Few tourists can resist the urge to take humorous, forced-perspective selfies with Pisa’s leaning tower. Some choose to “prop” the tower up, some are inspired by its impending downfall and “lean” into it. Regardless of ones’ reaction to it, there is no denying the impact of MOVEMENT at the Tower of Pisa.

Years ago, our office developed internal “Working Groups” to provide enrichment on a host of topics including Codes, Office Standards, Environmental Design, and Building Technology. These groups have a leader and a team who develop goals and then provide professional enrichment and encourage resource sharing regardless of seniority or experience.

Recently, the Building Technology Group discussed the importance of designing for building movement and having a greater understanding of the causes of movement. To spark conversations about movement, the Group hosted an office-wide zoom activity of ‘guess that sketch’. Small groups met in break out rooms and took turns illustrating DEAD LOAD, HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE, and EXPANSION/CONTRACTION among others. It was a fun activity and sparked all kinds of conversations about how various conditions have been detailed across projects. It was also a good chance to hone our Zoom Annotate skills.

As architects, we know that our designs are an important part of shaping the identity and social functions of a building. At the same time, it’s also our duty to ensure that the building is both physically sound and adaptable to any environmental stressors or physical limitations it will encounter over time. For example, as an architecture firm working primarily on the east coast—where seasonal changes are significant— the buildings we design must withstand a range of temperatures, moisture levels, and wind patterns, which could create the following problems if left unaccounted for:

Although we typically think of earthquakes occurring on the west coast, seismic activity is an important design factor across the country and specifically in NYC.

Clay brick is one of our favorite building materials as you can probably guess by looking through our portfolio. Brick is both a historical and a popular building material; when detailed and built well, can last for centuries. Clay, however, expands and contracts and can cause cracking which creates opportunities for masonry failure and excessive moisture to penetrate the building.

Since it was first built in the late 1170s, the Tower of Pisa has managed to remain standing despite its significant, uneven settling into the soft ground of its site. Symbolically, the history and failure of this medieval tower is rich with hubris, irony, and poetics. While the Tower’s novelty lies in its long-term defiance against its sinking fate, you won’t find any ESKW/A buildings fall victim to movement.