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Education Late in Life

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Just this week I was awarded a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Columbia University at the tender age of 60.  The most common question I get is, “why did you do it?”  I own my business, so it won’t get me promoted.  There will be no increase in pay.  I just wanted to learn.  That never satisfies the people that ask me why I did it, because if you ask that question you won’t understand the reason.  Education is not about diplomas, certificates, or pay raises.  It is about gaining knowledge.  The certificate or diploma is something that is tangible that shows you worked to get the knowledge.

To be fair, I originally didn’t want the MS.  I wanted to take a course at a local university in structural analysis.  I went to Admissions to see if I could take the course, most schools will let you take a couple of courses without formal admission if you already have a degree.  I was told I could if I could get Department approval. So, I went to the Civil Engineering Department and sought approval. I met with the Dean of Something or the Other, and he told me Admissions was wrong, I would need to be admitted. I went back to Admissions, and they told me HE was wrong, and showed the policy to me in writing in the catalog.  I went back to Civil Engineering, and the Dean of whatever told me both the catalog and Admissions were wrong.

It got worse.  I suggested I could apply for Admission.  He told me “you need a 3.0 GPA.” I told him I although my undergrad GPA was 2.3, Ihad a 3.3 GPA in the MBA program I was in.  He told me “graduate school GPAs don’t count, only undergraduate.  Besides, this course you want is too hard for you. You should just take continuing education courses.”  It went on this way for a while.  It became the most important thing in the world for this guy to keep me out of school ever again. He even called me later on my cell phone to continue telling me why I couldn’t get into his university.  I told him I was busy and hung up on him.

Obviously, I was pretty sore about being treated in such a way.  I was visiting family, and I told my nephew about it. He had just graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Software Engineering.  He told me they had a pretty good online program, maybe I could take a course there.  Sure enough, Columbia does have an online program, and you can take some courses without being admitted.  I signed up for the structural analysis course that I was told was too hard for me by the dean of something at the local university.  It was a nightmare since I hadn’t done this type of course work for 30 years, but I passed.  Then I saw that Columbia was offering a course on Wind and Earthquake Design online. Well, I needed that, so I took it.  Then I saw a course in Forensic Engineering, which is what I already do – well, obviously that would be helpful. I took it too.

In the meantime I discovered I was eligible for Veteran’s Benefits under the 9/11 GI Bill because of all the time I had spent being activated by the Reserves. Well, I didn’t want to let those benefits go to waste, so I ended up applying for admission to Columbia, and was accepted.  In what seemed like an instant, I was finished. Now I have a Master’s degree from an Ivy League school because a dean of something at a local university was such a jerk towards me.

Now, going to school later in life in a technical subject is no picnic, and even harder if you do it online. With Columbia’s program, you watch the lectures of the course online, have the same assignments as the rest of the class, and take the same exams as the rest of the class. It’s just like being a student on campus but twice as hard. You can call or e-mail the professor or teaching assistants any questions that you have, which honestly doesn’t work at all.  Not only that, watching a college lecture on a computer is a truly agonizing experience.  You can’t ask questions, and lectures just don’t work well watching them on a 2d screen.  If you a have trouble with an assignment, there really is no way to go see a teaching assistant or the professor unless you travel to New York City, which I did a couple times.  I also went up to New York just to sit in on the classes.

The very worst experience was in a math course I took – Introduction to Dynamical Systems.  This course seemed like it would be interesting, but it is past Differential Equations, which I took over 30 years ago and never used since.  It was an absolute nightmare.  The best experience was my course in Advanced Structural Steel design.  We covered stuff I had already done, but I learned the theory behind the equations in the standards. In the midterm, the class average was a 60, I got a 90.  I was That Guy that blows the class average and screws up the curve for everyone else. My saddest course was in Linear Algebra. I was holding a strong “A”, but I went blank on the final and got a “B”.  I did that repeatedly as an undergraduate by the way.

