

The 1900s saw the erection of—and ultimately the need to demolish—the first skyscrapers. This led to other considerations in the explosive demolition of buildings, such as worker and spectator safety and limiting collateral damage. Benefiting from the availability of dynamite, a high-velocity explosive based on a stabilized form of nitroglycerine, and borrowing from techniques used in rock-blasting, such as staggered detonation of several small charges, building demolition edged toward efficient building implosion.

Following World War II, European demolition experts faced with massive reconstruction projects in dense urban areas gathered practical knowledge and experience for bringing down large structures without harming adjacent properties.cite conference | author = Brent Blanchard | title = A History of Explosive Demolition in America | booktitle = Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Explosives and Blasting Technique | pages = 27–44 | year = 2002 | month = February | id = ISSN 0732-619X | publisher = International Society of Explosives Engineers] This led to the emergence of a demolition industry that grew and matured during the latter half of the twentieth century. At the same time, the development of more efficient high-velocity explosives such as RDX and non-electrical firing systems combined to make this a period of time in which the building implosion technique was extensively used.

Meanwhile, public interest in the spectacle of controlled building explosion also grew. The October 1994 demolition of the Sears Merchandise Center in Philadelphia, PA drew a cheering crowd of 50,000, as well as protesters, bands, and street vendors hawking building implosion memorabilia.Evolution in the mastery of controlled demolition led to the world record demolition of the Seattle Kingdome on March 26, 2000. [cite web | author = Controlled Demolition, Inc. | title = Seattle Kingdome demolition | url = | accessdate = 2007-08-07]

In 1997, a building implosion in Canberra, Australia experienced disaster. The main building did not fully disintegrate and had to be manually demolished. Far worse, the explosion was not contained on the site and large pieces of debris were projected towards spectators 500 metres away, in a location considered safe for viewing. A twelve-year old girl was killed instantly, and nine others were injured. Large fragments of masonry and metal were found 650 metres from the demolition site.cite web | last = Madden (ACT Coroner) | first = Shane G. | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1999 | url = | title = General Chronology and Overview | work = The Bender Coronial Decision | publisher = ACT Magistrates Court and Tribunals (Coroner's Court) | accessdate = 2007-03-07]


External links

* [ Demolition Simulation] Advanced structural analysis for predicting demolitions.
* [ A History of Structural Demolition in America] by Brent L. Blanchard
* [ How Building Implosions Work] by Tom Harris on
* [ Building Implosions] Videos

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