Shanghai residents passing through the city’s eastern Huangpu district earlier this month might have stumbled upon an unusual sight: a “walking” building.
An 85-year-old primary school has been lifted off the ground — in its entirety — and relocated using new technology dubbed the “walking machine.”
In the city’s latest effort to preserve historic structures, engineers attached nearly 200 mobile supports under the five-story building, according to Lan Wuji, chief technical supervisor of the project.
The supports act like robotic legs. They’re split into two groups which alternately rise up and down, imitating the human stride. Attached sensors help control how the building moves forward, said Lan, whose company Shanghai Evolution Shift developed the new technology in 2018.
“It’s like giving the building crutches so it can stand up and then walk,” he said.
A timelapse shot by the company shows the school inching laboriously along, one tiny step at a time.
According to a statement from the Huangpu district government, the Lagena Primary School was constructed in 1935 by the municipal board of Shanghai’s former French Concession. It was moved in order to make space for a new commercial and office complex, which will be completed by 2023.
Workers had to first dig around the building to install the 198 mobile supports in the spaces underneath, Lan explained. After the pillars of the building were truncated, the robotic “legs” were then extended upward, lifting the building before moving forward.
Over the course of 18 days, the building was rotated 21 degrees and moved 62 meters (203 feet) away to its new location. The relocation was completed on October 15, with the old school building set to become a centre for heritage protection and cultural education.
The project marks the first time this “walking machine” method has been used in Shanghai to relocate a historical building, the government statement said.
The city also has a track record of relocating old buildings. In 2003, the Shanghai Concert Hall, built-in 1930, was moved over 66 metes (217 feet) to make way for an elevated highway. The Zhengguanghe Building a six-story warehouse, also from the 1930s — was then shifted 125 feet (38 meters) as part of a local redevelopment in 2013.
More recently, in 2018, the city relocated a 90-year-old building in Hongkou district, in what was then considered to be Shanghai’s most complex relocation project to date, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.