After that experience, I found out my blanking out on the final was pretty common.  There are all kinds of ways recommended to deal with it – hum to yourself, or somehow provide a distraction.  Well, I got that on another exam.  I was totally blanked out, and was terrified I’d have to send in a blank test.  Then I got an emergency call about a job that something went terribly wrong.  My terror of the exam was superceded by my terror of what was wrong on the project.  As it worked out, about 15 minutes on the phone solved the issue on the project, I went back to the exam, and everything was easy.  I got a good grade, but I’d rather not use that way again to get over the exam terror.

One more story – my very last class I took was a repeat of the analysis course, which was my first course I took.  I wasn’t happy with my grasp of the subject matter, and another course I had signed up for was canceled.  The analysis course is titled “Elastic and Inelastic Analysis”. The first time I took it was under Dr. Christian Meyers, who was probably a couple years older than me.  The professor this time was Dr. Shiho Kawashima.  Doctor Kawashima was named in 2015 as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 List in the science category.  She was an excellent professor, and is the youngest professor I have ever had (I’m not counting part time adjunct professors).  She told me that she believes I am the oldest student she has ever taught, which is pretty cool.

What is it like going to school so late in life? Well, it gives you understanding of the stuff you have experienced.  I found myself totally enthralled with items that I believe went totally over my fellow students’ heads.  The different equations in Advanced Steel Design, the proper format of reports and the way to present evidence in Forensic Engineering, the use of stiffness matrices in Elastic and Inelastic Analysis…  All of these things had real world meaningful applications to me, where to my fellow young students these seemed to be stuff just to be mastered to pass the tests.  On the professional side, extremely complex articles in professional journals and difficult texts are like first grade readers to me now. You can’t put a price on that, and you can’t explain it to people that put a price on education.

The Oscar – Phoenix Arizona

The Oscar Under Construciton

The Oscar is a apartment complex in Phoenix, AZ that is built from 24 shipping containers.  It’s three stories high, and is a hybrid structure with CMU structures between the containers enclosing the bathrooms.  This allows easier installation of the plumbing.  We had to use helical piers in one portion of the foundation because of nearby buried tanks.  The Architect and Contractor was StarkJames in Phoenix, AZ.

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Are Millenials Different?

In our office, one of our regular discussions is whether the latest generation of young people is different from previous generations, such as my generation, the Baby Boomers.  Typically Millenials are supposed to have the following characteristics:

1. They think they are “special”

2. They want “rewarding” work.

3. They are not willing to define themselves by their job and put in lots of extra hours.

4. They need safe spaces.

5. They want everything now.

OK, let me look at each one:

1.  They think they are “special”.  This comes from their parents and teachers telling them they are special snow flakes.  They also got prizes for participation in events, so everyone was a winner.  Well, what parent DOESN’T think their child is a special snowflake?  My parents thought the same of me, and my grandparents thought the same of my parents.  I suspect my maternal grandfather was not thought of as a “special snowflake” by his father, given he had to quit 3rd grade and go to work in a textile mill, but other than that, I suspect my other grandparents we considered special by their parents.  We find out soon enough when we go out in the world that we aren’t special,  Oh, but did we get participation prizes?  Well, yes, I got a few of them too, not many because I didn’t participate in anything in school.  No, the latest generation isn’t told they are more special than any other generation.

Maybe somewhere in the past people raised their children and told them from birth “you are mediocre, you are no different from anybody else, you will make no difference on this planet but to take up space and steal oxygen”, but I don’t think that’s happened in recent times.  I do have one story about participation prizes though.  A woman told me about a girl in her high school class that felt hurt, she didn’t have high grades, she played no sports, and wasn’t in any clubs.  She got no prizes.  She did have perfect attendance though.  So, the school came up with a Perfect Attendance Prize so she wouldn’t have to feel left out.  This happened in 1911.  The woman that told me the story was my grandmother.

