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Holland Tunnel And Seattle Kingdome

Clifford Holland died before his engineering masterwork was completed in 1927.

Holland Tunnel

Holland Made It Safe For Cars To Drive Under The Hudson River

To the tens of thousands of drivers who jostle to enter the Holland Tunnel every day, the tubes are less a marvel than a bottleneck. Most give hardly a thought to the fact that they're about to drive between Manhattan and New Jersey 94 feet below the surface of the Hudson River, in close quarters with hundreds of exhaust-spewing engines. Early in the 20th century, however, many experts regarded such a tunnel as a risky fantasy, doubting that drivers could survive the miasma of fumes. At that time, bridges and ferries — out in the fresh air — were considered the only safe way to carry internal-combustion vehicles across rivers.

But this tunnel was born of desperation. By 1906 — three years after Ford's Model A hit the road — the Hudson River's ferries were already overloaded, as cars and trucks added to the legions of horse-drawn buggies and wagons. Spanning the river with a bridge was out; the city's low-lying topography meant a bridge high enough to clear ship traffic could not be built at a reasonable cost. After seven years of study, engineers determined in 1913 that a tunnel was the only answer. It would double the traffic load across the river and cut the time needed to cross by ferry by more than half. But how could it be done without asphyxiating its users?

Enter 36-year-old Clifford Holland, an energetic engineer who had helped build the Big Apple's subway network. The task had given him unique experience in tunnel engineering and earned him a reputation that overshadowed his relative youth. In 1919, he was chosen to construct a Hudson River tunnel.

Taking toll in 1929

Tunnels under the Hudson River were not new: the first trans-Hudson rail tunnel opened in 1910. However, the much larger diameter of vehicular tunnels, combined with the affect of vehicle exhaust on occupants, especially for those stuck in traffic inside the tunnel, presented new problems. To address these problems, Holland gathered a team of experts from the U.S. Bureau of Mines, Yale University and the University of Illinois. Ole Singstad, who later went on to design the Lincoln, Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels, led the design team.

Holland and his team of experts embarked on research that included testing vehicle fumes on volunteer subjects. The group estimated the lethal concentration of carbon monoxide at just half a percent. Natural air circulation — all that railway tunnels used — would not be enough to keep the tunnel safe. So Holland and his men designed the first mechanical ventilation system for a tunnel, powered by 84 fans housed at the tunnel ends. Half the fans forced in clean air through ducts at road level. The other half drew off dirty air through ducts in the ceiling. The system, called transverse flow, refreshed the tunnel's atmosphere every 90 seconds.

Labor of love.

It was brilliant and risky, and it worked. "It was a very bold move to do this job," says Norman Nadel, a New York City engineer who helped build several of Manhattan's newer subway tunnels. "It took a lot of courage."

Building the tunnel's two tubes was no cakewalk either. Holland monitored every square inch of construction. Floods when water broke in through the soft riverbed, sickness from the high air pressure used to keep the water out, heat, fumes — all plagued the workers and Holland himself. But Holland was in love. "When [he] talks tunnels, his listener is in danger of being convinced that tunnels are the only refuge for mankind," wrote a reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1920. "[B]y the time he has finished his hearer sees in a tunnel all the allurement which a mole finds in a nicely constructed burrow."


When completed in 1927, the four-lane, 1.6-mile tunnel was the world's first ventilated automobile tunnel, and it remains the model for modern passages. About 30 million vehicles now rumble through every year; 1.3 billion have used it since it opened. It was named a national historic landmark in 1993.

But Holland, a father of four girls, never saw that first vehicle (a Bloomingdale's truck) pay the 50-cent toll (now $6) and drive the eight minutes from state to state. He died of exhaustion at age 41, just two days before his diggers from the New York and New Jersey sides were scheduled to "hole through" deep under the Hudson to complete the tunnel. Two weeks later it was named for him.


Think twice, you only live once: This was an expression used by the "sandhogs," as the tunnel construction workers were called, that summed up the danger of working in the tunnel. Teams of "sandhogs" followed two enormous, 240-ton hydraulically powered shields under the riverbed. The cast-iron shields weighed 400 tons, measured 30 feet in diameter, were 16 feet long, and had a forward thrust of 6,000 tons. As they moved on, the "sandhogs" removed mud, blasted through rock, and bolted together a series of iron rings that would form the lining of the tunnel. They used a total of 115,000 tons of cast-iron steel and 130,000 cubic yards of concrete to line the tunnel. On a good day, the "sandhogs" moved about 40 feet. On bad days, they did not move at all, and often suffered from "the bends," an affliction caused by the compressed air of the tunnel. A total of 13 workers died during construction.
Samantha Levine. Tunnel visionary. U.S. News & World Report. June 30, 2003.

