Structural Failures | Building Failures
Learn from mistakes made by others so you will not make the same for your
A look at Structural Failures of the Sports Stadium at Kuala Terrengganu, Malaysia, and How
to avoid Structural Failures
It was reported in June 2009, in Kuala Terrengganu, Malaysia, that the roof of a RM300 mil (US $90 mil) Sports
Stadium collapse suddenly just after it was recently completed.
No one was injured, The damage was extensive, as practically the whole east wing came crush down at 8am in the
morning, a few cars were damaged. The contractor was a South Korean Company while the Consultants were local
Malaysians. The Repairs were carried and costs about RM35mil (US$10mil).
Since the works were still within the defects liability period which is usually 12 months or more for such a
massive project, the cost of remedial works were borne by the Contractor. What other issues involved would be under
the relevant authorities.
An Investigation Committee was immediately set up with involvement from the Public Works Department, Ministry of
Works, Related Agencies, Experts, and an extensive report was later compiled.
Some of the photographs of the roof stadium collapse would be revealing :-
Aerial Picture of the Collapsed Roof. Note that the other structures are intact, it is only the
roof which failed and the roof is actually a Proprietary Space Frame Structure, and not designed
and fabricated by local contractors on site. Note also that Space Frames are all Pinned Jointed and
designed based on direct forces, tension or compression.
Part of the Roof Structure which shows the Space Frames involved
More pictures showing the extensive collapse of the whole roof.
Note that Space Frames are interdependent on each other for strength. It is very weak and
unstable until it is erected and forces are transmitted from top down. It is also very sensitive
and any failure would be more of a "domino effect"
Extensive Lives would have been lost had the Sports Stadium been occupied during the Malaysia
Designers and particularly Structural Engineers must be acutely aware that any structures you do
must never fail under any circumstances, as any failures could result in collapse and lost of
lives, not to say very costly.
Proprietary Space Frame
Causes of Collapse of the Roof Structure
The Reports by the Investigation Committee highlighted a few factors which could have contributed to the failure
of the roof structures as summarised below :-
- The design was inadequate
- The roof was not erected properly resulting in misalignment
- No quality control on Site
- Materials and Workmanship not in accordance to specifications
- Alternative designs from Contractor was adopted without proper analysis
The above sounds too familiar and so common in our construction industry. Almost every sites are faced with
these issues. In fact, structures are very resilient and would not have been catastrophic in collapse, even if
under designed. The concept of limit state design takes account of this, allowing collapse to be progressive rather
than catastrophic. Only steel framed structures are more prone to collapse especially during erection period, and
particularly for 3D space frame structures.
The BIG Question is "Who is responsible for this?"
It is natural for everyone to point at the Contractor first and then the Consultants, but
in many cases the Employer or Owner are to be blamed. Investigations can never be final and the cases will drag on
for ages usually to the courts. The best approach is to AVOID this ever happening to you and
your projects, whether you are a Contractor, a Consultant or an Employer. In almost all cases, this can be
Take a Vote
How to Avoid Structural Failures for your Projects?
As a Civil Engineer & Structural Engineer for the Project :-
- Do not over use software in Engineering or Structural Analysis unless you know
exactly what you are doing. Software are very complex tools, and may not be correct. If you ask the software
vendor if there is any warranty that using their software will not cause collapse, chances are nobody will give
you that guarantee. So whether you use it correctly or wrongly, the risk is on yourself. Use software only for
alternative checks and analysis, and comparative designs or for designs of a similar structure which you
already know works correctly. Unless you are familiar with normal calculations and analysis that your were
taught in Universities, and have some real working experience in manual approach, avoid software tools. In
short, software are for experienced engineers only, and never for green horns. In the case of the Collapse of
the Stadium Roof above, manual calculations should have been performed for key structures, and complimentary,
additional analysis by proprietary software in 2D & 3D, performed by specialist only. Use of excel,
mathcad, or any spreadsheet and self programmed software like autolisps, visual basic, etc, are all
- Always look at Structural Forms, Shapes and Overall Stability. This is part common sense,
part experience and part engineering. Trusting your sixth sense would be an added advantage. If there is
something wrong in the design or construction take a second or third look, and consultations with your peers if
you must, to ensure you get a good sleep.
- Be aware that stability is 3D while most engineering analysis is 2D. Even a lattice girder
is a 3D structure even though we design in 2D. Ever heard of a Two Legged Table? Never, its always 4 legged or
3 legged to be seated and stable. So think 3D. The above Roof was constructed using Space Frame made of tubing
and pinned jointed. This is 3D design, and behave more like 4D. why 4D? because it is still Unstable in 3D and
would require supports fixed in position before it is stable. So take great care with 3D structures with 4D
- Always Check Drawings produced by draftsman in autocad form and printed form, not once but
several times particularly on critical structures. Check also drawings released to contractors because with
ease of cad system, changes could be accidental.
