Driving on Styrofoam, Building on Pillows

Geofoam at SR 519

Geofoam at SR 519

You may have seen this recent blog headline: In New York, Buildings ‘Sleep’ on These Giant Red Pillows. Since that headline was called out in an engineering-related notice, you might have assumed it had something to do with seismic stability or that it was related to geotechnical engineering. After all, a recent Washington State Department of Transportation project (SR 519) used giant blocks of styrofoam in the foundation for access ramps and pedestrian areas.

To be more specific, SR 519 had the first application of geofoam approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation. Geofoam, or lightweight expanded polystyrene, is essentially a type of Styrofoam, and is used as lightweight fill in areas where heavier materials would be problematic. For the SR 519 project, using Geofoam helped protect hundred-year-old utilities. Meanwhile, highrises now can have huge rubber or fluid-filled shock absorbers, or Teflon-coated pegs.

But if you clicked on that blog headline about pillows expecting to see an earthquake engineering technology, you would have been delightfully wrong. The blog entry is about a stunning art installation, not about engineering. Although you might wonder whether there is an underlying truth to the art.

Take a look.

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