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From Hyatt to Rubble - Part II

Updated on September 21, 2017
DanDnAZ profile image

Registered Architect, 40 years experience, investigative forensic specialist, engineering trained, college teacher, NCARB mentor, MBA.

Human Behavior (Cont.)

The Architect needs to have this human nature in mind every time the selection of a consultant is made. When the chips are down, and your back is against the wall, the integrity of the project rests squarely on the reactions of all the parties when major or catastrophic events occur. After the failure of the atrium roof and two Engineering firms concluded that the collapse was largely a result of construction defects (Administration Hearing, p. 84, #147); Engineers Gillum and Duncan became aware that some information had been missed during the shop drawing review performed by them on the Hyatt project (Administration Hearing, p. 83, #146); however both of them failed to go back and make a thorough review of the drawings at that time, which should have been their first act after the roof collapse and the subsequent discover of missed designed element. This should have flagged a problem that both Gillum and Duncan should have investigated more completely, yet they refused to take such action, while representing to others that they had completed such a review. Why did they not perform a more thorough review? Why did the Architect not demand more proof of their claims? These issues will be explored more in the ethics section of this report.

The design professional places personal responsibility for the design of a project on themselves when their seal is applied on drawings and other professional documents (Administration Hearing, p. 53, #88, and p. 54, #90). That brings the most troubling conclusion drawn during the administration hearings. The fact that Gillum, nor anyone under his direct supervision, provided a review for thoroughness, completeness, and adequacy of the engineering design for the project (Administration Hearing, p. 53, #89). This is not an uncommon practice in larger firms, from my experience, but still does not relieve the potential disaster due to this practice. Had Gillum reviewed these drawings himself he might have recognized the ambiguities on the structural drawings with respect to the single rod design, and that may have avoided the entire event.

Engineers Gillum and Duncan did not reflect the architectural drawings accurately, showing the fabricator what could have been interpreted as the rods terminating under the 4th floor box beam, when the architectural drawings clearly indicate a single rod through the ceiling to 2nd floor box beam (Administration Hearing, p. 54, #92 and p. 56, #94). It is clear that the engineers failed to communicate the Architect’s design effectively. This is where the Architect could have been proactive by checking the structural drawings and verifying the single rod design was clearly depicted on the structural drawings. It is unclear if the Architect was ever involved with the decision to make the change from a single rod, but if the single rod design was so important, architecturally speaking, why did the Architect not veto such a change or provide some input. In fact, there are indications that the Architect made no comments about this change when the shop drawings were reviewed. The Architect should have requested more information about this change in the shop drawing phase, as there is little evidence that Architect was involved on such a key change to the design. This change affected the entire architecture of the atrium, and there appeared to be little if any input by the Architect on that change decision.

It has been often told to me by others throughout my apprenticeship, that the design team cannot compel the construction team to do anything. I never agreed with this, as I found that I exerted great control over the construction of the project through the shop drawing review process. I found that I could exert great pressure to get the products specified by not approving the submittal made by the contractor. Reflecting on a personal occurrence, I was reviewing the shop drawings from a contractor for the Main Post Office of a Phoenix suburb, and after the contractor attempted to get me to approve an inappropriate substitution for a dock leveler six times, the contractor finally submitted what was specified. It appears that the Administrative Hearing Commissioner drew the same conclusion in this case of the Hyatt as well (Administration Hearing, p. 8, #14). This is a very key point for all members of the design team to remember, and also a reason for placing a much higher emphasis on the shop drawing review phase by the Architect. No longer should we quickly review the shop drawings, but deliberately and meticulously consider what is being communicated by those documents.