2. They want “rewarding work”.  “Rewarding” has a different meaning to everybody.  If you grew up dirt poor like my mother’s father, working in the textile mill at 8 years old may have been “rewarding” because it enabled him to have a pair of shoes.  If you grow up middle class, you probably want a job that you enjoy going to work at every day, and feel like you make a difference.   Again, reality intrudes many times.  Many of us have worked jobs we’d rather not have, but we needed to eat.  That never changes.  Significantly, my maternal grandfather joined the Navy and became an electrician, so I think he was looking for “rewarding work” too, otherwise, he would have stayed in the textile mill in Hawkinsville, Georgia.

3.  They are not willing to put in the extra hours and so on…  My first job out of college was a soul sucking one for a Fortune 500 company.  My boss was a workaholic, and he never left before 8 or 9 pm.  At 5 PM the hourly people would clear out and a standoff happened as everyone waited for someone salaried to leave – none of us wanted to be the first out. You might be there until 6 or 7 at night just watching other cubicles.  I quit after two years, and so did the other young engineers hired around that time. The number one reason was the idiot (and he was an idiot) that we worked for and his lack of consideration for our time.

The older guys would have quit too, but it’s harder to find a job in your 40’s, so they couldn’t quit.  They didn’t like being pushed to work extra hours for no reason either.  Unlike the guy we all worked for, they had lives to, and wanted to live them.  So, how is the younger generation different?  It isn’t.

4. They need safe spaces.  Supposedly colleges have “safe spaces” where students can get away and play with blocks and Play Do, listen to soothing music, and hide from the world.  The first question that came to my mind was “how would they do that?”  In my day, at the University of Maryland there were various student lounges.  They were crowded and noisy, about as much of a lounge as as a bus station waiting room.  The Student Union was jammed, so was the library, and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) lounge where I hung out was a small room with worn out chairs and a table, and it was crowded, but it had a worn out couch where you could sometimes get a seat.  Granted, my time on college campuses is more limited now, but the times I have been through various campuses, they all look the same.  Every place that I saw that students could hang out in looked as inviting and “safe” as a bowling alley lunch counter at best.

If you built a “Safe Space”, how do you keep it from being crowded with noisy students?  How do you keep students from making obscene sculptures with the Play Do? Unless you are at some tiny liberal arts college in New England, I don’t think it’s possible.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect the Safe Space thing is a myth for the most part.

5. They want everything now.  Well, why should they be any different from anyone else?  Do you know how mad people get when they send me an e-mail and I don’t answer them that day?  People get mad when they call me on my cell phone and I don’t pick up.  Nobody ever asks me for a design to be completed in a couple months, they always want it the day after tomorrow.  Society has been speeding up for the past two centuries.  The steam engine allowed faster travel over the ocean and train travel.  A trip across the country that would take months was cut to a couple weeks, than a week, now hours.  The telegraph allowed instant messagest to be sent.  Lincoln had constant updates of the battlefied in the Civil War.

As time went forward we have gotten telephones, radio, television, satellite communications, the Internet…  We cook in microwaves.  We routinely fly coast to coast on jets.  All of this speeds up life, and people’s expectations.  It will only get worse.  My generation wanted things in a hurry compared to my father’s generation, and I bet his generation wanted things in a hurry compared to my grandparents’ generation.

True, there is always the newspaper article about the whiny students that have their feelings hurt.  There also are demonstrations where the students block various speakers they don’t agree with.  Doesn’t anybody remember students burning down ROTC buildings on campus during the Vietnam War?  Or, how they would routinely shut down classes on campuses through student strikes and riots during the Vietnam era?  When I was at the University of Maryland, a supervisor in the physical plant told me how students got into a telephone manhole and tore up the wires with a pick during the 60’s.  I’m not sure how that made any kind of political statement, it said these people who are now in their mid to late 60’s were a bunch of spoiled, destructive brats. I will bet good money that the student that swung that pick is now complaining about “young people today”. OK, but the Millenials are somehow worse than the Baby Boomers.

No, I personally don’t think this generation of young people is any worse than any other generation.  I think they are better than my generation, but that’s really just a matter of opinion.

