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Building Failures

Part 2

Material & Planning Failure Foundation Failure

W.E.B. Du Bois Library 48

Transcona Grain Elevator 42

Palace Of Fine Art 38

Tower of Pisa 32

Ronan Point 22

CNA Centre 16

John Hancock Tower 4

Unknown Failure

L’Ambiance Plaza 82

Versailles Wedding Hall 76

Grace Divine School 70

Petitionille School 64

Lotus Riverside 58

House of Soviets 52

Int rod uct ion

Many failures are not explained and often not even reported publicly, no complete coverage of the subject is claimed or even attempted. If we define failure as catastrophic structural collapse, there are few failures. But if nonconformity with design expectations is defined as failure and if someone takes the trouble to measure the shape, position and condition of completed structures, then there are many failures. This book goes in to detail on some well known structural building failures as well as some not so well known failures. It has been divided into sections for different causes of failure, with many of the buildings failing for unknown circumstances.


Material & Planni 2

ing Failure 3

Material & Planni 4

John Hancock Tower

ing Failure 5

The home office of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company is located in a prominent office tower in the Back Bay area of Boston, Massachusetts. The building is surely one of the most beautiful and controversial objects of Modern architecture. The many technical problems experienced by the building are legendary, even though the owner has taken extraordinary steps to stifle discussion in the technical literature. Much of the published information about the technical difficulties has been based in speculation or provided by knowledgeable persons who were involved only peripherally, not directly associated with sanctioned investigations. A 1981 settlement reached between the John Hancock Company and the numerous parties named in their lawsuit included an oath of secrecy about the terms of the settlement and forbade all technical consultants from ever discussing the results of their investigations. The most public of the John Hancock Building’s technical problems was the failure of its reflective glass curtain walls. However, there were several other completely independent technical failures experienced by the building. What is known about the building, even though the information is incomplete, is sufficiently interesting and instructive to warrant a brief review. There are lessons in the John Hancock case for geotechnical and foundations consultants, curtain-wall designers, wind researchers, structural engineers, architects and building owners. The John Hancock Building was designed by one of the most prominent architectural firms in the United States, with a long list of prestigious award winning projects. Despite this fact, the building suffered from a number of design and construction deficiencies, involving innovative but 6

untested details a complicated plan configuration, foundation and excavation failures, excessive deformations and wind-induced accelerations, and problems with material performance. The record is illustrative of the immense scale of the technical challenges that can be encountered in the design of tall buildings with light weight, flexible highstrength steel structural frames, especially when unusual plan configurations and large aspect ratios are involved. The tower is 241m tall, containing 60 stories of office space and two mechanical floors. The total floor area is 191,300m 2. At the time of its completion, the John Hancock Building was the tenth tallest building in the United States. The plan configuration of the tower is not rectangular; it is a rhomboid. The construction was started with a groundbreaking ceremony in August 1986. Because of the poor quality of the soil in the Back Bay, the foundation system is extensive, as was the excavation contract. A reinforced concrete mat foundation 2.6m thick supported by 3000 steel piles driven to bedrock, 50m below street level. Prior to excavating, 6000m2 of interlocking steel sheeting was driven 17m into the earth. The tower required the largest order of structural steel, 29, 000 mg, ever used on any building in New England. The structure was topped out in September 1971, but numerous and diverse technical difficulties encountered during construction delayed occupancy until February 1976, 3 years later than anticipated. The original project budget was $95 million, final construction cost was more than $160 million. From the inital announcement of intent to build the tower, this building has been marked by an extraordinary level of controversy.

