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Watch Taiwan’s 660-Ton Skyscraper ‘Damper’ Swing During Magnitude-6.9 Earthquake

Taiwan was rocked by a huge earthquake on Sunday that measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, placing it firmly in the “strong” category that can cause dangerous fallout to humans and infrastructure.

The last place you’d probably want to be when such a disaster strikes is on the upper floors of one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. But new footage shot inside Taipei 101, a building that extends half a kilometer above its namesake city, reveals how clever architectural designs can offset natural hazards.

For years, tourists have flocked to see a 660-ton steel ball that hangs between the 92nd and the 87th floor of Taipei 101, which is known as a Tuned Mass Damper. But this weekend, onlookers had a chance to actually watch the damper at work as it counteracted the earthquake tremors by swaying, like a pendulum, about eight inches from its normal state of equilibrium.

The motion of the damper steadies the immense skyscraper in the wake of earthquakes and typhoons, and it also buffets the building against daily winds. Though eight inches of motion may not seem like much, it takes some serious shaking to move this giant ball at all. The damper’s biggest swing on record measured a full meter, or 39 inches, during the windy onslaught of Typhoon Soudelor in August 2015.

The damper is so large that it could not be schlepped up in elevators to its current location within Taipei 101, and its high altitude made it impossible for cranes to hoist it to the right spot. The structure had to be moved in parts to the upper floors where it was assembled and welded together.  

For more than a decade, Taipei 101 has served as an internal ballast for this iconic skyscraper, but it is also a beloved attraction for visitors that it has earned its own mascots, known as the Damper Babies. The babies, who appear to have sentient dampers for heads, are color-coded characters that have starred in comic books and are sold as souvenirs at Taipei 101.

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