George

 

Research Project on Shipping Containers for Modular Buildings, Columbia University, NY

Recently, I completed a paper and a presentation at Columbia University for the use of shipping containers for modular buildings.  Here is my presentation that I prepared.  It’s about 45 minutes long, and covers the history of modular buildings briefly, the history of containerized shipping, and how shipping containers have been used for a faster and lower cost way of building.

Networking the Office to the Cloud

If you have more than one person working in an office, you inevitably run into the need to share files on the computers.  Back in the late 80’s there were networks available, but they were very, very expensive.  In the mid 80’s I was in the Air National Guard, and I did a one year active duty tour at Andrews AFB.  We had a mainframe based network system that included e-mail, and awful word processor, and a spreadsheet application that was not much better than useless – it was the Wang VR system if I remember right.  It had e-mail, but my inbox was mostly invitations to retirement ceremonies for Colonels I never heard of, so I never used it.  I then went to work in the late 80’s for what would become a very large engineering firm (ECS Ltd), but at the time we were pretty small.  We used what my boss called a “sneaker net”.  Our computers had removable hard drives, which the secretaries could remove and move from computer to computer.  They kept them locked in their desks at night for security.  It worked pretty well as long as you could get to the disks and the secretary downstairs didn’t need to use the disk you needed upstairs, and of course as long as you didn’t have a hard disk failure, things were fine.

In the 90s I went on to work full time for the Air National Guard up in Pittsburgh.  This was where I first ran into a network that worked with PCs.  By the mid nineties we had good e-mail, and pretty good applications.  If I have to criticize the system, it was the speed.  I couldn’t use it for CAD files, it was too slow and the IT guys got mad at me for hogging what was then valuable hard drive space.  We kept our files on floppies, which was not real secure.  Again, you had to know where everything was, hope nothing failed, and sharing work was difficult.  However, the network allowed us to easily get to various regulations and references, and provided a level of security for whatever was on it.  The system was still less than perfect.  By the end of the nineties I was writing for the Motley Fool, and we had something called a VPN (Virtual Private Network).  We could access the servers at our main office through the Internet much like you access the server on a network in the office.  However, it was slow, and I discovered that I could see the hard disks on every computer attached to the network.  I never tested to see if I could get in the drives (I wanted to keep my job), but I suspect I could.  That can be a major security flaw, and I hate to think what a really angry disgruntled employee could do to his or her coworkers.

In 2005 I had Runkle Consulting, and we were growing.  We moved to a large office, and we had a decent sized staff.  We installed a server, and it was fast.  The hard drives were inexpensive and it automatically backed up every night to tape and it also backed up online.  I figured how to set up a VPN, which technically would allow me to work from home on stuff on the server.  I could work on a drawing at the office, go home and finish it later that night or the next morning.  I could write letters and reports and save them to the office network from the comfort of my home.  Except I couldn’t.  It was really, really slow.  Not slow in making a microwave meal in 2 minutes instead of 2 and a half minutes, but slow as in waiting 30 seconds for a response every time you hit a key on the keyboard slow.  It just wasn’t practical at all.  There was also the issue of maintenance and security.

If you have a server, everyone has to have passwords.  One of my employees had the ingenious password of 3333.  I didn’t think anything of it until I took a trip to China, and coincidentally when I got home my server got hit with brute force attacks.  Someone would try to hack into my server thousands of times a day with various combinations of user names and passwords.  I tried all sorts of things to stop the attacks, but they continued for a long time.  I don’t think anyone got in my system since I had limited access into the server to only myself and I had a very long and difficult password.  Still, the potential of damage was disturbing.  There of course was the hassle of updating the software on the server, keeping up with its back ups, and taking care of the hardware.  I once had to run into the office late at night because we had a long power outage and my power backup was very limited and if the server went down it could mess things up. Then I ran out of space on my hard drives.  Changing over hard drives on a server is not easy.  Then I had a hard drive failure, which was an annoyance but not a disaster because I had backups.  However, replacing it and getting everything back up was a very BIG annoyance.

