Failure is painful. Its memorable, embarrassing and in most cases you are never prepared for the outcome or your reaction. Though, lets step a bit backwards and magnify the scale, what if a system failed? A system that hundred/thousands of people relied on directly/indirectly? What if it endangered whole communities/towns or cities? and what if the failure cost millions of funds in repair? That’s the reality that engineers and contractors working in projects across the world face on a daily basis but this article isn’t about the failures , its a highlight on the unexpected lessons , design breakthroughs and new technologies that resulted from the failures. These are the failures that changed how we design and build till present day as generously shared by the Ohio University’s online master of science in civil engineering program.
This dam was constructed in the year 1924–1928 in San Francisquito Canyon. Its 56.388 Meters tall and could store 38,168 acre feet of water. It was modeled after the William Mulholland the year prior.
In March 22, 1928, The dam failed. It flooded the San Francisquito Canyon, 42 meters above the stream bed and continued down the Santa Clara River valley. 600 lives were lost.
The dam had been built on a Pleistocene-age landslide, and the engineer , Mulholland had exacerbated the problem by adding 7 meters in height to the original design.
New Federal Dam Safety Legislation was passed and Geological Factors are now taken into account in civil engineering.
In California, thorough inspection were made on 827 Existing Dams. 1/3 of which were determined Need Repairs.
The failure affected future dam design and delayed the Boulder Canyon Project, which included construction of the Hover Dam.
TACOMA NARROW BRIDGE
Tacoma Narrows was opened in May, 1940 at a building cost of $ 6,000,000. It was purposed as a link between communities, merchants and military operations during World War 2. At the time of its construction it was the third largest suspension bridge.
It earned the nickname “The Galloping Gertie” due to the way it bounced or galloped under stress from strong winds.
November 7, 1940.
10 AM :The bridge began to gallop . It twisted up to 8.5 meters on one side and reached angles up to 45 degrees on the other side, all while moving up and down.
11 AM: The bridge broke apart. A 183 meters long center broke off. Snapped from its cables, flipped over and fell into the Puget Sound.
All suspension bridge designs of the time considered wind as only a minor factor, so many others experienced similar movements to Galloping Gertie.
A new narrow bridge took its place: Sturdy Gertie. It was redesigned, heavier, stronger and wider. The bridge was completed in October 1950 and still stands today.
Today, designs of all major suspension bridges:
1.Take into account Aerodynamic effects
2. Utilize wind tunnel studies
3.Calculate stresses from the wind load
NEW ORLEANS HURRICANE PROTECTION SYSTEM
It was designed to contain the river during periods of heavy flooding. First levels and flood-walls were initially built between 1717–1727 and measured 0.9 meters in most locations.
In 1985 surge barriers replaced with taller levees. In August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Levees and Flood-walls in place were breached due to engineering and engineering related policy failures.
- Collapse of server levees with concrete flood-walls(I walls)
- Over topping -water poured over the top of the levees and flood-walls, eroding structures.
- Levee builders used incorrect data to measure levee elevations.
- Levees were not built high enough, some 1–2 feet lower than intended design elevation.
- Hurricane protection system was constructed as individual pieces.
Results from failure
$21 Billion in property damage
$6.7 Billion in infrastructure damage
124,000 jobs lost
- $ 14.5 Billion Network of levees, flood-walls and pumps installed around New Orleans metro area.
- Best Flood Control System of any coastal community in the U.S
- Eliminate Flooding for most so-called 100-year events
Levee And Flood-Wall Engineering
- Levees are now required to withstand over topping by 500-Year surge events
- Improved materials including sheet piling and diagonal structure piles
- Designs must account for sinking soils and projected sea level rise caused by global warming
Located in the Saint Lawrence River, it was completed in 1917. With a span of 549 meters , it was the longest cantilever bridge in the world at the time.
It was 20 meters wide accommodating 2 Railway Tracks, 2 Street tracks and 2 Roads.
August 29,1907: 19,000 Tons of steel fell into the water killing 86 workers.
September 11, 1916: 5,000 Ton section of the center span fell into St.Lawrence river killing 13 people.
- The first collapse was due to Engineering negligence , ignoring a bend in compression chords.
- The Quebec bridge was redesigned with the subsequent bridge design weighing 2.5 Times As Much as the first bridge design.
- The final redesigned Quebec bridge was one of the first large projects to use a Nickel Alloy Steel that supported stresses at 40 times more than carbon steel and still stands today.
RONAN POINT APARTMENT TOWER
Located in East London. The 22-Story apartment building was built using a panel system of precast panels joined together without a structural frame.
The type of panel was popular because it was FAST and CHEAP in a city with an ongoing housing problem .But It wasn’t recommended for buildings taller than six stories.
May 16, 1968
18th floor tenant Ivy Hodge ignited a gas leak, causing an explosion that blew out the supporting walls.
4 Floors collapsed before the building’s entire corner gave way, killing four people.
Cause: Poor design and construction were to blame, Faulty joints, Shoddy building and a lack of structural support outside of the corner walls.
- Building Codes updated
- Requirements for structural redundancy were created in the U.S and parts of Europe.
All of these highlight various examples where infrastructure, systems and buildings failed at a sometime terrible cost. However they bore great lessons and as the professionals got back to the drawing board to solve them, they enabled future generations more safety, growth in technology and most importantly a courage to test the limits of building a better world.