Fa l l i n g W i n d o w s


Fig 1


d tre arfs n e c , is er dw und y a tod tic tow surro n m e t , ev gigan s tha of the y s e er re y rov xt. Th ructu man rks. t n a, st te co wo r he f con onry y Plaz tural t acte ally f r s o a o c e a ci ch ite m ch opl sue ric espe the o Mu the is -scale ent C t arch t d s f i l e h ds an inity o t of on smal adjac ifican h t o n f c n n o ourho ate vi amou sition the d the ly sig o i t n l b t o di va it a orica ser neigh imme a grea al opp al e t r s e y p c c hi for ck Ba in the caused ing vo the lo cts. Th s n a cer n’s B dings ower nclud itects, rchite able n o C osto buil ck t ct, i rch of A ider ocal e o . of B ertain Hanc e proj ty of A titute cons o the l built d e e s t c i h e d b t d In oc of pose ce n to ton S rican expen arian could and t o o r i t p osi av ing lass ras me any Bos opp the the A omp uring build tive g g cont text. c e f c e m fro pter o cock C lly se hat th refle uietin g con he sit s a n t t t i q a n i t u ch n Ha vent ce so ith a dis exis nt to ley e w Joh rt in e dinan wer, sents he pr adjace Berke y in o t e r o eff ing o ense t all, pr re to iately d the mpan nd o n zon imm tain w d textu mmed ing a ock C ead a ), the 5 s The tal cur ale an ings i Build Hanc im, M (189 dson’ y n r c K d r n e l m oth s t bui endo y Joh ), Mc ibra icha L R r in b ortan e Cla uilt b ctively ublic bson . p b Im ude th both respe ston P ry Ho 1877) ( ( l , inc lding 1940 sic Bo d Hen urch vily deed, a i h s e n d n Bu 0 an eocla tel a ity C as h ns. I f the r o n w 2 n i o e H r 9 i s n 1 tio derat ome o nd aft ite’ Plaza que T u h l s s a g W ley si so ane ral al con ctly to uring placin u t Cop -Rom d tu tec of ire ban neo chi ontex led d enced enge ve ur lan, r a c p ri ll s al iti fin ed by ration s expe ic cha sens lding nity e Th uenc side ultie thet ch a bui ’s Tri ind. e s l u n c f e n h s i o t w a f in se c dif The le on pe of ardso the erials l e a t n h a i a th nic ion. c c s sh ma els Ri ss h t tec struc of thi very ws of oblem s and ll pan e r e con oject ed th p vie sed p nsion in wa uld b ce. t u r o a a p dicta ened er cau dime curt ian w resen ings, s d site ch op nd lat large e glas destr ng’s p buil storic i ha e i g e v p d h h n i hi sion w rc ion, t eflect t the Buil undi f the en u Ch ddit he r o tha cock urro re o r dim t s a a n In d for cted s e Ha t the re aw large all of a f n use e sele e of th reflec n mo ere o tain w s the ata on a r we awar anels estria nels w a cur ass w able d l d s p l n a les zing he pe se p sed i ive g e avai t e l t a Gl king ut th een u reflec h litt t ma text. B ever b , and al, wi i con n had itude ater . n e m a th mag new anc m s thi tively erfor rela lace p p in-



The reflective character and shape of the John Hancock tower gives it a magnificent sculptural quality when viewed from the distance, although opinions vary as to its success in achieving the designers’ intentions at the pedestrian scale. It should be noted that since the Hancock tower was completed, many other historic buildings in the vicinity have been demolished to make room for new architecture, much of which shows less sensitivity for historic context than the John Hancock Building. The John Hancock Building experienced 4 major technical failures, apparently unrelated: 1. Failure of the excavation system. This caused damage to adjacent buildings and utilities.

2. Unacceptable dynamic response in the wind. Excessive accelerations required the addition of tuned-mass dampers. 3. Discovery of a potential overturning problem with the primary structure system. Additional bracing was added in the direction of the major building axis.

4. Dramatic fractures of the glass facade. The facade was replaced entirely, after extensive studies, with a redesigned curtain wall. The curtain-wall revision necessitated substantial revision of the HVAC system throughout the building.


The excavation disturbed the water table, causing damage to adjacent historic masonry structures supported on timber piles in the filled Back Bay soil. 2 of the more severely affected buildings were the Copley Plaza Hotel and the Trinity Church. The John Hancock Company resolved the Copley Plaza Hotel dispute by purchasing the hotel; the Trinity Church matter was not so easily resolved and litigation on the irreparable damage done to the church continued for many years. An additional suit by Trinity Church against the Hancock Company claimed damage to the historic building’s leaded glass windows, allegedly caused by the increased heat load generated by the Hancock tower’s reflective windows. In 1984, a jury trial found the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company responsible for cracks in the Trinity Church, caused during the

