How can we Avoid Building Collapse?

Need of controlling a Building collapse


If you look at the news papers these days, it is full of reports on building collapses. Let it be Bangalore, Kerala or up north of India, every where, everywhere, even in the US there has been some or the other report on a building collapse. Some of the collapses may be due to natural calamities. Still may be those could have been avoided if proper structural engineering was adopted. Mitigation of structural failures is the need of the hour.Let me try to include a few important steps that can avoid similar building collapses and failures in the future.


Need of Consultants on Board.


Many small and mid-scale Projects are done without qualified consultants, especially structural consultants on board. Also note that, many think that an architect takes care of entire points including structural designs. This is not correct. An architect’s role is to ensure the functional wellbeing and aesthetics of a building project. He might appoint a structural engineer, however there is a perception that if an architectural drawing is approved by the authorities, then it is safe.

A structural Engineer should be on board much before the Architectural drawings are finalized. This will enable a structural consultant to propose a proper structural scheme that will perform and meet all stability and strength criteria. If the structural scheme is not proper, there can be many undesirable compromises and adjustments that can become fatal. Also note that most of India is a seismic zone and it is very important to do proper seismic resistant design and detailing of all building projects.


By proper scheme of the building, I mean the below mentioned points

  • Proper geometry of the building – Common people are not aware that irregular and fancy shape and form of the building comes with higher seismic demand. This means that the chances of a building collapse are more unless it is attended carefully by an experienced structural engineer.

  • Proper column location, orientation, Shear wall positions and sizes – Common users are clueless about these requirements and only cares to see that columns do not clash with the functional requirement.

  • Certain amount of structural risk analysis and accident controlling measures shall go in to the design of a building.

As professionals, it is our responsibility to generate awareness among common people on the importance of all these aspects. Many still believe a smaller number of columns are more economic.

Similar to this, all buildings should have a Geotechnical engineer on board. Most cases, either SBC is asked to be assumed. Structural engineers are asked to double up as Geotechnical engineers and so on. Sometimes the role of a soil consultant ends with providing a soil report with SBC and the stability of slopes etc. are ignored. Many buildings collapsed are due to weak soil and lack of soil investigation. This will result in differential settlements and sometimes, failure of retaining systems. All these failures can be sudden brittle failure.

It is also important to avoid corner footings. In most cases the need of an eccentric footing arises due to compromises in setbacks.


Structural Scope


Many times, the structural engineer’s scope is limited to issuing structural drawings and occasional stage inspections. This should change and the scope of structural engineers and their fee should extend and cover a total supervision of the project. Alternatively, there shall be a Construction engineer/agency on record who is made responsible to ensure the adherence to structural drawings. It is always better if the structural scope includes this by also increasing the structural fees.


Structural Fee


Current Structural fee, in many cases are not adequate to cover the expenses of the consultants. This is surely affecting the quality of work. If a consultant has to use the best and leading software like ETABS, STAAD & REVIT and also spend enough time to validate everything, it needs a compensatory fee structure. It is high time that the professionals are paid well to ensure safety. The bylaws should include and enforce a minimum fee for professionals in addition to stating competence and roles.


Structural Approval


If you look at the approval mechanism in India, in most states and cities, it is pertaining to Architectural, functional approval. This will mostly look at if the setback rules are deviated, if the buildable area is exceeding, if the fire safety demands are met and so on. In many city bylaws, structural drawing submission is mandatory but not strictly enforced. This shall be strictly enforced. There are challenges for this enforcement.

  • If all construction drawings need to be submitted in advance, then the design development planning has to be meticulous. There shall be no much revisions after the designs. However, this only will improve the entire quality and the project time scales if there is a proper planning

  • The approval authority needs to have competent engineers to check and approve. Many times, this requirement comes as a hurdle. Many approving authorities don’t have experienced structural engineers on board to oversee approval of the vast number of projects. Proof checking can be an alternative which I have mentioned in one of the subsequent sections.

Structural Proof Checking

Peer Review of structural design and the methods shall be made mandatory. This will ensure capturing of design mistakes at an early stage. Either the approving authority should have a good technical knowledge and inhouse capability to check and approve the structural drawings or peer review shall be made mandatory. This is a good way to ensure adherence to code provisions and best consulting practices.