21 Century Construction Mistakes: Curious Cases in the USA

Construction failures, if not too tragic in their nature, can cause a certain amusement in some quarters. It certainly does seem inexplicable how projects costing millions of dollars can omit a small detail that can potentially ruin everything.

Buildings are usually in the planning process for years and undergo various evaluations and analyses. Many experts are involved in the different elements and stages of design and construction. Then, especially in the cases of buildings with a public service importance, contractors are chosen only after a careful bidding process. The process of planning and constructing a building is also connected with obtaining a range of permits, approvals, evaluations and insurances. These include, among others, that the selected contractors have to get surety bonds with a surety bond agency, guaranteeing the client the execution of their contractual commitment on the project.

And then again, the wonder remains: how a tiny but crucial detail can sometimes be excluded during this elaborate and painstaking planning process? Below are a few idiosyncratic construction mistakes that will make you really ponder this question.


David L. Lawrence Convention Center

With about 1.5-million sq. ft. in area, the Pittsburgh David L. Lawrence Convention Center was planned in the late 1990s and was built between 2000 and 2003. However, from the very onset of construction, there were some mistakes. The most serious failure came in 2002 when a truss on the eastern end of the Center collapsed.

During construction, the plan for how to support the 15 steel trusses was changed and was not adapted into the schemes. Thus, the bolts on the 13th truss were fastened with the wrong kind of nuts – with locking nuts of either ½” or 1” thickness instead of with anchoring nuts that were 2” thick. Even the inspection of the trusses did not discover this fault because it did not check for the suitability of the nuts. Eventually the locking nuts could not hold the structure and the truss collapsed, killing a worker and injuring two more. Such a case really makes one think about the smallest details because they can cause a huge failure!


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Truss 13 of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center
Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune – Review

Tropicana Casino Parking Garage

The next construction collapse was also caused by a minor oversight during the building of the ten-storey parking garage in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The building site was the expansion of the Tropicana hotel, deliberately reminiscent of the style of Old Havana in Cuba. The $245 million project started in 2002 and was supposed to be finished in 2004. The construction failure in 2003, however, prevented this. As in the case of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the initial construction design was changed in the process, leading to the use of more cost-efficient 8’ mats of rebar instead of individual rods of rebar, as well as shallower and bigger beams. This, along with insufficient steel reinforcements in the concrete and appropriate supports during the pouring of concrete, led to the collapse of the building. Four people were found dead and 20 were injured, making it a particularly gruesome accident.


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The collapse of the Tropicana Casino Parking Garage Photo courtesy of the D’Amato Law Firm


Walt Disney Concert Hall

The third example is not precisely a construction failure, as nothing collapsed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and nobody was injured. Then again, this is probably the most unlikely mistake because it was executed by the famous architect Frank Gehry, renowned for his eccentric and innovative style and… because of the very nature of the fault. When the rather shiny metal external parts of the construction were completed and exposed to summery sun, it turned out that the reflection of light in the shiny surfaces causes some unexpected problems. It was heating up the neighboring buildings, as well as the sidewalk next to the Hall. The $274-million building had to be sandblasted in order to reduce its glare. Luckily, this had to be done only on 4000 sq. ft. and not on the whole 200,000-square-feet surface of the whole Hall.


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Walt Disney Concert Hall
Wikimedia Commons


Even with the Walt Disney Concert Hall bringing certain lightness in this otherwise grim case history of botched constructions, it seems that meticulousness in the planning and execution of every detail in a construction project is a crucial prerequisite towards its accident-free completion.  It certainly evokes stronger compassion towards construction specialists and contractors.