foundation construction. The church was awarded $8.6 million. Attorneys representing the church in the dispute claimed that the Hancock tower’s excavation retaining walls slipped 840mm, causing the adjacent street to sink 460mm and moving the footings of the church. The foundations of the church settled and structural arches cracked. The case was appealed by the Hancock Company. 3 years later a Massachusetts superior Judicial Court upheld the 1984 decision in favour of Trinity Church. The award was increased to $11.6 million. The 17 year litigation eventually was resolved using an innovative ‘take down’ theory for assessing damages. The court awarded the costs required to compensate the church for demolition and complete reconstruction, since it was found economically unfeasible to repair the damage. The case was expected to set a precedent for assessing damage to ‘priceless’ buildings. The take down cost was defined as the cost of taking down and reconstructing a building. Eliminated from the claim would be all preexisting depreciation that would not have been affected by the defendants’ actions. A number of significant structural revisions were made during the 4 years the John Hancock Building sat unoccupied. Several windstorms passed through Boston during this period, and each one seemed to demonstrate some other unpredicted and undesirable behavioural characteristic of the tower. The belated addition of bracing to the structural core was deemed necessary after boundary layer wind tunnel tests were finally conducted at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Neither the results of that testing nor the specific actions taken to correct deficiencies in structure are available in the public domain. However, it is evident that stiffening of the primary structural system of a building after the construction is substantially complete is an extremely costly task. Several studies have hinted that the building would have been at risk of overturning in the direction of its major axis, had additional bracing not been added. Some reports suggest that over 1350 mg of steel was brought in to reinforce the elevator shafts and stair cores. In a seemingly unrelated wind design retrofit, tuned-mass dampers were added to reduce the

unacceptable accelerations that would have caused discomfort to the users of the building. The most visible problem at the John Hancock Building, however, was the failure and replacement of the facade, 75,000 m2 of glass. The original glass panels were comprised of two sheets of glass separated by a 13mm air space. After the panels started to break in late 1972 and early 1973, a year was invested in research, and the decision was made to replace the glass with 133mm thick single sheets of tempered safety glass. The reglazing began in May 1974 and was completed in August 1975, at a reported contract cost of $8.5 million. The new curtain wall contained 10,344 panes of coated tempered safety glass, framed by 900 mg of black duranodic aluminium. The surface dimensions of the glass panels remained the same as before, 1.4 by 3.5 m, but the weight of each panel was increased from 225kg to 360 kg. The plywood panels that had been used to replace the broken glass temporarily were reportedly sold for more than their original cost, since the price of plywood had risen during the year of research on the problem. This was perhaps the only economically profitable investment associated with this project. There was much speculation in the public and professional literature regarding possible reasons for the glass failure. Some of the speculation centred on the larger spans inherent in the larger sheets of glass. A larger span generates higher bending stresses under wind pressure. A larger sheet of glass is also more susceptible to inclusion of a critical manufacturing defect. It was noted that more panels were broken near the base of the building than at the top, where designers had long assumed the higher stresses were located. This was blamed, in part, on the fact that shards of glass raining down from above would cause damage to the lower glass panels. Others speculated that the building was moving too much, or that the curtainwall details were too tight. Smaller panes were considered briefly at the time of the reglazing, but the idea was rejected on the basis of aesthetics. The change from double sheets of glass to single sheets increased the energy demand substantially. Several hundred thousand dollars was reportedly spent on


upgrading the HVAC equipment, and projected energy usage over the life of the building was revised upward dramatically. The original glass was better in appearance, in that reflections were more consistent. It was smooth, perfectly flat, polished plate glass. The new glazing is not as smooth and the reflections are slightly distorted; tempered float glass cannot be manufactured to the same degree of flatness. When the unexpected failures began to reoccur, the John Hancock Company hired 2 security guards to watch the facade continuously with binoculars from 6.00am to midnight. Tempered glass loses its reflectivity when it cracks, about 5 to 10 minutes before falling. In June 1980, the ‘window watchers’ were replaced by electronic sensors in every panel, connected to the mechanical system so that internal pressures can be reversed when a glass panel cracks. This will cause the glass to implode into the building rather than fall out onto the street or sidewall.


