Posts tagged with "Disasters":

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Disastrous Miami bridge collapse raises serious engineering and oversight questions

The collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami yesterday that left six dead is raising questions over how the supposedly state-of-the-art project could fail. The 174-foot-long, 950-ton span was assembled on the side of the road and later rotated into place by Munilla Construction Management over the course of only 6 hours, after testing by structural firm BDI. The FIU bridge, meant to cross eight lanes of traffic at a particularly dangerous intersection in front of the school, was designed to double as an amenity deck and would have featured a bike lane for students. Instead of being constructed in situ, the span that collapsed was built on temporary supports on the side of the road, and rotated 90 degrees into position on March 10th. Using this “Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) method” to build the bridge’s superstructure elsewhere was touted as a way to cut costs and minimize disruptions to traffic below. According to a press release from LIU, the bridge would have also been the first in the world to have been constructed from self-cleaning concrete. It’s currently unclear whether the construction methods used to build the span played a part in the collapse, which flattened the cars underneath at the time. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had said earlier that day that the bridge had just successfully completed stress testing. In a statement given to the Miami Herald, FIU President Mark Rosenberg said that the testing was done in accordance with best practices. “I know that tests occurred today. And I know, I believe, that they did not prove to lead anyone to the conclusion that we would have this kind of a result. But I do not know that as a fact.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter to discuss the work being done on the bridge before its collapse, saying “The cables that suspend the Miami bridge had loosened & the engineering firm ordered that they be tightened. They were being tightened when it collapsed today”. The engineering firm Rubio is referring to is FIGG Bridge Design, who were collaborating with Munilla to build the bridge. While the span was to be supported by steel suspension cables installed from a central column later on, Rubio may have been referring to tension cables inside of the bridge itself. It's unclear what form of temporary support was holding up the bridge at the time of the accident. At the time of writing, it’s unclear why engineers had chosen to stress test the bridge while allowing traffic to pass underneath, or if the cable tightening had played a role in the failure. The $14.2 million bridge, financed through a US Department of Transportation TIGER grant, had originally been slated to open in early 2019.
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Post-Sandy disaster recovery program is a “categorical” failure, says former program leader

The creator of New York's post-Sandy rebuilding initiative says the program is an unmitigated disaster. At a Congressional field hearing yesterday on Staten Island, Brad Gair, former head of Mayor de Blasio's Housing Recovery Operations, called Build it Back a "categorical" failure at its primary goal of getting homeowners back into their homes in a timely manner. "From the 'Road Home' program in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana to Build it Back in post-Hurricane Sandy New York City, [Housing and Urban Development Community Development and Block Grant Disaster Recovery] programs have generally been categorical failures in supporting timely and effective housing recovery," Gair testified. "But the root of the problem is that no local or state government, regardless of its capability, can successfully create and setup in a few months what amounts to a multibillion dollar corporation with hundreds of employees and contractors, numerous storefront locations, a broad based marketing campaign and integrated customer service operations while tens of thousands of desperate customers must wait anxiously for help as hope dwindles." The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain the efficacy of disaster-relief investments at all levels of government in the New York City metropolitan area, DNAinfo reported. Witnesses discussed how agencies coordinated disaster response, and what lessons Sandy offered for disaster planning going forward. In addition to Gair, six other non-profit leaders and government officials testified, including Daniel A. Zarrilli, the Mayor's chief resiliency officer. Those looking for some C-SPAN-level infotainment can view the entire session here: Gair suggested that government should be creating a-la-carte programs for disaster recovery to save time and money, rather than formulating "patchwork" programs post-disaster. Build it Back gives federal money to single and multi-family homeowners for repairs or reimbursements, funds resiliency projects in public housing, and provides support for other compatible resiliency projects. In response to Gair's critique, a spokesperson for the mayor's office stated that 80 percent of 5,319 approved applicants have either had work done on their homes or received checks from Build it Back. So far, $120 million in reimbursement checks have been sent out, although the program, critics contend, is hampered by mismanagement: Aid was not distributed to homeowners in a timely fashion, and it gave $6.8 million to contractors who performed substandard work, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer's 2015 audit. To close his testimony, Gair issued a scathing critique of disaster management bureaucracy and a lofty call to action:
"We are all here today for the exact same reason that many similar Congressional committees and subcommittees have been convened in the aftermath of virtually every major disaster over the past several decades—the system is broken, everyone is mad, and billions of dollars continue to be wasted. The Post-Katrina Reform Act reformed next to nothing; the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Improvement Act improved far too little. Now let’s try something different. Let’s start over, decide who and how much we want to help, establish a comprehensive policy for disaster resilience and recovery, devise an implementation strategy, build an integrated set of programs that get the job done, and empower our public servants to lead genuine, sustainable, cost effective efforts that restore communities and support families in times of need."
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Shigeru Ban to help relief efforts in Nepal

