How They Were Built And Folded: Like a house of cards

Like most people, I heard about the collapse of the high rise condominium in Florida, and about the shoddy construction and maintenance.  I didn’t have anything to add before now, but after seeing the security camera video of the collapse, I do.  It looks almost identical to the Sampoong Department Store collapse of June 29, 1995.  The Florida condo collapsed on June 24, five days short of the Sampoong collapse’s 26th anniversary.

Take a look at how the central part of the Florida condo collapses, leaving the end section.  The collapse looks like a house of cards or dominoes falling in on themselves.  I have little hope that there will be any survivors, not after a week under rubble with no water in the summer heat.



The ending section of the building temporarily left standing is nearly identical to the remnants of the Sampoong Department Store collapse in Seoul, Korea.  Watch the computer generated depiction of the building collapse from 1:30 to 2:00 in the video, based on the descriptions of witnesses.

Thankfully, unlike the Florida condo, the ending sections of the Sampoong building stayed upright, allowing the rescue of those still alive but trapped inside.



The Sampoong collapse had a different physical cause than the Florida collapse, but the human cause was the same: poor construction, lack of maintenance, and greed by the owners and construction companies.  The Sampoong building’s owners decided to cut corners on building and moving air conditioning system on the roof and in the building without consulting architects or engineers. The construction was as flawed as Florida’s, but with different materials (i.e. no use of rebar in Sampoong, rusting rebar in Florida).

From Interesting Engineering:

Death and Calamity: The Sampoong Department Store Collapse Explained

Initially, the Sampoong department store was set to become a four-story residential apartment complex, to be built by a company called Woosung Construction. Sampoong hired Woosung Construction to lay the foundation in 1987 and also to serve as project supervisor — an arrangement that can lead to abuse.

However, partway through the process, Lee Joon, the head of the Sampoong Group, decided to completely switch gears, and the blueprints were modified from an apartment complex to what would become one of the largest and most fancy department stores in South Korea. Although using a building of this size as a department store went against zoning regulations, Lee circumvented this by ordering the addition of a skating rink on an originally unplanned-for fifth floor. 

Here’s the thing about construction, you can’t just decide to change the basic function of a building without heavily modifying the design itself, including reducing the size and number of support beams to clear the way for escalators, Woosung refused to make the changes, so Joon fired them and decided his own construction company would take over. This proved to be just one poor decision of many.

The page goes on to list a catalogue of corruption and ineptitude.  Survivors of the collapse reported creaking and groaning in the building in the days and hours before the collapse.  Managers failed to call inspectors nor evacuate the building, all in the name of profit.  Capitalism kills again.

If there are any survivors of the Florida condo, not just the construction companies and inspectors we’ve already heard, I suspect we’ll hear more reports of building movement and noises before the collapse.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    In this case, since this was a condo, the greedy owners who didn’t do the required maintenance were also the residents, so the ultimate paid a price for their mistakes. The board was composed of elected volunteers with no background in engineering, and plenty of disincentive to go to their neighbors and say “we’re all gonna have to pay $30,000-$120,000 per unit to make these repairs.” Also, as is typical in boards of this type, there was plenty of infighting, turnover, and resignations. I’ve seen conservatives argue that this shows a failure of socialism: when groups make decisions collectively, nobody is willing to make the hard calls. I know that if my local HOA had to make decisions that were life and death for me, I’d be dead. OTOH, it’s perfectly possible for centralized decision-makers to be equally short-sighted.

    Another problem was that the engineer who analyzed the building a few years prior saw the problems, but couched his report in dry, technical language that didn’t create the sense of “you’re all gonna die!” that they needed.

  2. jrkrideau says

    I used to work for a housing agency. The general opinion was that condos were dicey as the builder planned off-loading the building immediately and, so, had little interest in the construction standards.

    BTW the rusting rebar problem has been known about for something like 30 or 40 years if not longer. Nothing like a bit of moisture and a bit of salt to collapse a parking garage. For non-Canadian readers, we use salt on the roads in winter.

  3. lorn says

    I’ve been following this through BIs videos. The guy is an engineer with experience with condos. He takes it step-by-step as information comes out. :

    I will point out the differentiation of resident from owner is not applicable. The residents are the owners and they elect a board to service the property.

    There have been some commentary that this may be the beginning of the end for condos. They really weren’t a thing in the 60s but dominated in the 80s and 80s.

    Lots of people fit the profile. They retire, many with a large payout. Then they have partial ownership of a building on the beach. Paradise. But then the building gets to be 40 years old and need work, as any structure built close to the sea will. The costs divided by number of units leaves every unit with bills in the hundreds of thousands. The now much older folks are living on savings and SSI. They don’t have, or don’t want to part with, that sort of cash so they are highly motivated to try to delay or cheap out on remediation. They figure if they can delay they might die before having to pay. Which means the problems get much worse.

    In this case the collapse looks to be a result of a design/build error, the pool deck slab/ garage roof was built flat and not remediated to drain early on. Water, primarily rain water, but with incidental salt, made its way past the waterproofing membrane, as it is prone to do when not drained efficiently, and corroded the re-bar.