The John Hancock Building is not the only tall building that has experienced glass breakage in windstorms. In February 1988 wind gusts broke

about 90 1.5 by 2.4m windows in Chicago’s 110 story building Sears Tower. The problems experienced by the John Hancock Building led directly to greater use and refinement of boundary-layer wind tunnel testing and to other advances in wind engineering. The idea that wind pressures are highest at the top of a building has been proved incorrect. Boundary-layer wind tunnel tests have shown that depending on the building’s configuration and that of adjacent buildings, the highest wind pressures may actually be at the street level. In 1977, one year after the building was finally occupied, it was the recipient of the AIA Honor Award, the highest design award given by the American Institute of Architects. Some interesting comments were made by the AIA Honor Award jury members.

“It is perhaps the most handsome reflective glass building... history may show it to be the last great example of the species� - Osman




Material & Planni 16

CNA Centre

ing Failure 17

The CNA Centre is a high-rise building in Chicago that opened in 1972. The 44-story building was designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. It’s painted bright red, making it impossible not to notice. In 1999, a large piece of a window came loose from the 29th floor of the building and plunged to the ground, causing one fatality. The culprit was thermal expansion, and after an $18 million settlement every one of the building’s windows were replaced. Each window is still checked on a monthly basis to this day.






Material & Planni 22

Ronan Point

ing Failure 23

Ronan Point was a 22-story tower block in Newham, east London, which suffered a partial collapse when a gas explosion demolished a loadbearing wall, causing the collapse of one entire corner of the building. Ronan Point, named after Harry Louis Ronan (a former Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London Borough of Newham), was part of the wave of tower blocks built in the 1960s as cheap, affordable prefabricated housing for inhabitants of the West Ham region of London. The tower was built by Taylor Woodrow Anglian, using a technique known as Large Panel System building or LPS. This involved casting large concrete prefabricated sections off-site, then bolting them together to construct the building. On the 16th May 1968 a gas explosion led to the collapse of an entire corner of the recently opened Ronan Point council estate in Newham, East London. The responsible council tenant, Ivy Hodge, set off a domino effect of buckling flats by trying to light her stove in her 18th floor apartment. While Ivy Hodge miraculously survived, 4 others died and 17 were injured. The accident led to a plunge in the public esteem for Modernist architecture and the architectural profession, an impact comparable to the iconic blowing up of the St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing project. This was especially so since the collapse of Ronan Point was due to construction errors. The gas explosion caused by Miss Hodge blew out the flank walls(fig 2 and 3), which supported the floors situated above. A local architect discovered that the weakness was in the joints connecting the vertical walls to the floor slabs. Lack of quality control led construction workers to fill the joints with newspapers, instead of concrete. Despite the extent of the damage, Ronan Point was partly rebuilt after the explosion, using strengthened joints. Nonetheless, public confidence in the safety of residential tower blocks had been irreparably shaken. Ronan Point was demolished in 1986 to make way for a new development of low-rise housing.


Layout of flat 90

Corridor Edge of Failure

Bath room Pipe



Living room




Fig 2 26

Fig 3


Foundation Failu 28

ures 29

When we speak about foundation failures, we often refer to both the failures of the structural elements of the foundation, such as footings or piles, and the failure of the soil itself. While the first type of failure may be the result of overloads on the foundation or of its under strength, the second type results from overconfidence in the test borings or other subsurface information, or loss of bearing value because of adjacent work. Foundation failure resulting from failure of the footing itself is a very rare occurrence.


It is obvious that a foundation failure is a serious event, since it may trigger the collapse of the entire structure. This is critically so because most structures are systems in which the support of the upper levels is always dependent on the structural integrity of the lower elements. Ironically, some foundation failures have been economical successes. One such example id the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. A close look at this tower will reveal that the tower started to lean during its construction. The reason for this conclusion is a slight change in the slope of the tower, near its midpoint. It is an indication that the builders attempted to correct the foundation settling problem

The 10 most common causes of foundation failures are: • • • • • • • • • •

Undermining of safe support Load transfer Failure Lateral movement Unequal support Drag-down and heave Design error Construction error Flotation / water-Level Change Vibration effects Earthquake effects