- Ensure that you Supervise Full-Time On-Site. Some employers or clients want to supervise
themselves or even not at all. In this case you have to make sure that they understand that in so doing, they
are responsible for any failures and mismanagement. Some employers want to save money by using their own
manpower (usually without design or construction experience) to do "management" supervision works themselves.
This is a wrong, irresponsible thinking and sadly, some large corporations and government agencies are still
doing this without understanding the risks involved for their staff, the public and the projects. Ad-Hoc or
Part-Time Supervision is flawed in everyway and cannot be justified under any circumstances !
- Let specialist do specialist Works. This is the most common flaws in our construction
industry. There are General Contractors and there are Specialist Contractors. If you are supervising the works,
make sure contractors use specialist where required. As an example, had the roof space frames be designed,
fabricated, erected, commissioned by specialist then it would not have collapse! What constitute specialist
works? You will need to define clearly in the contract documents early, include Proprietary Products &
- Do not accept Contractor's proposal unless you are able to carry out extensive
evaluation yourself. Many Contractors come with proposals for changes which can involve structural changes or
non-structural such as using alternative materials. Changes can be good if done with good intentions and to
solve problems at site. Structural changes should be carefully checked by yourself. If it involves proprietary
structures such as engineered steel, space frames, slip forms, prefabricated sections, pre stressing, etc, they
should be carefully studied. A proposal by contractor to have his own changes stamped and certified by an
engineer is not good enough unless the credibility of the engineer can be assessed. The ultimate goal is to
ensure that your designs are not abused as you will be responsible at the end of the way, no matter what the
employer, owner or contractor do. Bear in mind that you are the expert here.
- Always recheck your designs compared to site conditions during the time of
construction. This is important as in many cases, site changes in itself, or the surroundings may make your
design criteria obsolete which can happen.
- Design for the Future - All structures are designed with a life span of at least 50
to 100 years or even must be stable "forever". Most engineers would not look beyond the site environment, so
would only include conditions within the site and not outside the site. You can develop your own site but be
aware that the surrounding development will affect your structures equally, and predicting what will occur in
future is part guesswork and part intellectual research. E.g was the case of the Highland Towers collapse where
changes in the hill side conditions cause massive soil slips, toppling the Highland Towers.
- Be Conservative in Design - there are many engineers who try to be real smart by
designing everything based on collapse or limit state and using limiting factors of safety such as those below
1.6 and 1.4. Some structures which are difficult to analyse or visualise would require more conservative factor
of safety such as 2 or 3. Perhaps a new approach using Factor of Uncertainty should be introduced into the
design criteria to allow for complex structures. Even Retaining Wall design is a complex structure due to earth
pressures uncertainty so a factor of safety of 2 or 3 would be reasonable for overtopping or sliding
- Use Standards & Established Methods & Procedure when carrying out
Calculations and Designs. Building Codes must be followed, and let no one, except your peers to influence your
engineering judgement, bear in mind there are always too many happy critics jumping on your back.
Design of Large Spans Structures using Space Frames
Space frame is rapidly gaining popularity as an efficient structural system for very large spans such as
aircraft hangers, manufacturing plants, airports, sports stadium, etc. These space frames designs use high strength
steel components usually tubes and jointed via pinned connections to form any shapes, some very complex. It is
usually pre-fabricated and easily assembled on site. An incredible achievement.
Designed and constructed properly it is an advanced engineering form for the future.
"This picture shows a design which would have been the correct
Structural Form for the Sports Stadium Roof - a Main Cantilever Truss Girder,
with roof sheeting supported by triangular space truss, or simple C-channels. A much simpler
structural analysis with 2D design approach"
- MEC Engineers
Plan of Stadium
An Arched Roof (complex shape), supported by Proprietary Space Frame
(yellow), which in turn carried by Cantilever Lattice Frame (green).
Section of Stadium
Cantilever Lattice Frame (green) can be Main Beams supported by the
Stadium RC Wall, Proprietary Triangular Space Frames (yellow) can be spanning between the Main
Beams. Simple Structural Form, easy to ensure analyse and design.
Use Simple Statics for Cantilever Lattice Beams, and Proprietary
Software for Triangular Space Frames
- MEC Engineers
Some Design Considerations
|Type A-Design - Lattice Cantilever Frame
can be designed as Fixed Jointed Frame. A simple Bending Moment can be plotted. The top chord will
be in tension and bottom chord in compression. The diagonal chords will be in tension and
compression alternately. You can assume a cross section where the top and bottom chords act like
top and bottom flanges of an I-beam while the cross members act as web of I-beam. This design
approach would give greater rigidity, less deflection. Circular hollow sections should be used
with thicker walls and all welded joints to be full.
||Type B Design - Here the Joints are all
Pinned and forces/loads from the roof are assumed to be transmitted through the joints. This is the
normal approach to design. The pinned joints are bolted. It is unstable unless supported in the 3D
direction. You can use double C-channels, L-Angles or I-sections.
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