Catastrophic Collapse: Lessons Learned, After the Fall

Building collapses are rare but can happen for a host of reasons: earthquakes, extreme weather, human error, or a combination of factors. Fortunately, the lessons we learn from building failures make us all safer. These lessons often lead to refinements in construction codes and maintenance protocols, and can even bring about critical retrofits of existing buildings.

We have chosen eight well documented structural failure case studies, highlighting how building safety has been improved in their wake. The exhibition concludes with some speculation as to what we may learn from the recent collapse of a condominium building in Surfside, Florida, in 2021.

The exhibition features some of our nation’s most catastrophic structural disasters—from the South Fork Dam and Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the Northridge Meadows Apartments and the World Trade Center. Each catastrophic collapse offers a story with lessons learned that improved the way we design buildings today.

1889……… South Fork Dam / Johnstown, PA
1922……… Knickerbocker Theatre / Washington, DC
1940……… Tacoma Narrows Bridge / Tacoma, WA
1981……… Hyatt Regency Hotel / Kansas City, MO
1994……… Northridge Meadows Apartments / Los Angeles, CA
2001……… World Trade Center / New York, NY
2005……… New Orleans Levees/Floodwalls / New Orleans, LA
2021……… Champlain Towers South / Surfside, FL
2021……… Western Kentucky Tornado


Acknowledgements

Catastrophic Collapse: Lessons Learned, After the Fall is organized by AIA|DC for the SIGAL Gallery.

 

Sponsored by:

National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)

District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)

 

Supported by:

Sustaining Firm Affiliate Members

 

Curatorial Team:

Mary Fitch, AICP, Hon. AIA / Executive Director, AIA|DC (script writing)

Scott Clowney, Assoc. AIA / Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs, AIA|DC (script writing; proofreading; image collection)

G. Martin Moeller, Jr., Assoc. AIA, Independent Curator (interpretive consultation; editing)

Rupa M. Patel, P.E., LEED AP BD+C / Senior Associate, Thornton Tomasetti (research assistance)

Dara Naderi, PE / Associate, Thornton Tomasetti (research assistance)

 

Exhibition & Graphic Design:

Rina Alfonso, RGD / Founder & Creative Director, Studio Aorta

Danielle Coates, RGD / Senior Design Associate, Studio Aorta

Arianno Ho / Studio Assistant | Design Associate, Studio Aorta

 

Print Production:

Print Exhibit Partners, LLC

 

Special Thanks to these Image Contributors:

California State University Northridge; Dave Eames, Illustrator/Graphic Designer; District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; Fine Homebuilding magazine; Johnstown Flood Museum Archives, Johnstown Area Heritage Association; New School of Architecture and Design; Perkins Eastman DC; University of Washington Libraries


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Please note the following COVID-19 safety measures:

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