10 Architecture Fails
These 10 major architecture fails prove that everyone makes mistakes, including professional architects. Some of these mistakes were helped along by circumstances the architects couldn’t possibly have foreseen. In other cases, more careful study and planning could have prevented tragic accidents.
1. Aon Center, Chicago, Illinois
When it was completed in 1973, the Aon Center (originally called the Standard Oil Building) was the third-tallest building in Chicago. To make the building look even more impressive, the exterior was clad in Italian Carrera marble.
Carrera marble isn’t normally used for exterior cladding on buildings, in part because it’s much thinner than other materials used for this purpose. Almost immediately, the marble began to bow and crack. In 1974, a slab of marble detached from the Aon Center, hitting the roof of the Prudential Center nearby. The owners of the building were forced to replace the marble with more-suitable granite, a project that cost an additional $80 million.
2. Basmanny Market, Moscow, Russia
If any country should know how to handle the weight of snow, it’s Russia. Still, the Basmanny Market building was built with a flat roof. It may have been able to handle the weight of a winter’s snow, but poor maintenance and inadequate waterproofing contributed to its collapse in February 2008. Sixty-six people were killed.
3. John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts
This 60-story building was designed by the legendary architectural firm of I.M. Pei & Partners. Completed in 1976, the skyscraper was designed – as all skyscrapers are – to sway in high winds. However, the Hancock Tower swayed more than most, to the point that people on the upper floors got motion sickness.
The sway wasn’t the only problem, though. Thermal stress on the window panels caused the windows to fall out. More than once, entire glass window panes fell out of the skyscraper and went crashing to the street below. At a cost of $5 million, all 10,000 windows were replaced.
4. Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Missouri
Opened in 1974, the indoor stadium used a ceiling suspended from trusses to avoid using pillars that might obstruct the views of visitors. This worked well during the 1976 Republican Convention. Its roof was only designed to take on water gradually, though, so when a big storm hit on June 4, 1979. The excessive weight of the rain water caused the roof to sag, then collapse. No one was injured.
5. Lotus Riverside Block 7, Shanghai, China
The Lotus Riverside complex consisted of 13 residential towers of 11 stories each. Construction was underway for an underground parking garage for the residents.
In an epic instance of poor planning, the earth removed for the garage was dumped into a creek nearby. This caused the creek to overflow its banks, which caused the bank to collapse, which caused the foundation under one of the brick apartment buildings, Block 7, to turn to mud. In June 2009, Block 7 fell over, narrowly missing the next building over, which may have caused an awful chain reaction. One worker was killed.
6. Rana Plaza, Savar Upazila, Bangladesh
The 8-story commercial building was built without a permit. When cracks began to appear in the walls of the bank and shops on the lower floor, these businesses were evacuated. The upper floors, which housed a clothing factory, were still in use when the structure failed on May 13, 2013. More than 1,100 people were killed.
7. Ray and Maria Stata Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Designed by Frank Gehry, the architect known for his curvilinear forms, the classroom building at the Cambridge, Massachusetts university opened its doors in 2004. Gehry’s innovative architecture was criticized almost from the beginning as faculty and staff noticed structural problems that included mold on the brick exterior, cracks in the walls, drainage problems, and dangerous icicles in the winter. The total repair costs topped $1.5 million on a structure that had cost $300 million to build.
8. Sampoong Department Store, Seoul, South Korea
Originally intended to have only five floors, the department store had a sixth floor with a swimming pool added at the last minute. Built in 1987 in the lead-up to South Korea’s 1988 turn at hosting the Olympics, the structure had few serious problems until 1995, when cracks began to appear in the ceiling of the 5th floor. On June 29th, the building collapsed, killing 502 people. The structure’s concrete simply could not hold the weight of the additional floor, especially after a large air conditioner was added.
9. Summerland Amusement Park, Isle of Man, United Kingdom.
The small British island’s economy relied on tourism in the 1970s, so an indoor amusement facility that could stay open year-round seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, the structure was built with many design flaws. Wall board that should have been fire-resistant wasn’t, and the most serious flaw was the acrylic material used in constructing the roof.
When teenagers taking a smoke break accidentally caused a fire in August 1973, the structure was quickly engulfed in flames. The heat caused the roof to melt, raining down molten plastic on people trying to escape. Fifty people were killed in the fire, 11 of them children.
10. Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Tacoma, Washington
Buildings aren’t the only structures that can fail spectacularly. Nicknamed “Galloping Gertie,” the bridge connected the Kitsap Peninsula to Tacoma for a 4-month period in 1940 before it collapsed. The reason? In order to keep costs low, the builders had used girders that weren’t adequately rated for the 40 mph winds the bridge regularly experienced. These girders couldn’t keep the bridge’s deck in place, causing it to sway violently whenever the wind blew.
On November 7th, 1940, Galloping Gerdie came down. Although no human beings were killed, the last person to drive across the bridge, reporter Leonard Coatsworth, lost his car along with his dog and had to crawl to make it to shore.