Going fast forward the Great Recession hit and “we” became “I” as the business retrenched.  “The Office” became my dining room, and “the network” was one PC.  As a result of the Recession, I began to seek work out of state, and that required a laptop.  I carried my files with me on a thumb drive, and the hassle with that is that I had to remember to download the updated files to the computer when I got home. Then one day I left for a project in Upstate New York, and I had forgotten my thumb drive.  I found I could download the files I needed from my backup service (Carbonite).  That was a revelation – I no longer had to carry around a thumb drive.  I also had subscribed to Google for its cloud drive, so I could simply upload the finished to Google.  Pretty cool.

As all good things have to end, so did the Great Recession.  “I” has become “We” again, and “The Office” is The Office.  However, I kind of liked working from the Dining Room.  If I had to get a project out, I could jump up out of bed and get right to work.  If I had to work late, I was home, and when I got tired I could just stop.  So, how should this be handled?  I looked at the idea of getting a network again and setting  up a VPN.  With faster Internet speeds, it ought to work.  However, there were some issues.

First is security. I hired an employee that didn’t last very long (a few hours actually, but that’s another story).  He chose as his password “Pass2041″.  Well, that would take about 30 seconds longer for a good hacker to figure out than “Password” or Pass2014″.  The damage a hacker could do to my system is phenomenal.  I could protect the files easily enough with them synchronizing to Google Drive and a separate online back up service, and that was the key to my problem, but let me work up to it.  I looked into what it would take to get a server again.  I would have to buy a server, get it fit with the right hard drive configuration, and buy large hard drives.  Then I would have to get the software, which is expensive, and set it up, which is time consuming and/or expensive.  OR, I could skip all that.

Google Drive was pretty good in that it constantly uploaded my files up to the Cloud.  What I didn’t realize was I could set it up to synchronize the files on my computer hard drive with what was on Google Drive.  I can also share certain files on Google Drive with the employees.  I could share the project files, the reference files, and database files with them, and they could have them synchronized to their computers through the magic of Google Drive.  I could synchronize everything to my computer at work and the hard drive at home.  My employees could work from home if they wanted to, a coffee shop, or a hotel room.  No longer are we dependent on “The Office”.  “The Office” became anywhere we were.  This was perfect.  The physical office is now a place to meet and collaborate, not a place have to spend 8 to 12 hours a day of our lives at.  Perfect.

Oh, and for security.  Someone stole my laptop shortly after I set the system up.  I changed the password to Google Drive, and I had a hard password for Windows on the laptop.  My files are safe.  No one got into the system.  As for finance files – we use Quickbooks Online, so there are no finance files on the computer.  If the office burns down, I lose some cheap furniture and maybe my laptop.  It’s a minor annoyance, not a disaster.  If we have an extended power outage I don’t have to run to the office to shut down the server.  If and when we need more drive storage, we sign for more storage from Google.  There is no changing hard drives.  I don’t have network software to keep up, or the need for antivirus software on a server to maintain.  If an employee opens the wrong e-mail it won’t set loose a virus to get across everybody’s computer and destroy everything.

The system still is only as good as the people involved.  If someone has a password of “3333”, there is a good chance that a hacker can get in and mess up the files on your Google Drive. That’s why I also backup with another service.  Also, if I didn’t have a password on my laptop that got stolen, or a weak password, someone could get sensitive information.  That can be an issue.  It is not advisable to have sensitive files up in Google if they are going to be synchronized to a laptop.  Laptops are highly pilferable, and if you travel with one, it will eventually be stolen.  Also, the synchronization takes time, and sometimes stops and has to be restarted.  So, your files may not always be up to date.

However, at the state we are at with technology, this is the best solution for our needs.  Two years from now, there may be a better system, and when it comes about, we’ll switch over to it.

