When buildings fail, they fail spectacularly — and often tragically. But failed structures also serve an important purpose: to teach engineering and architecture students what not to do.
On Popular Science today, an infographic from the New School of Architecture gives a glimpse of a handful of historical failures, beginning with the Fidenae amphitheater (which collapsed in AD 27 when too many Romans jostled onto it trying to catch a glimpse of an impending gladiator fight) and ending with a Chinese apartment building (which toppled over in 2009 after its foundation became soggy).
There are plenty of horrible moments, but when you think about how many buildings humans have built over the course of history, it’s actually surprising there aren’t more. We decided to call out five failures from modern times below — but chime in with more in the comments. [New School of Architecture via PopSci]
Wind: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 1940
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge — opened in 1938 — bucked so wildly, it was christened “Galloping Gertie” by locals. Only two years later, it met its match, in the form of a 70km/h wind that brought its spans crashing into the Puget Sound (no one was harmed). Today, its steel frame forms the largest artificial reef in the world.
Humans: Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse, 1981
The atrium of Kansas City’s Hyatt Regency, built in 1979, was sliced through by a number of hanging walkways — all of which were packed to capacity with people watching a dance contest in 1981. A small design flaw had put twice the intended weight on a small nut holding up the walkway’s steel frame. It collapsed onto a full walkway below it, killing more than a hundred people. It was the deadliest structural collapse in American history (at the time) — and it’s since become a touchstone of every intro to structural engineering course.
Design: The Stata centre, 2007
Sited on the plot of land where the famed Building 20 once stood, Frank Gehry’s MIT Stata centre was only open for three years before the lawsuits started rolling in. Gehry and his contractor were sued for “deficient design services and drawings which caused leaks to spring, masonry to crack, mould to grow, drainage to back up, and falling ice and debris to block emergency exits.”
Sun: Vdara Hotel and Spa, 2009
Ah, the Vdara Hotel and Spa. Also known as the #1 place in Las Vegas to get your hair singed off your body. Built in 2009 by Rafael Vinoly, the Vdara’s curved glass facade magnified the suns rays straight down onto its pool area, burning away human hair and melting plastic. The fix? A shade, of course.
Water: Lotus Riverside Apartment, 2009
This 13-storey apartment building, in Shanghai, was still under construction when it failed in 2009. Workers had removed a huge amount of soil from below to create a garage. But the excavated earth — piled next door — caused a riverbed to collapse below it, and the foundations became a pool of unstable mud.