Tower of Pisa

Foundation Failu 32

ures 33

Constructio n of the tow er occurred across 177 in three sta years. Wor k ges o n the groun white marb d floor of th le campanil e e began on during a pe August 8, 1 riod of mil 1 7 it 3 a , ry success This groun and prospe d floor is a rity. blind arcad engaged co e articulate lumns with d by classical Co rinthian ca pitals. The tower began to sin k after con progressed struction h to the seco ad nd floor in due to a m 1178. This ere three-m w as etre founda unstable su tion, set in bsoil, a des weak, ign that wa beginning. s flawed fro Constructio m the n was subs for almost equently h a century, b a lt e e d c ause the Re was almost public of P continually isa engaged in Genoa, Luc battles with ca and Flor e n ce. This all underlying owed time soil to settle for the . Otherwise almost certa , the tower inly have to w ould ppled. In 1 temporaril 198 clocks y installed were on the thir constructio d floor of th n. e unfinishe d In 1272 con struction re sumed und Simone, ar er Giovann chit i di compensate ect of the Camposanto . In an effo for the tilt, rt to the engine with one sid ers built up e taller than p e r tower is ac the other. B fl tually curve ecause of th oors d. is, the Constructio n was halte d again in were defea 1284 ted by the G enoans in th , when the Pisans e Battle of Meloria. The seventh floor was c ompleted in Tommaso d 1319. It was i Andrea P isano, who built by the Gothic succeeded elements o in f the bell-ch harmonizin Romanesq amber with g ue style of the the tower. T for each no here are se te of the m ven b usical majo installed in r scale. The la ells, one 1655. The b rgest one w ell-chambe as r was finall y added in 13 Prior to res 7 2 . toration wo rk perform the tower le ed between aned at an 1990 and 2 angle of 5.5 leans at ab 001, degrees, bu out 3.99 de t the tower grees. now The tower is currently undergoing in order to gradual sur repair visu face restora al damage, blackening tion, mostly corr . These are o s ion and particularly age and its p r exposure to onounced d wind and r ue to the to ain. wer’s 34

Fig 4 35

Present 2000

Tower Inclination = 5.3o

Third Stage 1360 - 1370

Tower Inclination = 1.6o

Second Stage 1272 - 1278

Tower Inclination = 0.6o

First stage 1173 - 1178










Loggia 6

Loggia 5

Loggia 4

Loggia 3

Loggia 2

Loggia 1

Ground Story Sandy Soil Pancone Clay 37

Palace of Fine Arts

Foundation Failu 38

ures 39

Another remarkable example of large settlements (besides the Tower of Pisa) is the Palace of Fine Arts, built on the compressible clays of Mexico City. The building is still in use, with settlements measured in meters. Settlement of the Palace of Fine Arts has been quite uniform, causing little structural distress. The structure has actually settled and risen as a rigid body, resulting from the hydraulic effect of new large structures that have been built on adjacent sites.

Fig 5 40



Transcona Grain Elevator

Foundation Failu 42




The Canadian Pacific Railway began storing grain in the Transcona elevator starting in September 1913. Movement of one footing on the elevator was noted in October 1913, a movement that by the next morning would make it one of the most famous bearing capacity failures in history. At the time of this shift the elevator was filled with 875,000 bushels of grain. 24 hours later the bins were leaning at 27 degrees and the clay below the foundation was 29 feet below its starting level and the opposite site had raised 5 feet above. The failure of the structure was due to the instabillity of the stiff clay the elevator stood on. The first elevator was invented in Buffalo, New York by Joseph Dart. It was used as a storage space for grain and got the name ‘elevator’ because it was designed to take the grain off of ships and move the grain into elevated storage bins until it was ready to be further transported or milled. The grain could be kept cool and dry if it was elevated and this construction also prevented pests from getting into the storage bins. Beacuse Transcona was a transportation hub, it would make sense to locate a grain elevator there. 1911 marked the beginning of construction of a grain elevator in Transcona. The structure was made of a work house and a bin storage house. The bin house was constructed on a reinforced concrete raft foundation and the soil beneath it consisted of stiff blue clay which is very plentiful in the Red River Valley Region. The concrete foundation was 2 feet thick, with the footings reaching a depth of 12 feet below grade. Various tests were conducted before construction of the grain elevator began to make sure the soil could withstand the load to maximum capacity. The tests showed that the soil should be able to handle a pressure four to five tons per square foot. The designed grain elevator filled completely would only bear pressure of 3.3 tons per square foot, so the soil would have no problem holding the pressure of the filled grain elevator. However, the actual built load of the bin house was 20,000 tons, which when computed is well over 3.3 tons per square foot. 44