Shigeru Ban, the Pritzker Prize laureate known for his humanitarian work, is lending his design talents to earthquake-ravaged Nepal. Ban's Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN) will start by distributing tents that can serve as shelter and medical stations. Then, over the next few months as conditions in the country stabilize, VAN will expand its presence by working with local universities to build housing and community facilities that are based on the prototypes of Ban's other post-disaster work. In a 2013 Ted Talk (below), Ban explains his humanitarian work, which started 20 years ago, when he built shelters made out of recycled paper tubes for Rwandan refugees. https://youtu.be/q43uXdOKPD8 To donate to VAN's current efforts in Nepal, visit Shigeru Ban's website. [h/t ArchRecord]
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Window washers dangling from One World Trade Center rescued

Firetrucks, police cars, and a helicopter surrounded 1 World Trade Center this afternoon to save two window washers who became trapped near the 69th floor on the south side of the building. According to the New York Times, the machine controlling the scaffolding, to which the washers were strapped, malfunctioned. Firefighters were able to reach them by cutting a hole in a nearby window and then bringing them to safety.  An official from the fire department said he believed the cause of the scaffolding failure was a snapped cable.

“They are in a difficult spot,” a fire department spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. “They are feeling the effects of hanging in there.”

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Oscar Niemeyer’s Latin American Memorial Consumed by Flames

While Americans trampled over each-other for the latest consumer electronics, flames tore through the late Oscar Neimeyer’s landmark Latin America Memorial complex (1987) in São Paulo, Brazil on Friday. Inaugurated in 1989, the complex was built to promote the social, cultural, political and economic integration of Latin America. Eighty-eight firefighters were reportedly dispatched to contain the blaze that consumed portions of the 909,000 square foot complex for up to five hours. According to a spokesperson for the memorial, the blaze originated from a short circuit in the 1,600-seat Simon Bolivar auditorium, which is said to house Neimeyer’s original plans for the building. None of the building’s employees were injured, though 25 firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, two of which remained in critical condition on Saturday. While local media reported that up to 90 percent of the building’s interior was destroyed as the fire consumed chairs, melted metal, cracked walls, and shattered glass panes, it is unclear to what extent the complex’s cultural collections were harmed. According to João Batista de Anrdade, CEO of the Latin American Memorial Foundation, an extensive cleanup of the complex was performed a few months ago, in which much of the foundations cultural and historical collection was removed. Foundation employees have been waiting for the structure to be confirmed safe before returning to assess the damage to the historic building and its collections. Whatever the damage may be, state officials have confirmed that demolition is not an option. “We will ensure the most prompt restoration of the auditorium,” Secretary of State for Culture, Marcelo Mattos Araujo told Brazilian media.
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In Chicago, Toyo Ito reflects on 3.11 Earthquake

