Several cases of construction failures, as well as some basic rules for preventing construction failures, are presented in this article in the hope of furthering the understanding and awareness needed to prevent such disasters. Many failures can be traced to: errors in reading drawings, design errors, sloppy construction practices, poor communication between designer and contractor, or inadequate construction supervision.

The roof of a parking garage in New York City collapsed suddenly three years after construction. Immediate cause of failure: a plugged drain in the earth cover above. With water unable to drain from the soil, the weight on the garage roof increased, precipitating the collapse. Key reason for failure: the contractor failed to construct the called-for concrete cap at the top of each column. In looking at a plan view of the engineering drawings, the contractor mistook the lines representing the concrete cap for the outline of the spread footing. Had there been better field inspection of this job, or had the drawings been clearer, this failure might have been prevented.

After more than 30 years of misuse and misunderstanding of the behavior of precast prestressed concrete elements, we believe the following should now be clear: Avoid brackets and notches where possible; do not weld both ends of precast elements; and avoid bearing on unconfined edges. All members of the construction team designers, builders, and materials suppliers must become involved in learning from failure experiences.