Incidents like this are mysterious in nature, but do allow for geotechnical theories to be tested. Decades after the actual failure a theory arose among geotechnical theorists that the internal friction of saturated clay is equal to zero. This theory had been circulating since the 1920’s and many advances towards its proof were made, but there were no actual failures used in testing this theory. More accurate soil tests and calculations could have prevented the failure of the Transcona Elevator. Advances in technology since 1913 have enabled more precise studies. However, the true maximum mass that soil can hold is difficult to predict exactly. The true number is often not known until the building actually collapses. Also located in the Red River Valley, the Fargo Grain Elevator collapsed in 1955 due to a similar building failure. Apparently the geological engineers had not learned their lesson, as the Fargo Elevator also failed due to unstable foundation soils.


Fig 6 46


W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Foundation Failu 48

ures 49

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is home to 3 distinguished libraries, which include the Music Reserve Lab and the Science and Engineering Library. However, the best known is the W.E.B. Du Bois Library (Fig 7), a 26-story structure that is the tallest library in the U.S. Within 2 months of its opening, the building began shedding brick chips, a phenomenon known as spalling. There are various urban legends that persist about its causes, the most popular of which is that the architect who designed the building failed to take into account the weight of the books to be housed inside it. While no official cause of the spalling was given 60,000 books had to be moved out of the building. It was later discovered the building was sinking into the pond-saturated ground on which it was built. However, YouMass, a helpful guide to life on the UMass Amherst campus says this claim is overblown and describes the degree to which the building is sinking as “not so much�.


Fig 7


House of Soviets

Foundation Failu 52

ures 53

Fig 8







The House of Soviets is a building located in the city of Kaliningrad in the Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave of Russia. The building was built on the original territory of Königsberg Castle, and is sometimes called ‘the ugliest building on Russian soil”. Unfortunately, they built this 22-story structure over an area filled with underground tunnels. The H-shaped building started to collapse, and today it stands completely devoid of human activity. Königsberg Castle was severely damaged during the bombing of Königsberg in World War II. Following the war, as the city came under the control of the USSR, the site of the castle was redeveloped as part of the reconstruction of the city. Construction began on the House of Soviets in 1960, and was intended to be the central administration building of the Kaliningrad Oblast. Continuation of development was stopped in the 1980s after the Regional Party Committee lost interest in the project and cut off funding. The building was left unfinished for many years, and earned notoriety as one on the worst examples of post-war Soviet architecture. In 2005, for a visit by then-President Vladimir Putin, the exterior was painted light blue and windows were installed. However, the interior remains unfinished and unusable. A German consultant has recommended tearing down the entire structure and building anew as cheaper and safer than attempting to repair and finish the existing shell. Fig 8: The unfinished shell of the building. The House of Soviets was left in this state for over 20 years before completion


Fig 9: The House of Soviets after the light blue paint work made for the visit of Vladimir Putin in 2005.




Material / Lotus Planning Riverside Failure

Foundation Failu 58




The Lotus Riverside is a residential apartment complex in Shanghi consisting of 11 13-story buildings. On the morning of June 27 2009, one of them toppled over, just barely missing an adjacent building. Had it not missed, it might have caused one toppled building to topple into the next, creating a horrifying domino effect. The cause of the collapse was attributed to excavation that was in progress to create an underground garage. The earth removed from beneath the building was dumped into a landfill near a creek, and its weight caused the river bank to collapse. Water from the creek then seeped into the ground, turning the building’s foundation into mud.