The DC Container Apartment Building – Final Product

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If I had to say what was the best project I have ever worked on as an engineer in the 33 years since I graduated from the University of Maryland, it has to be the shipping container apartment building on 3305 7th Street in Washington, DC.  It was a rather unusual project in how it started as far as I was concerned.  I was working on a job in New York, and I stopped in Washington, DC to visit my sister on my way home.  While I was at my sister’s house, I got a call from a DC area code on my cell phone, so I went ahead and answered it – normally I don’t answer my cell phone when I am visiting people, but this seemed a bit different.  The call was from Kelly Davies at Travis Price Architects.  She had a shipping container building project that had an investor, and a contractor.  Her firm was an established architecture firm in Washington, DC.  Was I interested?  Of course, and not only was I interested, I could meet with her that afternoon, since I just happened to be in the area.

We met in a conference room in the Acela Lounge in Union Station, and the meeting went very well.  Travis Price came in and joined us, and we came to a preliminary agreement.  A couple days later I had the contract and we began design.  Since DC is fairly easy to get to from here in Atlanta, I went up to work in their office a couple of times.  The design basically started in April, the house was permitted, and finished by October.  For this size and complexity of a project I have never seen it done this fast.  I’ve seen permitting take longer than this.  Of course it took some very fast reaction times.  One morning I was in Binghamton, NY waiting on the bus to New York City, and I got a frantic e-mail needing some sort of letter from me.  I wrote the thing in the waiting room of the bus station and sent it back before I got on the bus ( I really, really hate airports so I will do anything to avoid flying, even if it means riding a bus – which is actually kind of fun ).

What amazed me is the publicity we got.  The project got on page one of the Washington Post on the day the containers came in.  We were featured on news outlets all over DC and covered nationally.  Not all the reviews are positive for this project, which is expected.  Many are ignorant – like comparing shipping containers to house trailers.  Structurally  this building is very stout and I thin has a life span of about 200 years.  Others didn’t like the look, and aesthetics are a matter of personal taste.  Others felt it somehow was wrong to live in a box originally designed for shipping goods.  In such case, you don’t have to live there.

Anyway, here are pictures of the final product taken by a professional photographer:

View of House From 7th Street

Rear Bedroom With Balcony

My favorite part – the kitchen

The Building at Night

Bolting the Corners Together Was A Method I Used To Provide For More Capacity From the Columns

 

The Story Behind The DC Container House

Sometimes when you build a project the story behind it is interesting in itself.  Right now I am sitting in a camp chair on 7th Street in Washington, DC writing this post.  We’re putting up the second floor of this three story apartment building near Catholic University.  How did this happen?  It starts out with Matt Grace and Sean Joiner.  Both are Catholic University graduates; who began investing in real estate around the university.  They bought homes and rented out to students.  The house at this address was in pretty sad shape, so continuing to fix it was not a great idea.  It had cracked foundations and many other problems.

As luck would have it, Matt’s girlfriend, Kelly Davies, is an architect who works for Travis Price Architecture.  Travis is a well known architect in DC and he frequently lectures at Catholic University, and makes yearly trips to Ireland for various projects.  Matt met with Travis, and after some discussion the idea of shipping containers came up.  Kelly started the design work and began searching for a structural engineer that does shipping containers.  Kelly found me on the web, and gave me a call.  As luck would have it, I was visiting my sister in the DC area, so we met about an hour later.  This I believe was back in April.  I began my design work immediately.

This project, like most container projects required a lot of back and forth work between myself and the architect.  When I could work it in my schedule I went to Kelly’s office in Georgetown and worked there.  My first iteration was rather expensive, but I didn’t get “do we really have to do this?” (I hate that question)  Instead, I got – “what if we do this? ”  We developed a number of cost saving innovations in the process.

One of the days I was at Kelly’s office we were discussing who should be the contractor to do the container modifications.  The company Cube Box came up, and Kelly called them.  It turned out that one of their representatives was in Baltimore, and he came down to see us about an hour later.  They got the contract.

I had to get my license in Washington, DC which took about 6 weeks.  If I had been one day earlier with my paperwork, it would have been 2 weeks, but that’s how things work sometimes.  Still, the permit application went pretty smoothly.  There were minimal design comments, which we responded to immediately.  Matt walked the plans through the permitting office and got the permit last week.  We started yesterday and all the units should be up today.  The  project is to be completed by mid-August, and Kelly and Matt get married in September.

