What would happen in an abandoned skyscraper?

Take, for example, the Empire State Building. Thousands of people are in and out of the building daily. There are utilities, HVAC, plumbing, etc.

What would happen, physically, to the building (and any appurtenant structures, e.g television/radio antennae) if all tenants were just booted out and the building locked up?

Without any periodic maintenance, would the building eventually deteriorate to the point of having to be demolished?

The building would still be subject to weathering on the outside and corrosion on the inside and if there was no maintenance eventually bits would start falling off. If there was enough corrosion on the internal framework there would eventually be a catastrophic collapse.

Note that the empire state building is extremely overbuilt compared to today’s structures. If it was someplace with a very dry climate I see no reason that it wouldn’t stand for centuries.

Sometime in the early 80’s, I remember an interesting article in a magazine… I think it was Scientific American but I could be wrong. Anyway, they had an article on what would happen to several structures if humanity just disappeared. The examples they used were the World Trade Center, the Gateway Arch, and some dam (Grand Coulee, I think).

What I remember about the World Trade Center was that water would eventually start accumulating in the basement, and begin to rust the columns. Eventually, the rusted columns would no longer be able to support the weight of the building and it would collapse. I think they estimated 100-200 years for this to happen.
Not totally sure, as I’m trying to recall this from a magazine article 20 years ago!

I remember that Grand Coulee Dam would last for thousands of years though.

Is 30 stories enough of a skyscraper for you?

Here in St. Louis we had a Depression-era skyscraper that stood vacant for years. Leaving aside the damage that vandals caused, here’s what the restoration team found.

Leaks developed around the windows, allowing water to get in. The same thing happened with broken windows. Water being water, it found its way around and started rotting structural parts.

Standing water in copper and cast iron pipes eventually started corrosion/rust. Eventually the pipes started leaking and many had deteriorated badly enough to need replacing.

Left untouched long enough, some structural part (Maybe a joist, maybe a load beam) would eventually fail. At best, you’d have a sagging floor. At worst, it could cause a chain reaction that would cause part of the building to collapse.

Drive out on a country road some time until you find a long-abandoned barn or shack. You’ll see the roof is sagging, nails have worked their way loose, causing boards to pop out of place and the entire structure may be leaning. Concrete and steel will add many years of structural integrity, but eventually the same thing will happen.

I remember that article. The magazine was Smithsonian . I remembered the article vividly since what has actually happened to the World Trade Center. We’ll never learn if their assumptions were correct.

Hey kunilou - I remember that building. I drove/walked by it several times in my life on the occasions, few and far between, when I was in downtown St. Louis (normally my trips to StL involve Busch Stadium, the Zoo, etc.).

What was that place, originally? When and why was it abandoned? Has it been restored or torn down, or what?


The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea was to be the world’s largest hotel at 105 stories, but financial problems halted construction in 1992. The structure has deteriorated to the point where it would need to be completely renovated before construction can be completed. It’s still standing, though.

The one I was speaking of specifically was the old Continental building on Grand in mid-town. The Continetal Insurance Company went bankrupt almost as soon as the building was finished, so it never did fill its intended use. It limped along for 30 something years, but as the neighborhood got worse, it lost tenants one at a time until finally it was closed.

There’s a developer interested in it – I don’t know if the deal has been closed. I got that information from a newspaper story that appeared a few weeks ago.

There are many abandoned skyscrapers in Bangkok, leftovers from the boom that went bust. They are in various states of completeness, some just skeletons, others completed and briefly opened. Anyone know of the status of them?

Check out The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit, a terrific Web site that offers tours of many abandoned skyscrapers in Detroit.

Not far from where I live, the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas has stood vacant for more than 30 years. It is only 14 stories, but is definitely a skyscraper when you consider its location!

The link states that the building has deteriorated somewhat, which is mostly due to water leakage from the roof. The building is actually still in excellent shape and has even attracted several potential buyers over the years (none of which have come to any fruition, though).

I’m getting the impression that buildings from around the 20s and 30s were greatly overbuilt, while newer construction tends to require more maintenance.