Fig 10

Failed foundations


Material / Planning Failure

Unknown Failure 62

es 63

Material / Planning Failure

Unknown Failure 64

PĂŠtionville School

es 65

The Pétionville school collapse occurred on November 7, 2008, in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the church-operated Collège La Promesse Évangélique collapsed at around 10:00 a.m. local time (15:00 GMT). About 700 students from kindergarten through high school attended the school; however, it is unclear how many were in the three-story building when it collapsed. At least 93 people, mostly children, were confirmed killed, and over 150 injured. At least 35 students, 13 girls and 22 boys, were rescued from the rubble alive on November 8. During the collapse, the first floor of the school buckled under, and the second and third floors of the building came down upon it. The collapse also destroyed several nearby homes.


However, only the first and second floors were filled with students, and some students were in the playground area. The cause of the collapse remains officially unstated, but residents of the town have said they suspect poor-quality construction as a cause. Some say the failure was due to negligence, in which Rev. Fortin Augustin apparently said that “he constructed the building all by himself, saying he didn’t need an engineer as he had good knowledge of construction”. The school had previously experienced a partial collapse in 2000, but it was rebuilt. After the first collapse, neighbors living downhill from the school abandoned their property out of fear that the building would fall onto their homes. The owner of the church-run school attempted to buy these vacated properties. In addition, the third floor of the building was under construction at the time of the 2008 collapse.

After the collapse, at least 200 people were seen at hospitals in and around Port-au-Prince. However, because of strikes at General Hospital and Hospital de la Paix, two hospitals in the town, Trinité Hospital and University of Haiti Hospital saw most of the injured. College La Promesse school owner, Rev. Fortin Augustin, Protestant minister and preacher, was arrested on November 8, 2008. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and brought to a Haitian police station, after he allegedly told Haitian president René Préval that “the church school had been built with hardly any structural steel or cement to hold its concrete blocks together; he constructed the building all by himself, saying he didn’t need an engineer as he had good knowledge of construction.”


At least 93 people, mostly children, were confirmed killed, and over 150 injured


Fig 11


Material / Planning Failure

Unknown Failure 70

Grace Divine School

es 71

The Grace Divine School collapse occurred on November 12, 2008, in the Canapé Vert section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The collapse, along with the Pétionville school collapse, was the second such incident in Haiti in less than a week. The school building was a two-story concrete structure built on the side of a hill. According to one AFP witness, “chunks of the school’s walls were scattered on the ground, its concrete roof was sagging, and there were clear cracks in the remaining walls”. No cause was immediately apparent, but poorquality construction and heavy rains in the preceding days were believed to have been contributing factors. The Red Cross reported that some students were jumping and dancing in a musical just prior to collapse, which may have strained the weakened structure.


Around 100 students, ages 5 to 12, attended Grace Divine School. The collapse occurred during a break in classes, when most of the school’s students were outside in the yard. At least nine individuals were injured, including two students who were taken to hospital. A preliminary search reported that no one was trapped in the debris and that there were no fatalities. Compared to the Pétionville disaster, the number and severity of casualties in Port-au-Price were low because of relatively little damage to the buildings and most students were outside of the building during collapse.

Fig 12



At least 9 individuals were injured, including 2 students who were taken to hospital




Material / Planning Failure

Unknown Failure 76

Versailles Wedding Hall

es 77

The Versailles wedding hall, located in Talpiot, Jerusalem, is the site of the worst civil disaster in Israel’s history. At 22:43 on May 24, 2001, during the wedding of Keren and Asaf Dror, a large portion of the third floor of the four-story building collapsed. As a result, 23 people fell to their deaths through two stories, including the groom’s 80-year-old grandfather and his three-year-old second cousin, the youngest victim. Another 380 were injured, including the bride who suffered serious pelvic injuries that required surgery. Asaf had escaped serious injury, and carried her in his arms from the rubble. The disaster shocked the Israeli public not only because it was one of the worst building disasters in the country’s history, but because the event was documented on a camcorder and broadcast on local and international television. Rescue efforts were carried out by the Home Front Command’s Search & Rescue Unit and the Yachtza reserve unit. Rescue efforts commenced immediately after the collapse and continued until 4pm on Saturday May 26, 2001. Eli Beer was the first EMT on the scene and launched Israel’s mass casualty response system. Three people were pulled from the rubble alive and 23 bodies were removed.


