Paul Withers, senior partner at Nottinghamshire-based HBPW said that the recent fatal collapse of an apartment tower in Miami, Florida, is a timely reminder for young engineers to look back at a similar tragedy that occurred in Britain in 1968, resulting in the reform of Building Regulation standards.
Ronan Point was part of the wave of tower blocks built in the 60s as affordable housing in London. Withers said that the rush for residences resulted in flawed design and ultimately the loss of life at Ronan Point.
He said: “In May 1968 a tenant went into her corner flat on the 18th floor of the 22-storey complex, to make a cup of tea. She lit a match to light the stove but it sparked an explosion that blew out the load-bearing flank walls which had been supporting the four flats above. The flank walls fell away, leaving the floors above unsupported and causing the progressive collapse of the south-east corner of the building.
“Four of the 260 residents were killed immediately and seventeen were injured, including a young mother who was stranded on a narrow ledge when the rest of her living room disappeared.”
Withers said it would be inappropriate and far too soon to draw comparisons with the 12-storey Miami collapse, which also claimed many lives just a few weeks ago. However, both incidents were evidence of the continuing need for ‘robustness’ checks in all engineering calculations and designs.
“Many of our younger engineers have not heard of Ronan Point which, effectively, rose from the ground like a pack of cards waiting for tragedy to strike,” he said. “The resulting Griffiths Inquiry ruled that whilst the design had complied with the regulations at the time, it had been an inadequate structure. As a result the Building Regulations were altered to ensure that similar designs could never repeat the flaws in the Ronan Point structure.”
Withers said early indicators seemed to imply that there had been a similar, if not identical, problem in Miami.
“It would be wholly inappropriate and professionally cavalier to speculate so early on in the investigative process, however, this latest Miami incident reaffirms once again, that ‘robust’ buildings are everything. Nothing should ever collapse catastrophically and young engineers should always have this at the back of their minds when putting pen to paper.”