The Sampoong Department Store was
constructed in Seoul, South Korea. It had been collapsed on the 29th
of June in 1995. This collapse is known as the deadliest modern building
collapse that has taken place, up until the attacks that took place in New
York. The reasons behind this disaster were the numerous errors made by the
designers and contractors who built the store, and the irresponsibility on
behalf of the store owner.
The structure had been built on top of
a landfill, which was originally designed for an office building. However,
midway through construction, the chairman had desired to construct it into a
department store, with an additional fifth floor. Several engineers that had
been working on the project warned the owner, Joon, that the changes were
life-threatening. They stated that the building had high chances of collapsing.
However, Joon did not comprehend with the fact that this was a high
probability, and fired his workers instead.
When the disaster had taken place, 1500
people were present in the building and got trapped, in which over 500 died and
937 underwent non-fatal injuries. The rescue team was not able to start their
search till the next day due to the risk of further collapses, therefore
rescuers would have been at risk.
The construction of the Sampoong
started in 1987. It was first designed to be an office, but the future chairman
of the building, Joon Lee decided that it should to be a department store
instead. The process involved cutting the numbers of support columns to be able
to install the escalators. The contractors refused to carry these changes as
they were not safe, Lee Joon the future chairman ignored their concerns and
hired another building company for the construction. The Sampoong Department
Store opened to the public on July 7, 1990, attracting an estimated 40,000
people per day during the building’s five years of existence. (Almarwae
Joon undermined the safety procedures,
thus he had staked the lives of the people involved in the event, despite
knowing the consequences that this could lead but he neglected them. In April
1995, cracks began to appear in the ceiling of the south wing’s fifth floor.
The only response by Lee and his management staff involved moving merchandise
and stores from the top floor to the basement. Eventually the cracks increased
forcing managers to close the top floor and shut the air conditioning. The
store management did not shut the building or make anyone aware of the
situation apart from the executives and chairman, the reason why they did not
want to close the building down was because it was a very busy store and did
not want to lose day’s revenues, However, the executives and chairman did leave
the premises. (Guo, H.and others 2010).
Civil engineering experts were
instructed to interrogate the structure. They carried a basic cursory check, in
which they discovered that the building was at a risk of collapsing. About five
hours before the collapse had occurred, a destructive uproar had been heard
from the top floors; the vibration of the air conditioning had caused the
cracks in the slabs to expand further. After the cracks had already developed
10cm wide, the collapsing of the building was unavoidable, thus an emergency
meeting was held. During the meeting, the directors suggested that all members
in the building must be evacuated for their own safety. However, Joon had
inclined this idea, over the fear of losing revenues. Joon had been successful
in leaving the building himself, but did not evacuate the customers.
On the 29th of June, the
north wing of the Sampoong store had collapsed, resulting in the death of over
500 people. The large number of fatalities was due in part to a distinct lack
of concern by the building owners/ occupiers in failing to take note of signs
of serious structural distress before the collapse and evacuating the occupants.
The five-storey building was a flat plate structure with elevator shafts and
services located in rigid shear wall structures between the two wings and at
the building extremities. (N.J Gardner and others 2002). From the period of the
critical failure, it had only taken around 20 seconds for the entire south wing
of the structure to crumple.
Figure 2 illustrates the Sampoong
Department store after it had collapsed. In addition to this loss, it is
estimated that the property damage was around $216 million.
floor had a heated concrete base referred to as “ondol”, which has hot water
pipes going through it; the presence of the 4-foot-thick (1.2 m) “ondol”
greatly increased the weight and thickness of the slab. As a result of the
fifth floor’s presence, the columns held up four times the maximum weight that
they were supposed to support. In addition, the building’s air conditioning
unit was also installed on the roof, creating a 45-tonne (50-ton) load that was
four times the design limit. (Guo, H.and others 2010).
1993, the air conditioning units had been transferred over to the column 5E,
where the most visible cracks were. The reasoning of this was so that the air
conditioning could cover the cracks. The cracks were aggravated because of the
columns that had been supporting the fifth floor.
had claimed that the collapse had rooted from the fifth floor. The committee
that was in-charge of the inquiry concluded that the collapse started at column
5E on the fifth floor. The causes for the collapse were considered as design
errors, construction failures, substandard construction quality control, and
reduction in the cross-section of the columns to support the fifth floor.