Japanese architect and 2013 Pritzker Laureate Toyo Ito visited the Art Institute of Chicago Tuesday, reflecting during two public lectures on how the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated his homeland changed his approach to design. At 72 years old, the accomplished architect might be expected to rest on his laurels. But Ito said his entire approach began to change during the 1990s. “I used to pursue architecture that is beautiful, aligned with modernism,” he said through an interpreter during a talk with Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho; Yusaku Imamura, director of Tokyo Wonder Site; and artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Instead, he said, he began to ask what elements of a building make it livable. On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan killed more than 15,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings. Like many Japanese architects, Ito wanted to help. From a series of discussions with quake victims rendered homeless, Ito’s firm developed their “Home-for-All” project. Tuesday evening Ito delivered the Art Institute’s Butler-VanderLinden Lecture, titled “Architecture after 3.11”. He described how government recovery plans failed to inspire or comfort those they were supposed to assist. They were too compartmentalized, isolating, and ignorant of the “dreams and visions” of their users, Ito said. One home Ito’s group built for 3.11 victims salvaged giant kesen cedars, devastated by the tsunami, for construction material — “a sign we’re rebuilding,” he said. Ito said he’s often asked how to bridge the gap between this post-disaster work and his typical practice. His reply: “Build architecture that is open to nature and harmonizes with people.” Ito’s visit also included a tour of “News from Nowhere,” the first U.S. presentation of the work by Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. Moon and Jeon meditate on a post-apocalyptic society composed of nation-corporations that control the technology necessary to sustain life after a 22nd century global catastrophe. That equipment is displayed throughout, along with a pair of lyrical videos that sketch the story of two survivors. The exhibition also features elements of Ito’s “Home-for-All” project alongside work from fashion designers Kuho Jung and Kosuke Tsumura; mime Yu Jin Gyu; and design firms MVRDV and takram design engineering. The exhibit is on display at the Sullivan Galleries — 33 S. State St., 7th floor — through December 21.
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LACMA Controversy Stirs Up Memories of LA’s Past Environmental Disasters

Peter Zumthor’s design for a new central building at LACMA has some experts concerned with its environmental effects. Critics including John Harris, chief curator of the National History Museum’s Page Museum, worry that the project could disrupt the La Brea tar pits, the same ecological features that inspired the building’s blob-like shape. At a meeting last month the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to request a presentation from the Page Museum fleshing out the curator’s concerns. That presentation has not yet been scheduled, according to the Page Museum’s press office. If Harris’s hunch proves correct, the LACMA redesign would join a long list of local architectural-environmental disasters, stretching back decades, to the earliest days of European settlement. For instance, Los Angeles Aqueduct had drained Owens Lake by 1924, and in 1941 began diverting water from Mono Lake. Only last month did the city of Los Angeles and other parties including conservationists reached a tentative settlement that would repair some of the damage done to Mono Lake. So without further ado, below is our list of some of the most significant environmental catastrophes (and near-catastrophes) in LA history. We hope LACMA's issues will be addressed, and that it won't be added to this list: Beginning in the early twentieth century, Los Angeles’s 14,000 acres of wetlands were filled in to make way for tony residential developments like Marina del Rey, dedicated in 1965. An earlier suburban enclave, Surfridge (part of Playa del Rey, developed in 1921 by Dickinson & Gillespie Co.), wiped out 300 acres of sand dunes that were home to the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, an endangered species. When LAX was built in the early 1960s, the airport took over Surfridge and razed the homes there—but not to restore the dunes. Instead, airport authorities bought the neighborhood to appease residents complaining of noise pollution and fenced it off without touching the dunes.  Restoration would take another three decades to initiate and is ongoing today. On March 24, 1985, a methane gas leak caused a massive explosion in a Ross Dress-For-Less Department store in the Wilshire-Fairfax District of Los Angeles. Though the cause of the explosion remains the subject of debate, two Stanford professors argued in a 1992 paper that it was a product of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that is once again being debated in the city. In any case, the disaster prompted Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) ban on tunneling under Wilshire Boulevard, which in turn rerouted the subway’s Red Line. In recent years, Playa Vista, a giant development located just south of Marina del Rey, has been the site of a high-profile contest between architecture and ecology. The original plan for Playa Vista, initiated by Howard Hughes’ heirs after his death, would have destroyed 94 percent of the Ballona wetlands’ remaining acreage. After the plan was approved, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands filed a lawsuit. Following a period of inaction, the development was sold to Maguire Thomas Partners in 1990. The new developers agreed to rededicate a portion of the land to conservation and pay millions for restoration. Rounding out the list is the infamous Belmont Learning Center, now known as the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center. The high school, the nation’s most expensive at over $400 million, was built on top of the Los Angeles City Oil Field.  Concerns over methane gas below the site resulted in an almost 20-year delay in the building process. The revision of state and local policy regarding school construction, and the installation of a $17 million gas-mitigation system, allowed construction to go forward, with a completely new architectural plan. Operating the system costs the school, which finally opened in 2008, between $250,000 and $500,000 annually.