The 10 Worst Architecture Fails

1. Highway 19 Overpass

Location: Laval, Quebec

Year of Fail: 2006

A 66-foot section of the De la Concorde overpass in this Montreal suburb gave way in 2006, crushing two vehicles under concrete and causing a third to fall over the edge of the roadway. Five people were killed and six others were seriously injured. Built in 1970, a number of factors contributed to the ’06 collapse: poor initial design, incorrectly placed rebar reinforcement, low quality concrete and a fracture along the horizontal plane that had grown in the years before the catastrophe.

2. The Lotus Riverside

Location: Shanghai, China

Year of Fail: 2009

In 2009 one of the eleven 13-story buildings in this residential apartment complex, fell over, landing almost completely intact and just missing a neighboring building. When creating a parking structure beneath the building, workers had placed removed earth into a nearby landfill. The weight of the added dirt caused the banks of a bordering river to collapse and the resulting water infiltrated the building’s base, turning the foundation to mud and causing the building to topple onto its side.

3. Ronan Point Apartment Building

Location: London

Year of Fail: 1968

Built from pre-fabricated concrete panels held together by bolts, Ronan Point was such a large undertaking that quality control by the architects was almost nonexistent during construction. When an explosion in a single apartment caused an entire corner of the 22-floor building to topple like dominoes, it was found that water-damaged bolts and joints filled with newspaper, rather than concrete, caused the wall panels to crack and collapse. Miraculously, only four of the 260 people in the building were killed in this 1968 disaster.

4. The Aon Center

Location: Chicago, IL

Year of Fail: 1974

Built in 1973, the architects placed form above function, neglecting to realize that while stunning, the Carrara marble they used to construct the exterior of The Aon Center was thinner and lighter than more typical building materials. A year after the building went up, one of the marble slabs detached and crashed into the roof of the Prudential Center next door. When an investigation revealed that this might not be a one-time occurrence, the building was resurfaced at a cost of over $80,000,000.

5. Pier One Playground

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Year of Fail: 2010

While the playground isn’t a huge draw for the park, the architects should have paid it a bit more attention. In constructing the futuristic equipment out of pure steel, they failed to think about how the material would fare in the summer months. Heating up to 127 degrees Fahrenheit in the July sun, children couldn’t actually play on any of the apparatuses.

6. John Hancock Tower

Location: Boston, MA

Year of Fail: 1973

Once the tallest building in the U.S. outside of New York City, the 100-floor skyscraper built in 1968 won accolades from the architecture and design communities. That is, until an error in the window design caused 500-pound windowpanes to detach from the building and crash to the sidewalk hundreds of feet below. Police had to evacuate neighboring streets any time winds reached 45 MPH. In 1973, all 10,344 windowpanes were replaced at a cost of $5,000,000. During the repairs, sheets of plywood replaced empty windows of the building, earning it the nickname “Plywood Palace.”

7. St. Francis Dam

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Year of Fail: 1928

The second greatest loss of life in California state history, St. Francis dam suffered a catastrophic failure in 1928, releasing 12 billion gallons of water in a 125-foot wave that killed more than 600 people. Almost two miles wide and traveling five miles per hour, victims and debris were emptied into the Pacific Ocean, 54 miles from the reservoir and dam site. Structural additions that increased water capacity, cracks ignored by engineers and the instability of the rock under the dam were to blame. On the morning of the failure, the dam keeper reported a new leak that appeared to indicate water eroding the foundations of the dam, but The Department of Water and Power deemed the dam safe.

8. Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Location: Tacoma, WA

Year of Fail: 1940

Opened to the public on July 1, 1940, this suspension bridge collapsed—rather spectacularly—a mere four months later. Workers noted that the bridge, which they called “Galloping Gertie,” had oscillated even as it was being built, even causing seasickness for some. Lack of a truss and inadequate girders, both efforts to keep construction costs low, were to blame for the collapse, which miraculously had no human casualties.

9. South Fork Dam

Location: Johnstown, PA

Year of Fail: 1889

In 1889 the South Fork Dam unleashed a torrent of 20 million tons of water upon Johnstown, killing over 2,200 people. While the court deemed the dam break an “Act of God,” Johnstown residents pinned the blame on poor maintenance by the dam’s owners, who chose to patch leaks with straw and mud instead of performing the major fix necessary. Moreover, a previous owner removed and sold three cast-iron pipes responsible for regulating water release.

10. I-35W Bridge Over the Mississippi River

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Year of Fail: 2007

An eight-lane steel truss arch bridge suddenly collapsed during a busy rush hour commute in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Built in 1967 and deemed “structurally deficient” by the federal government in both 1991 and 2005, the bridge was set to be replaced in 2020.  At the time of collapse, 575,000 extra pounds of construction material and equipment sat on the bridge, increasing the load placed on gusset plates that were already undersized. Approximately 100 vehicles were involved in the collapse, sending their occupants and 18 construction workers 115 feet down to the river or onto its bank.

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