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All the Theories About the Surfside Condo Tower Collapse – Curbed

The best guesses about what brought down the building.

“Buildings in America do not just fall down like this.” Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
“Buildings in America do not just fall down like this.” Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Five days after a huge segment of the 12-story Champlain Towers condominiums collapsed, the building’s northern wing serves as a reminder of the devastating loss of life, its grid of ragged interiors occupied just moments before by sleeping residents. 150 of those residents are still missing, and 11 people are confirmed dead. Such a rare catastrophic event demands immediate answers: How can a 136-unit building in an affluent area near Miami Beach, one that’s only about 40 years old, crumble into rubble? “Buildings in America do not just fall down like this,” said Surfside’s Mayor Charles Burkett at a Friday news conference. “There is a reason. We need to find out what that reason is.” But the factors — and there likely will be multiple factors — that caused the collapse of Champlain Towers South may not be fully revealed for weeks.

The sheer incongruity of a building suddenly collapsing — particularly a newish coastal building engineered to handle extreme-weather conditions including hurricane-force winds — evokes an act-of-God-level explanation. And whether or not this particular disaster can be attributed specifically to climate change, our greatest existential threat, it should mark the beginning of a reckoning about why, as a country, we continue to invest so heavily in construction to reside in places that have been deemed high risk, says Ann Tihansky, physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “This is the geologist perspective, because we’re always looking long term,” she says. “I think there’s a talking point here about infrastructure and making smart investments for the future, using the best available science to make decisions, and not putting ourselves in harm’s way.”

Rising seas seems like an exceedingly obvious scapegoat, particularly in a state where leaders have largely attempted to ignore the climate crisis. As reports trickle out that warnings by local building inspectors went unheeded, there are growing calls for investigations into potential malfeasance. And, of course, there are conspiracy theorists reviewing slow-motion security footage that, they claim without evidence, shows signs of a detonation. What’s more likely, suggests Guy Nordenson, a New York–based structural engineer, is not a single reason but rather several conditions that added up to structural failure. “There’s usually a whole number of things that cascade: You have corrosion, you have potential subsidence,” he says. “Inevitably, there are going to be a number of causes that will be found to have combined.” Preliminary reports have led observers to a variety of likely causes, and we’ll update this post as further evidence comes in.

Theory No. 1: Cracks in Structural Columns

According to a 2018 report, a consultant hired by the building’s condo board uncovered cracks, breaks, and crumbling in the structural concrete, a phenomenon known as spalling. In April 2021, an urgent letter from the condo board’s president warned that “concrete deterioration is accelerating” and noted that estimates for repairs had increased to $16 million, set to begin this summer. Some of the most worrisome damage had been found in the subterranean parking garage, which just last week had water leaking from the pool deck, where a resident in a fourth-floor apartment witnessed a hole opening just before the building collapsed. Spalling was so pronounced in some parts of the building that it can be easily seen in recent Google street-view images, and although damage to balconies and exterior walls would not necessarily threaten the integrity of the building, it could be a sign of real rot within. If there was a column failure in the parking garage, that might explain the way the building slumped downward in what’s called a progressive collapse.

Read on >>>> Source: Curbed All the Theories About the Surfside Condo Tower Collapse

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