Lessons from condo collapse in the US

Workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

THE recent collapse of the 12-storey residential tower block in Miami, Florida, should be a matter of concern to all condo builders, owners and management in every country and Malaysia is no exception.We should wait for the full inquiry of the cause of the disaster and learn from whatever useful lessons the tragedy can give us.

In Malaysia, we have had our fair share of high-rise condos that are more than 40 years old. Owners of such high-rise buildings should always monitor these closely.

We have to conduct regular checks on our high-rise buildings, particularly condos, to ensure their safety.

This brings to mind the Highland Towers collapse in December 1993 which was partly due to the landslide due to a burst water pipe which caused about 100, 000 cubic metres of earth to breach a retaining wall and the foundation of the building.

There are many reasons why such buildings can be safety hazards. Over time, their structures may not be strong enough to support the load.

The material used could be stressed beyond its limit, causing fracture or excessive deformities.

Fissures could also be caused by fatigue or corrosion due to its geometry, design or material properties. This can lead to cracks that could lead to collapse under normal loading conditions.

Or the causes could even be shoddy workmanship, use of defective material, vandalism, or natural disasters.

So, there is no substitute for regular and systematic checks on buildings, especially those that are decades old.

Professional engineers must be contracted to conduct structure integrity tests on suspect structures and implement relevant remedial actions.

We must remember that modern-day buildings are not constructed the way some enduring buildings – like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt – were constructed in the ancient world.

Today’s buildings have a specific lifespan, determined primarily by the materials used, the structural design and the condition of the surrounding environment.

Of great importance is the materials used. The materials used are constantly changing. For instance, the metal pipes used in older buildings have largely been replaced by plastic pipes which have a shorter lifespan.

Similarly, more and more materials are being substituted with new, hybrid products whose lifespans have not been tested.

The use of these products are understandable because of the need to construct commercial buildings at the cheapest cost.

While we have no choice but to accept the use of cheaper and alternate materials for buildings, we have a choice when it comes to safety checks.



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