“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten” So said Aldo Gucci, the chairman of the famous Gucci fashion house from 1953 to 1986.
On Thursday, June 24, 2021, at approximately 1:25 a.m. EDT, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed. Ninety-eight people died.
While the full extent of the causes for the disaster may take many months to determine, a report in the Miami Herald based on interviews with engineers and construction experts has pinned one of the causes on multiple, extensive structural flaws that existed in the building for 40 years.
The report concludes that the project was “Flawed from day one.” Among the problems, according to the report, were that “the plans specified structural columns that were too narrow to accommodate enough rebar, meaning that contractors had to choose between cramming extra steel into a too-small column — which can create air pockets that accelerate corrosion — or inadequately attaching floor slabs to their supports.”
“While original design flaws alone were unlikely to have initiated the collapse that happened 40 years after construction, engineers consulted by the Herald said the deficiencies, in combination with concrete deterioration, could have been the difference between a single floor caving in and the kind of progressive collapse that killed 98 people.”
As everyone in the construction business knows, building codes are much more stringent now than 40 years ago. As was true in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, this collapse will likely trigger a wave of reform in the way buildings from the same era are inspected and repaired. After the collapse of the Champlain Towers South, even the politicians were asking: “Can we build these buildings better/ safer”? The clear answer to that question is “Yes.”
A recent article in the Miami Herald (9/12/2021) concluded that better ways to build are already available. For instance, rustproof polymer reinforcing rods and ultra-high-performance concrete that is largely impervious to saltwater. These products are already in use on some types of projects; however, according to Dr. Morteza Khatib, a structural engineer at the University of Miami, the primary reason they are not more widely used is cost.
“Polymer bars, for instance, might increase upfront material costs by around 20 percent. On the flip side, Khatib said, it could save condo buyers millions over a building’s lifetime by dramatically reducing repair costs.”
According to Atorod Azizinamini , a professor of civil engineering and director of the Moss School of Construction at Florida International University, another alternative that is both affordable and can greatly reduce the corrosion problem is ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC). The cement is mixed with barely any water and eliminates the ingress of salt water.
Architects, engineers, and contractors, all have to minimize the shortcuts on design and construction and instead maximize the safety quotient in all they do.