An investigation of the event concluded that the event was not caused by a terrorist attack. This was based on the testimony provided by many of the wedding guests present in the building

during the disaster. Witnesses reported seeing a dangerous sag in the wedding floor moments before the collapse. An initial inquiry blamed the collapse on the Pal-Kal method of constructing light-weight coffered concrete floor systems. Further review pointed to a combination of two alternate causes. Initially, the side of the building that failed was designed to be a two story structure, while the other side was designed to be three stories. Late in the construction process, it was decided that both sides of the building should be equal heights, and a third story was added to the shorter side. Unfortunately, the live load due to occupancy is typically much greater than the design load for a roof. As a result, the structure supporting the new third story was subjected to much greater loading than was originally anticipated. The effect of this error was somewhat mitigated by the construction of partitions on the floor below, which helped redistribute the excess load well such that no damage was incurred. A few weeks before the collapse, the wedding hall owners decided to remove the partitions. With the load path eliminated, the floor above began to deflect (or sag) several inches. Generally, engineers design a structure to fail in a controlled, ductile manner so that occupants have ample warning that a collapse is imminent and can evacuate. The owners failed to recognize this and viewed the sagging floor primarily as a cosmetic

problem. Their solution was to level the floor with additional grout and fill. However, their approach not only failed to provide additional structural capacity, it also inadvertently introduced a new and significant dead load at the weakened area. During the wedding event in 2001, this significantly overstressed floor section failed, resulting in the catastrophe. The engineer Eli Ron, inventor of the Pal-Kal method of construction, was arrested and subsequently indicted in August 2002 on the charge of manslaughter. Notably, Ron had not engaged in any part of the design or construction, but had sold proprietary elements necessary for construction that were installed in a deficient manner.



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Material / Planning Failure

Unknown Failure 82

L’Ambiance Plaza

es 83

On April 23, 1987, the L’Ambiance Plaza building, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, collapses during construction. This collapse spurred a large scale, eight day, rescue attempt and ultimately left 28 workers dead. This 16 story building, 13 apartment levels over 3 parking levels, was being constructed using the lift-slab method. The lift-slab method consists of casting post-tensioned floor slabs, one on top of another, at ground level and then hydraullically jacking each level into place. At approximately 1.30pm on April 23rd a loud bang was heard and within the next 2-10 seconds the entire building crashed to the ground.


The collapse launched several investigations but quickly settled out of court ending all investigations and leaving the exact cause of the collapse unknown. Although the exact cause of the collapse remains unknown, 5 variable theories have been proposed in the years since the collapse by various experts on building failures. L’Ambiance Plaza was planned to have 2 virtually identical towers, with floor plans measuring approximately 63 feet by 112 feet, and a neighbouring parking garage. The parking garage had not begun construction and was not involved in the collapse.

Fig 13


Theory 1 Thornton Tomasetti Engineers

Theory 2

National Bureau of Standards (NBS)

Theory 3 Schupack Suarez Engineers Inc

Theory 4

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Theory 5 Failure Analysis Associates Inc (FaAA)


Instability of the wedges supporting the 12th floor and roof package Jack rod and lifting nut slipped due to a deformation of an overloaded steel angle

Improper design of posttensioning tendons

Substandard welds and questionable weld detail

Global instability caused by lateral displacement


Refernece Websites

Books php?show=conMediaFile.5026

Design and Construction Failures, Lessons from Forensic Investigations, Dov Kaminetzky html

The Failure of Modern Architecture, Brent C. Brolin,0, Transcona+Grain+Elevator


Images Fig 1 php?image_title=John%20Hancock%20Tower

Fig 9 http://balticcoasttoprague2009.blogspot.

Fig 2 php?image_title=John%20Hancock%20Tower

Fig 10 asia/china/5661549/Block-of-flats-collapses-inChina.html

Fig 3 php?show=conMediaFile.5026 Fig 4 http://destinationtravels999.blogspot. Fig 5

Fig 11 Fig 12 Fig 13,0,

Fig 6 Transcona+Grain+Elevator Fig 7 Fig 8 (Kaliningrad)




Building Failures