Bad Vibrations

If you’re like me, you wish every day was Taco Tuesday. Or, if you’re like me in a different and more relevant way, you’re quite susceptible to motion sickness. Personally, I absolutely, positively cannot read or do anything that takes my eyes off the road while I’m riding on a train or as a passenger in a taxi—I get barfy almost immediately if I do.

About a year ago, I started experience motion sickness-like symptoms when driving in my then-new car. It only happened when I had two windows (any two) rolled partway down, and I eventually found I could avoid it by adjusting how far open/closed the windows were. The issue, it seems, is the frequency of the air vibrating past/through the open windows.

In a similar vein, a new study by professor Antony Darby of the University of Bath has shown the high-frequency vibrations of tall buildings can cause drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, and, in some cases, nausea. So, if you work in a high-rise office, you may *literally* be getting sick of work.

Sway All Day

Most people don’t realize it—even those inside—but most buildings above, say, five stories or so are almost constantly swaying, the result of wind, nearby traffic, and general human comings and

They're like high-rise Weebles.

They’re like high-rise Weebles.

goings within the building. Really tall buildings can sway back and forth as much as three feet. In 2011, a nigh-40 story building in Korea was evacuated due to earthquake warnings that, it turns out, were triggered by a particularly spirited Tae Bo class taking place on the twelfth floor.

 

All that swingin’ and swayin’ and movin’ and vibratin’—though it’s often all but imperceptible—can wreak havoc on our brains and equilibrium. According to Darby’s study, it’s the high-frequency vibrations of swaying buildings—not the amplitude—that gets ya. “As humans,” Darby told Quartz, “we’re programmed to register those [vibrations] as some sort of impending threat, from a predator, or the approach of a storm, or an earthquake.”

So, what can we do to solve this little conundrum? As humans, we are, of course, smart enough to build these tall buildings; what we’re not is smart enough to rewire our brains at that level. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere betwixt those two solutions…

They Don’t Built ‘Em Like They Used Ought To

There are plenty of ways to curb vibration. Most of them, unfortunately, are not applicable to buildings and whatnot. Now, I’m no architect, but I do have an idea that might work. Maybe.

To reduce vibrations in heavy machinery—equipment that vibrates way faster and way harder than any building ever would or could—engineers make key parts of that machinery out of special, vibration-dampening materials (DuPont’s Vespel CR-6100, etc.). Couldn’t those same materials be applied to architecture? If small parts made of those materials can minimize vibrations in large machinery, wouldn’t much larger components made of the same stuff have the same effect on a building? (Or even better, since buildings don’t vibrate nearly as fast/hard.)

I’m also no materials engineer, so maybe that wouldn’t work. Or maybe said materials would be prohibitively expensive. Or maybe there are any number of other factors I’m not qualified to consider. But it seems like it would work in theory. It’s might be too late for existing structures, but new buildings could potentially benefit from this idea.

I’ll just hang out and wait for my brilliant idea royalty checks to show up.

Photo credit: David McKelvey via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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