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Integrating Structural Failures In Construction Engineering Education: Improving The Practical Aspects Of Construction Practice

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovation in Construction Engineering Education I

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

12.925.1 - 12.925.9



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Paper Authors


Virendra Varma Missouri Western State University

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Virendra K. Varma, Ph.D., P.E., F. ASCE, is professor of construction and chairman of the department of engineering technology at Missouri Western State University.

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Integrating Structural Failures in Construction Engineering Education: Improving the Practical Aspects of Construction Practice


The Big Dig structural failure of July 10, 2006 in Boston’s I-90 cut-and-cover connector tunnel roof that dropped a 10-ton module of concrete panels on a car killing a 38-year old woman called for Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T) officials to probe installation of its tunnel support system. It has engaged the construction community on a national scale in asking how nine stainless steel anchors gave way causing the fatal air-plenum module collapse. In general, it has further led to questions surrounding applications of epoxy-threaded bolts. The construction engineering profession is alarmed that Boston’s CA/T epoxy problem may be nationwide. What redundancy in design and construction in the structural support systems should be considered and how can public safety be insured? As engineering and construction professionals respond to structural failures of this nature, so do educators prepare to educate students to improve the practical aspects of engineering design and construction practices? To avoid future construction failures, educators have an ethical responsibility of educating students in modes and causes of structural failures, and the responsibilities for failures. This paper addresses lessons learned from failures of the past, such as, the very recent Boston’s Big Dig Failure, the 1981 Collapse of Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel Skywalks, the 1978 Formwork Failure on West Virginia’s Power Plant Cooling Tower, and a few other structural failures, and how such lessons can be incorporated in the classroom to teach students how to avoid construction failures in the future. As educators, it is concluded; we must teach students to strictly enforce review in design, and the associated change of design procedures including technical review and documentation. The author has incorporated construction failures as case studies in his senior classes, and recommends the approach of using past construction failures and the lessons learned to improve the practical aspects of engineering design and construction practice.


In June 2006, in a building collapse in Clinton, Missouri, a town of some 9500 people, a 32-year- old leader of the Elks Club, lost his life. The century-old Elks Lodge was a three-story brick building that collapsed partially without warning. Lodge members, as they were getting ready for the meeting after dinner, heard a snap. With in a few seconds of hearing the snap, it was later reported by the 50 survivors, that the third story of the building collapsed on to the second without any warning. Unfortunately, the 32-year-old leader who had gone to the third floor to rehearse for the initiation ceremony that evening for the new members of the Elks Lodge perished in the collapse. Nine men were trapped for hours in the debris. It took about five hours to rescue the nine trapped in the rubble. What caused the failure of the century-old low-rise three-story brick building? The building housed men’s clothing store, a law firm, and a pharmacy, and was not subjected to any unusual heavy loads. It is though quite fortunate that the collapse occurred at a time when the only business that was going on was a dinner meeting for an initiation ceremony. There could have been many more deaths had the collapse occurred during the regular business hours. What did the owners learn from the collapse, and what impact did it

Varma, V. (2007, June), Integrating Structural Failures In Construction Engineering Education: Improving The Practical Aspects Of Construction Practice Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1560

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