Monday, April 11, 2011

Incompetence, Negligence, and Greed

Holy crap.

Last night, as the rabbit and I were walking to the subway from our class, she pointed to a group of new high rise apartments and told me "That's where the department store collapsed..."


Does anyone remember this? Apparently, in 1995, the Sampoong Department Store in Seoul collapsed due to structural failure with about 1,500 people inside.

The store was built 6 years earlier and, apparently typical for the time, the company CEOs ignored warnings from the chief engineers that it would be unsafe to add a 5th floor to the building. But, add they did and it was a restaurant floor, meaning huge concrete flat slabs to house in-floor heating for Korean-style floor seating. That wasn't the only unsafe structural change they did over the 6 years of the store's life.

This is some mad crazy shit. 501 people dead. The day of the disaster, huge cracks were discovered near support columns and rumblings were heard on the 5th floor, but despite pressure from facility managers to shut the place down for the day, and not wanting to lose a day's profits from selling untold amounts of luxury goods to Gangnam shoppers, the CEO refused to close-up... but he and his subordinates of course all left the building. Of those who survived, one woman was pulled from the rubble 16 days after the building fell.

The building was built during the super speedy South Korean boom time of the late '80s and it was clear that corners were being repeatedly cut. The collapse led to massive investigations into all South Korean buildings and it was discovered that one out of every seven high rise buildings in the country at the time needed complete rebuilding, and four out of five needed significant repair work.

An interesting 45 minute documentary on the collapse can be viewed here. Though, be forewarned that there is more than a fair amount of cheese in the form of the "In a world..." trailer voice-over guy.

The lesson for me is, there's no way in hell I'll be living in a Korean apartment building that was built before 1995. Although, I do work in one, and large steel decorative pillars were inexplicably added to the top floor over the winter break. Fingers crossed that they were added according to code. Hell's bells.

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