Mines News

Release Date Monday, October 21, 2019

Engineering in the Sky: Mines Alumnus Leads Redesign of Space Needle's Revolving Glass Floor

Wade Morris on the revolving glass floor of the Seattle Space Needle.

The first time Wade Morris (ME 97) was working on the newly installed revolving glass floor of the Seattle Space Needle he was caught off guard. Morris was preparing a test run of the mechanism that makes the floor turn and he stepped backwards off an opaque section onto the clear glass. He didn’t realize he was standing on what appeared to be 500 feet of thin air, until he looked down. “My arms flailed for a moment before I realized I was not stepping off a cliff,” he laughs.

Morris is not typically afraid of heights, but the view from what is called “The Loupe” takes a bit of getting used to. “Now that I’ve spent more time up there, I am perfectly comfortable on the glass,” he says. “However, now I take pleasure in watching the other tourists’ first experiences as they step out onto the glass for the first time. From kids to little old ladies to big strong men, everybody has a unique way of reaching past the fear of having nothing but glass beneath their feet.”

Morris is an automation mechanical engineer with the company Fives Lund. He was the project manager for the design, build, and install of what’s marketed as “the world’s first and only revolving glass floor.” His work is part of “The Century Project,” which is the on-going renovation of the Space Needle.

Dangling fifty stories in the air on a glass floor is unsettling, but not unsafe. This is thanks to the work of engineers like Morris. The renovation of the Space Needle includes a huge number of upgrades that bring the building into compliance with modern codes that have evolved since its construction in 1962. Finding the right building code to use in this project was one of the challenges Morris and his team faced in the design phase. “They don’t have a spec or standard written for revolving glass floors,” he notes. He worked alongside a structural engineer and found codes used in amusement parks to help inform the design. The project also had to meet strict seismic codes required for all buildings in Seattle. Morris and his team designed everything associated with the revolving floor: the rack-and pinion drive mechanisms, contact rollers, support mechanisms, and the steel frame that supports the glass panels themselves. “When I graduated, I figured my engineering life would be rather mundane,” Morris laughs. “I never had any suspicion I would be working on projects as intricate, technologically advanced, or as high profile as the Space Needle.”

For most his career Morris has worked on industrial applications, mainly for Boeing. He designs and builds large machines made for factory floors that are normally only seen by employees and other engineers. This project is directly in the public eye. The drive mechanism for the revolving floor is visible through the glass. Patrons who look down not only see the amazing views of Seattle, they also see the engineering of Morris and his team. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity for me to encourage my daughters to explore STEM activities,” says Morris. Maybe his daughters will someday call themselves Hardrockers. Regardless, there is little doubt that the work of Wade Morris will inspire future generations of engineers for years to come. 

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About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,529 students with an average class size of 24. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $63,350. Find us online at sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, Mike.Ray@sdsmt.edu

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