Seattle's Kingdome is neaty imploded on March 26, 2000

Seattle Kingdome

Mark Loizeaux likens it to the best shots of a golf game when he's "in the zone" — completely in control, master of his domain. "There's no feeling like it," he says, recalling the 1975 demolition of a 32-story tower in São Paulo, Brazil. At 361 feet, it was at that time the tallest free-standing concrete building ever felled by explosives. "You look at a structure and you own it; you know its inclinations, you know what it wants to do," he says. "It just slid down smoothly and disappeared into an 80-foot-deep excavation pit like a rabbit slipping into its hole. It was beautiful."

It is an immutable law: Any structure that goes up will eventually come down — by the laws of nature or the will of man. Stonehenge will erode to rubble over eons, Egypt's pyramids over millenniums, and Europe's cathedrals over centuries. The life span of modern structures will be measured in decades. Most will be clumsily bashed to pieces over weeks or months by cranes swinging headache balls. The bigger, more difficult ones will be razed in seconds with spectacular explosive elegance by experts in the art and science of controlled demolition.

The technique was pioneered by the late Jack Loizeaux, who began as a forester in Baltimore. He used dynamite to remove tree stumps and in the late 1940s began toppling chimneys, overpasses, and small buildings. Honing his techniques, he began dropping ever larger structures in urban areas, and an industry was born. "We kick out the supports, and the good Lord and gravity do the rest," he liked to say.

In 1960, when Jack incorporated the business, Mark, 13, was already working with his father after school. Doug joined in 1972, and in 1991, Mark's daughter Stacey, 32, became the third generation of America's first family of Unbuilders. By now Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Inc. has brought down thousands of structures, reportedly more than all its global competitors combined.


Some of the family's destructive feats are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. There's the Seattle Kingdome (largest structure by volume);

the 1,200-foot Omega radio tower in Argentina (tallest structure); and the 33-floor J. L. Hudson department store in Detroit (tallest building).

Their handiwork includes demolishing 26 buildings damaged in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake; the Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and Atlanta's Omni arena; and failed housing projects such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. They have leveled abandoned radars and missile sites in Europe and a whole block in Dallas.

Guinness World Records 2003
Guinness World Records 2003

Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of blasting techniques can blow up a building. The Loizeauxs implode things down. They collapse a structure inward within its footprint or lay it down in a predetermined direction to avoid collateral damage to adjacent structures. After a detailed structural analysis, they use a minimum amount of explosives strategically placed in holes drilled in critical support columns or strapped to support beams. These are detonated in an exquisitely timed sequence lasting from milliseconds to a full nine seconds. Weight and gravity do the rest. Some Loizeaux techniques developed over the decades are proprietary and the principal reason for their commercial success and safety record. Their implosions have never caused a death or injury.

The tools of destruction range from standard dynamite, used to shatter concrete, to linear shaped charges that concentrate the force of a high explosive called RDX, slicing through steel with millions of pounds of pressure per square inch. In a 2001 project, for example, it took a mere 80 pounds of shaped charges to bring down each of two New York gas storage tanks built with 5 million pounds of steel.

Building implosions have become a popular spectator sport; millions have gathered to witness these stunning and beautiful tableaux of destruction. The showbiz side of their profession has enhanced the family's fame. Their blasts have been featured in major Hollywood movies including Atlantic City, Lethal Weapon 3, Demolition Man, and Enemy of the State. In 1993, their implosion of the 22-story north tower of the Dunes hotel for Las Vegas resort mogul Steve Wynn drew 250,000 spectators.

Alfred P. Murrah Building Implosion/Demolition looking northwest on May 23, 1995

There is a more somber side to CDI's work. In 1995, the company was asked to demolish the remains of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Building, blown up by Timothy McVeigh. The Murrah building was a prelude to the greater disaster of Sept. 11, 2001. Like most Americans, the Loizeauxs were transfixed by the televised scenes of destruction shortly after the first jet struck. But as experts in buildings' vulnerabilities, they knew right away what few Americans realized. "I told Doug immediately that the tower was coming down, and when the second tower was hit, that it would follow," remembers Mark.

Horrified, the Loizeaux brothers watched first responders streaming into the doomed towers and tried frantically, and unsuccessfully, to phone in warnings. In the following days, CDI was called to ground zero to consult on safety and develop plans for demolition and debris removal. What if the twin towers, though badly damaged, had somehow remained standing? Without doubt, the Loizeaux family would have been called upon to bring them down. "Quite simply," says Mark in a rare moment of introspective uncertainty, "I don't know how we would have done it."
Michael Satchell. Bringing down the house. U.S. News & World Report. June 30, 2003.

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