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Review Of Movie Engineering: The Avengers (2012)

Again, the ground rules. I’m going to accept all of the basic premises of the movie as given, and not discuss things like inertia on fast turns turning Tony Strark to lumpy jelly inside his armor, or, a topic of many years of debate, why the Hulk’s pants don’t rip off entirely when he transforms. The comic-book world has its own rules, and I accept that. That said…

First, something that was surprisingly good: facade damage. The climactic battle takes place in midtown, centered on the north end of Grand Central (see below). There are a lot of older masonry-walled skyscrapers in that area as well as newer, glass-walled ones. We see aliens crashing into the buildings at high speed, the Hulk climbing facades by crushing portions of the masonry to make hand- and foot-holds, and other events critical to the plot that would create hundreds of SWARMP and UNSAFE facade reports in the Department of Buidling’s FISP system. The damage to the masonry buildings was portrayed quite accurately: these are steel-frame buildings and facade damage is dangerous because material might fall, but facade damage does not create structural instability. The close-ups of broken masonry were pretty well done. (No, I was not sitting there mentally writing proposals for facade require while watching, but it’s impossible not to notice.)

Now for something problematic in an unexpected way: reconstruction. Stark Tower, in the process of construction as Stark Industry’s headquarters and converted by the end of the movie into the Avenger’s new headquarters, is a heavily-reconstructed version of the Pan Am Building. Its location doesn’t just match that of the real building, we can actually see the reconstruction in progress. If you look at the picture above, a still from the movie’s climactic battle, you see the asymmetric top of Stark Tower (circumstances of the battle have destroyed the “RK” in the STARK sign) rising up from a construction site with two cranes. This is the site of Pan Am, which is located on the centerline of Park Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, and the cranes are over the base of the old building. The real building is at that odd location because it was built on the air-rights over the train shed of Grand Central, and the station is centered on Park Ave, where the approach tracks are underground. The Chrysler Building, at 42nd and Lexington is on the right, and the New York Central Building – the railroad’s headquarters when built, withe the green hip roof – is just north of Pan Am, on the centerline of Park Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets. The image makes it quite clear that Tony Stark got a prime piece of New York real estate by buying the widely-disliked Pan Am and reducing it in footprint size. Being the semi-insane tinkerer that he is, he’s occupying the upper floors of the building while the reconstruction work takes place below. This makes Stark a modern-day Michelangelo, following the idea that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

It’s a great idea, but one that becomes more difficult the longer you look at it. He’s moving the south facade (the right side, facing Chrysler) inward less than one full bay, which would require either (a) constructing a new line of columns up through the existing building before the demo that we see takes place or (b) designing the new south facade to cantilever a long way from the next interior line of columns. Either is difficult to do while the building is occupied, and I find it difficult to imagine the filing process for the work. (And keep in mind that this would have been filed, and the work begun, before Stark was a hero in the battle.) The second idea, in particular, would require an enormous amount of new bracing in the building’s core. There are similar problems with other aspects of the proposed chipping away of the old tower, but I’ve probably already given this issue more thought than it deserved.