 

Shipping Container House in Washington DC

Setting First Container

Our latest project is  in Washington, DC at 3305 7th Street NE, near Catholic University.  It’s a four story building made from 18 containers, it will have 8 apartments.  The architect is Travis Price Architects and we are the structural engineers.  The project moved extremely fast, we started design in April 2014 and by the first week of August 2014 the structural part was just about complete.  The media attention has been extensive, here is a link to one of the local newscasts.  We also got front page treatment from the Washington Post.

Structurally I am using the containers to do most of the work, there is very little extra structural steel added.  The biggest hassle was to provide the wind bracing in the basement, I have some massive foundations.  Here’s a couple of pictures:

To lift over neighboring homes and trees, a very large crane was required.

Placing Shipping Containers

 

Here we are setting the first level containers. Note the wrecking bar is being used to pry these into place.

Here is a photo where the container is being lifted into place. If you go through the web, there are more than a few sites that claim a container house is a great DIY project – I hope this shows why that is a bad idea. This takes professionals.

 

Cutting bolt holes with the plasma torch.

The balconies are being fabricated using structural steel and the containers themselves.

The interior is taking shape.

All three levels are up.

 

 

 

Worst Basement Failure Ever

I was going through my photos this morning, and I found this one:

Basement Subwall Failure

This was the subwall in an apartment building.  The building was built back in the 70’s, and was built as part of a development of low income apartments.  If there is ever a case for proper building permitting procedures, these types of apartments in the Atlanta area make it.  In every one of these buildings it appears to me that there was almost no structural engineering, the foundations are often minimal or non-existent, the structure is all wood and all of the members are overspanned, there is no consideration for wind bracing, and as you see here, the subwalls are never strong enough.  I suspect all that was done for the design was a floor layout, some elevations, and that was it.

It also appears that there was no inspection in most of these because the errors in construction are often so extreme that even the most inexperienced building inspector should have caught them.  I always wonder how this worked.  I assume the that at the time the builder submitted the floor plans and elevations, fees were paid, and the permit was issued and that was that.  I suspect there was no inspection at all, or maybe just plumbing and electric.

In this one the subwall was not reinforced properly, the site wasn’t drained properly, and there was not a working underdrain system.  As it rained, water pressure built up against the outside wall and we had a catastrophic collapse.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  Sad thing is, I have been in one building where a tenant was seriously injured in a failure  – while he was in bed the ceiling collapsed on him.  The ceiling was not nailed to the joists above, it was glued.  In time the glue deteriorated and the ceiling fell loose and seriously injured the person below.

View of Outside – Note the bracing.

The brick wall in in danger of collapse.  By this time the building was condemned and apartments cleared out.  It could have been much worse.  The repairs were done (by replacing the subwall with an engineered one) and the building put back in service.

Every time I go to the old low income apartment buildings I come back away irritated.  The shoddy construction is downright criminal, and shows a total lack of concern for the people that live in the buildings.  The structural problems are many, and in addition the bathrooms are never adequately designed to contain the moisture.  In every building of this type you will find rotted wood all around the bathrooms.  This is not only a danger for the structure, but presents a great place for mold to grow. Also, the windows are usually improperly flashed, so you will see moisture in the structure around the windows – again, causing structural issues and mold.

How was this allowed to happen?  Were the building officials corrupt?  Were they incompetent?  Were they racist (figuring it was primarily minorities that would live in these buildings and thus they didn’t care)?  Was the system itself too lax?  Most likely it was a combination of all.  The sad thing is it hurts people that have no other options in life.

By the way, every time I go to these buildings I talk to a lot of the people that live there.  They don’t seem like the stereo type “welfare recipient/drug dealer/thug” to me.  All of the ones I’ve talked to just seemed like regular people, the kind you’d be happy to have as a neighbor.  They have jobs, families, hopes and dreams.  They just are poor.  That makes it even more irritating to me.

Above all else, it shows how when people don’t do their jobs, it can seriously hurt other people.

George

 

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