June 24, 2021 — An expert in forensic structural engineering failures says it’s “pure speculation” at this point to guess what might have led to the partial collapse Thursday morning of a 12-story condominium complex in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
“It is entirely too early to tell what happened,” says Roberto Leon, the D.H. Burrows Professor of Construction Engineering in The Charles Edward Via, Jr., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. “This is going to require quite a bit of investigation, and in the end, we might not come to a complete understanding of what happened here.”
Leon, who studies structural failures and has experience investigating structural collapses, is available for interview to speak generally about what will come next as engineers investigate what went wrong, and how experts will work to see if there are lessons to be learned for the future.
Regarding surveillance video showing the collapse:
“By itself you can’t begin to draw any conclusions from a video. We have all of these surveillance cameras now, so we get to see what happened. But it takes very careful examination of these videos — almost on a pixel-by-pixel basis — to determine the collapse initiation. What you can see in the video and what a careful analysis of the video might show later on are entirely different things. So, it is useful, but we’re not going to establish the cause of the collapse based on a video alone.”
On examining the building’s design and its 1981 construction:
“It was probably designed to the standards of the time. But our standards have changed quite drastically over the last 40 years or so. With the benefit of modern computer analysis, there could be some design issues that we see today that weren’t clear then.”
On the way the building partially collapsed:
“The kind of remnants that you have in this pancake type collapse unfortunately destroy a lot of the evidence. The columns and walls — all the vertical elements that stabilize a structure — appear to have been damaged or destroyed. The lack of intact structural elements will likely affect the pace of the investigation.”
Roberto Leon is the D.H. Burrows Professor of Construction Engineering in The Charles Edward Via, Jr., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. His expertise includes forensic structural engineering, reinforced concrete structures, and behavior and design of building materials, as well as experience investigating the causes of structural collapses. View his bio.
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