When Buildings Fall

It’s time for serious questions – and actions.

VERY FEW tall buildings have collapsed in this country in the last 100 years. While we’ve had our share of elevated walkways, snow-bombarded roofs, balconies and other pieces of buildings fall, the wholesale collapse of a building without warning, in the dead of night, is firmly in the category of things we think “can’t happen here.”

Until it does.

That the tragedy in Surfside, Florida is exceedingly rare, while no comfort to the victims or their families, does suggest the design, engineering and construction processes for multi-story dwellings have been solid, and maintenance regimes well administered, since Louis Sullivan first reached for the sky in St. Louis to create the Wainwright Building in 1891.

The disaster reminds us that past is not prologue. We should be paying close attention and asking a lot of questions, because millions of us spend many hours every year in tall buildings and simply give it ZERO thought.

That being the case, what should we be on the lookout for?

Perhaps tall buildings should be inspected every 10 or 20 years (instead of the common standard of 40 years). Such reports should be made public and, taking a cue from the wildly successful restaurant grading system now used virtually everywhere, a one-page, color-coded summary report should be printed and displayed at the front entrance. One imagines using green if the report is truly CLEAN, yellow if there is work that should done soon and RED if there are problems requiring immediate attention.

Color signage should cause the owners and their employees to WORK HARD and FAST to get a green sign, because public notice of a building’s sub-par condition would make it more difficult to sell, sublet, or Airbnb units in such buildings. The impetus to avoid massive costs is understandable, even as the consequences are readily underestimated. Right now, such topics rarely see the light of day, discussed only in meetings of the condo board or among that subset of residents that pays attention to the condo board.

COLOR coding would go a long way to solving an incipient problem by creating an immediate incentive TO DO SOMETHING!

That would be a BIG first step in the right direction for everybody.


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