History’s Most Infamous Construction Failures

History’s Most Infamous Construction Failures

20th May 2020

While most construction jobs go to plan, the potential for disaster is never far away. If we look back over some of the most infamous failures in the history of building work, we can see how oversights and lack of diligence can lead to massive mistakes.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy

Probably the most famous construction failure in history, this is the bell tower for the city’s cathedral. It was built over the course of almost 200 years. Before the work had even finished, the tower had started to tilt to one side and it remained that way since the 12th century until work at the start of this century saved it from collapse.

A combination of soft ground and poor foundations led to the building leaning over once work began on the second floor. The designers tried to make up for this by making the upper floors taller on one side than on the other, but the end result is a tilt of close to 4 degrees that makes it one of the planet’s most easily recognisable structures.

The Cheap Roman Amphitheatre in Fidenae

Fidenae near Rome was the place where a man known as Atilius built an amphitheatre on the cheap, mainly using wood. It was constructed in 27AD, to help celebrate the lifting of the ban on gladiator-style games. CE marked fabrications weren’t available in this era, but there were suitable, but more expensive materials that should have been used.

Sadly, the low cost, rushed approach meant that it was unsuitable for the 50,000 spectators who crammed in for the opening ceremony. An estimated 20,000 people died in the resulting collapse, making it the worst stadium disaster in history. Atilius was banished and Rome imposed stricter building laws after this tragedy.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Was Blown Away

This suspension bridge across the Tacoma Narrows strait in Washington was opened in July, 1940 but by November of the same year it was in ruins. At the time, it was the third-biggest suspension bridge in the world but even when it was being built it was noted that the winds caused it to move more than it should have.

40 mph winds finally destroyed the extremely flexible bridge by twisting it until it was ripped apart. The disaster became a popular case study, as engineers rushed to find out what lessons could be learned from the $11 million project.

Rain Caused the Kemper Arena’s Roof to Collapse

The eye-catching design of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City led to it receiving a number of awards. Yet, the large flat roof raised concerns about how it would cope with rainfall. Five years after construction we found out, as it collapsed.

The problem was a lack of drains on the flat roof, with only eight of them not being enough to drain the water away after heavy rainfall. A huge storm finally caused the roof to cave in by filling it with double the amount of water it was designed hold. Some of the walls also collapsed in the resulting carnage.