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Rare Foundation Failure-NBMCW August 2009

Rare Foundation Failure-NBMCW August 2009

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Published by drnsmani
Describes the rare foundation failure in China
Describes the rare foundation failure in China

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Published by: drnsmani on Jan 15, 2010
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Rare Foundation Failure
of a Building in Shanghai, China
Dr. N. Subramanian,
Consulting Engineer, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA
The nature of civil engineeringconstruction differs from that ofalmost all other manufacturingprocesses in that, most often, theproduct that is produced is unique.Very rarely a building that is identicalto the one that is already built isconstructed. Even if an identicalbuilding is again constructed, theenvironment may change; forexample, the soil on which it islocated, the wind or seismic loadacting on the structure, etc. maychange. Hence the opportunity tobuild a series of mock-ups and toimprove progressively till a perfectsolution is obtained is not availableto a civil/structural engineer.Moreover, the nature of theexposure of constructed facilities tooften unpredictable natural hazardsprovides several uncertainties anddifficulties. These factors presentseveral challenges to those involvedin the design, construction, andoperation of constructed facilities.In this scenario, it is beneficialfor the civil/structural engineer tolearn from past failures. Althoughfailures are not frequent, the impactis often devastating especially forthose involved in the project. Anawareness of the past mistakesand the lessons learnt will makeengineers better equipped to adoptsafe and successful procedures andto avoid mistakes of the past.It is unfortunate that manyfailures in India are neither reportednor analyzed and are often buriedunder bureaucratic procedures.However, it is heartening to notethat there is an increasing literatureon failures, the study of which willresult in better and saferstructures
. It is important toconsider failures as importantlessons and engineers shouldensure that they do not happenagain.Foundation failures are rare,unless the building is located onexpansive soils. It is because thefactor of safety adopted infoundation is often more than thatadopted for structural components.The well–known foundation failureis the tilting of the tower at Pisa,Italy
. This failure is unique for anumber of reasons, as the unequalsettlement of its foundation isoccurring continuously for the past800 years! Even though extensiveinvestigations and analyses have
Foundation Failure
Figure 1: Two views of a toppled 13-storey apartment building that buried one worker in Shanghai on 27th June 09. Photo: Reuters
been carried out in the past 70years, there is no consensus onthe cause of this failure! However,several remedial measures havebeen undertaken in the past to keepthe tower serviceable till now.This article is concerned withanother unique foundation failure ofa building in China and the lessonslearnt from this rare failure.
Rare FoundationFailure in Shanghai,China
At around 5:30am on June 27,2009, an unoccupied 13-storeyblock of flat building, still underconstruction, at Lianhuanan Roadin the Minhang district of Shanghaicity toppled over and ended up lyingon its side in a muddy constructionfield (see Fig.1). One worker waskilled. The official Xinhua NewsAgency said that a 28-year-oldworker, surnamed Xiao, had goneinto the building to get his toolsand tried to jump out the windowwhen the building fell. He was fromAnhui province in eastern China.Construction work on the blockappeared to have been nearlycompleted, with windows fitted anda tiled facade. Other identical blocksin the same property developmentwere still standing nearby (seeFig.1).Initially, it was thought that a70 m section of the flood preventionwall in the nearby Dianpu Rivermight have triggered this buildingcollapse.China’s official news agency,Xinhua, reported that officials weretaking appropriate control measuresagainst nine people, including thedeveloper, construction contractorand supervisor of the project after itwas found that the company’sconstruction license had expired in2004.
Cause of Failure
The cause of the building collapsein Shanghai was due to a pressuredifference on two sides of thestructure, according to aninvestigation report released at agovernment press conference.Improper construction methods arebelieved to be the reason of thebuilding collapse in Shanghai,according to a report from theinvestigation team. The investigationteam’s report said that workers dugan underground garage on one sideof the building while on the otherside earth was heaped up to 10mhigh, which was apparently an errorin construction, according to areport on eastday.com, Shanghai’sofficial news website.There were also reports sayingthat cracks on the flood-preventionwall near the building, as well asthe special geological condition inthe water bank area, may be part ofthe reason for the collapse.However, these factors were notfound to be the basic reason ofthis accident. An official investigationhas said that the accident was dueto the construction company’signorance, rather than flaws in thedesign or building materials.However, the report stopped shortof apportioning blame, and hasbeen criticized for failing to addresskey issues.The report said the collapsewas caused by earth, excavatedalong the building on one side witha depth of 4.6 m, for an undergroundcar park, and piled up to depths ofup to 10 m on the other side of thestructure (see Fig. 2). The weight ofoverburden earth created a pressuredifferential, which led to a shift inthe soil structure, eventuallyweakening the foundations andcausing them to fail. This situationmight have been aggravated byseveral days of heavy rain leadingup to the collapse, but investigatorsdid not site this as a crucial factor.The report said the constructioncompany - Shanghai ZhongxinConstruction did not anticipate that
Foundation Failure
Figure 2: Cause of failure, showing the condition at site(b) Then the plan called for an undergroundgarage to be dug out. The excavatedsoil was piled up on the other sideof the building(a) First, the apartment building wasconstructed(c) Heavy rains resulted in water seepinginto the ground
the overburden created by theearth could have such adevastating effect.Investigations did not pointout whether the company’serrors were negligent or easilyavoidable. However, theystressed that the building’sfoundations and constructionmaterials all complied with thecity’s building regulations.The Shanghai UrbanConstruction andCommunications Council,conducted inspections on theremaining 10 apartmentblocks and found that there isno immediate danger to them.However, it may conduct safetyinspection of the surroundingbuildings again to ascertaintheir safety and stability.Another interestingrevelation of the investigationis that the constructioncompany did not provide anystructure to support the wallsof the car park pit, and thishad been a key factorcontributing to the accident.From these investigations,it may be concluded that thefailure was due to the followingcauses (see Fig.2):
An excavation for undergroundgarage was made on the southside, to a depth of 4.6 m, withoutany support for the earth walls.
The excavated earth was piledup on the north side, to a heightof 10 m.
The building experienced unevenlateral pressure from south andnorth. This was due to theoverburden pressure and erosionof soil in the pit adjacent to thebuilding, as a result of heavy rain.
This resulted in a lateral pressureof 3,000 tonnes, which wasgreater than the capacity ofthe concrete piles. Thus thebuilding toppled over in thesoutherly direction.The sequence of failureof the building is shown inFig. 3 and some more viewsof the failure in Fig. 4.Concern on constructedfacilities in China
China Daily, the state-runnewspaper, penned an angryeditorial decrying the oftencorrupt nexus betweenChinese property developersand local government officialswho depend on property taxesand land sales for asignificant proportion of theirincome. Some constructionindustry insiders in Chinahave expressed their fear thatmany buildings designed tohave a 70-year lifespan wouldnot stand firm beyond 30 to40 years- because of corner-cutting during China’srampant construction boom.The collapse shockedmany in China whereconstruction failures arerelatively common in inlandareas, but not expected inshowcase cities such as Shanghaiwhich will host the 2010 World Expo.On Monday, 29th June 09, just twodays after the Shanghai collapse,rescuers were searching a river innortheast China after a section of aroad bridge gave way, sending
Foundation Failure

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