Figure 3 illustrates how column 5E was damaged. Figure 4 illustrates vibrations
for AC units.
At around 5.00 p.m. of the local time, the fifth-floor
ceiling had started to sink, and so the store workers had blocked access to the
fifth floor. Prior to the incident, the store was occupied with countless
customers. However, Joon did not desire to close the store or carry out any
repair during that time. When the building started to produce
cracking sounds at about 5:52 p.m. The workers began to alert the building with
sound alarms and evacuate the building, but it was too late to be able to take
any action. Around 5:52 p.m., the roof gave way, and the air conditioning units
crashed through into the already-overloaded fifth floor. The main columns
weakened to allow the insertion of the escalators, collapsed in turn, and the
building’s south wing pancaked into the basement. Within 20 seconds of the
disaster, all of the building’s columns in the south wing gave way, killing 502
people and trapping more than 1,500 inside. (Almarwae Mohammed 2017).
evident that the whole tragedy could have been avoided if they evacuated the
customers on time, but Joon Lee did not consider such an approach to be
necessary. Joon Lee was aware that the collision was unavoidable, therefore he
did a self-serving act by saving his own life and putting others at a risk.
the disaster, Lan Chung, a professor of civil engineering and Professor Oan
Chul Choi, head of department of Architecture, started a thorough interrogation
of why the building’s structure had been a failure. The
first thing they observes was that the structure of the store was a flat-slab
structure. As illustrated in figure 5, there are no cross beams or steel
framework; without cross beams, there is a form of load transmission missing,
this means that framework must be constructed perfectly. Secondly, they started
to look at the site on which the building was constructed and the materials
used. Research revealed that even though the
superstructure was built on a landfill, the foundations and basement rested on
rock and survived the collapse well. (Chris McLean and others 2010). The
investigation revealed that cutting holes in every slab had weakened the
structural integrity of each slab. The columns should have been around 31-35
inches thick, but that wasn’t the case as they were less than 24 inches thick.
In addition to that, the distance between each column was around 36 feet which
The air conditioning units were placed
on the roof to keep the noisy machinery away from surrounding skyscrapers.
Investigators soon learned that the air conditioning units on the roof had been moved due to noise complaints from
surrounding buildings anyway. Instead of hiring cranes and professional moving
teams, the units simply had been dragged
across the roof, creating huge cracks. Figure 6 illustrates diagram of forces
moving air conditioning units. Chris McLean and others 2010). The constant
vibration of the AC caused the cracks to widen in column 5E leading it to a critical
The Sampoong Department had collapsed due to the ignorance of
safety issues, and punching shear failure, which is illustrated in figure 7.
The construction of a flat-slab permitted the entire building to collapse.
The rescue team made an appearance during the event within
minutes, however, the search had not begun until the next day due to the
life-threatening risks for the rescue team. After two days, some officials
assumed that any member trapped would be dead, but one individual survived for
16 days, with the help of drink rain water droplets falling in.
While the investigation in the trials had taken place, Joon
was charged with criminal negligence and received a prison sentence of 10
years, which was later deducted to 7.5 years after an appeal in April 1996. His
son, Lee Han-Sang, underwent 7 years for accidental homicide and corruption.
Two city officials and chief administrator had also participated in taking
bribe, and so they were also jailed. Other parties that had been participating
included Sampoong Department Store executives and the company who had had a
responsibility for constructing the building. The settlement involved over 3000
cases (3,293 precisely), in which the overall cost was around $300-350 million.
All in all, the factors that had had the gravest impact on
the collapse were the changes in the designing, and the fact that these changes
were carried out without any approval in the process of building maintenance.
Furthermore, a heavy load was topped and the structure was cut and damaged
which damaged the entire structure. In the process of the construction, there
had been a poor management and supervision, which resulted in poor
construction, and so it had been the main factor of the building’s collapse.
These factors had been a contribution to the disaster, as the safety factors
were not secured. The collapse could have been avoided in several occasions
throughout the construction, and there could have been a life span of the