The next point to be discussed is being included because it is something that I am still seeing occur even now. There is a school that was built about 15 years ago, some 16 years after the collapse of the Hyatt skywalks and it has the same detailing problems that caused the Hyatt’s atrium roof collapse in October 1979. Although the main cause for the atrium’s roof collapse was more of a construction defect (Administration Hearing, p. 84, #147), confirmed by an outside engineer, Gillum and Duncan did find that the atrium’s roof did not allow expansion capabilities as designated in the architectural drawings, along with other discrepancies in the shop drawings (Administration Hearing, p. 77, #135, p. 78, #136, and 83, #146). Some of those discrepancies probably should not have been discovered by the Architect, however the failure to provide the atrium roof’s expansion capabilities maybe should have been noted by the Architect while reviewing the original structural drawings. If the Architect had noted this upon the review of the structural drawings originally the construction accident may not have occurred. Because of the fast track delivery, however, the Architect may not have had time to review the structural drawings. This might not have been an issue had the Architectural fee been closer to the expected percentage, thus, as mentioned previously allowing for more resources to be utilized on that part of the project services. This is the danger when Architects reduce their fees because the client does not want to pay more in design fees. Sacrificing some Architectural services may actually not be in the client’s best interest, or the interest of the project as a whole, or the public’s safety. Maybe this is where the client needs more education on the services and benefits that the Architect brings to the team.

In the role of a designer, communication is imperative. At the very center of the issues surrounding the skywalk collapse is communication; most of these failures came on the part of Engineers Gillum and Duncan. As a historical note, when steel buildings were first built, they utilized rivets for the connections, and the engineer had the responsibility for every aspect of the design of the connection. In the post World War II era, other means of connecting steel to steel had developed, and the fabricator became much more influential in the decision making process for those connections. This occurred because fabricators had different equipment, skills, and personnel. As a result the engineer could defer some of these specific issues to the steel fabricator (Administration Hearing, p. 14, #23). The AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction) Manual of Steel Construction, also referred to as the Steel Manual, allowed the steel fabricator to develop many connections, although it did retain limitations for the designer. The Steel Manual was never intended to replace the Engineer.

Project decisions are often made based on economical factors, and when used in a fast track delivery system, communicating this information becomes even more amplified because of the time constraints. Not only must the information be communicated, but it must be communicated in a timely manner. Even with a $50 million project, such as the Hyatt, often economy of scale cannot be

Details from website
Details from website

It was for that very same reason the supporting rods for the skywalks became an issue. There were only six (6) rods of 1¼” diameter that needed to be 46 feet long, however, the steel fabricator’s buyer, Carl Bennett was not able to purchase rods in that length in such a small quantity. The rods had to be purchased from the supplier’s current stock, and those rods were only 20 feet long. Bennett informed the fabricator’s head engineer, William Richey. Richey informed Bennett to purchase the 20 foot rods (Administration Hearing, p. 59, #101 and #102).

The steel fabricator notified the steel detailing firm that the rods had to be changed to 20 foot lengths, and the detailing firm noted to splice the rods with full depth welds that had to be x-rayed (Administration Hearing, p. 60, #103). Although Ken Warner, principle of the detailing firm (WRW) had at all times intended to use the double rod system (Administration Hearing, p. 325) presumably according to Warner’s conversation with Richey, the fabricator’s head engineer. It cannot be said conclusively if splicing the rods was ever really considered. Engineers Gillum and Duncan should have been the primary persons involved over the issue of splicing the rods, yet there is no clear indication that they even took a position or known of these conversations, yet this issued showed on the shop drawings at some point. Again, this is a prime example of the poorest form of communication by Engineers Gillum and Duncan.

One of the amazing happenings in this entire event was the performance of Ed Jantosik, an employee of Gillum, who had noted the difference between the

Details from website
Details from website

structural drawings and the shop drawings. Jantosik’s role with Gillum’s firm was to check the shop drawing submittals, and he was the only one in Gillum’s firm that raised the question. After bringing this discrepancy to Duncan’s attention, Duncan explained that he had been in telephone contact with the fabricator, and the double rod and lower grade steel for the rods were “basically the same as the one rod concept” (Administration Hearing, p. 355-356). Engineer Duncan had completely failed to review the change, relying on the fabricator’s work. Furthermore, after the atrium roof collapse, Duncan failed to go back to review any of these issues.

After almost 5 years of litigation, in November 1985, the Missouri Board for

Illustration before collapse from website
Illustration before collapse from website

Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors finally revoked the professional registrations of both Gillum and Duncan, determining that their actions on the Hyatt Regency rose to the level of gross negligence and unprofessional conduct (Administration Hearing, p. 442). Still even now, Gillum holds that his firm did right in the handling of the Hyatt Regency project, but further admits that the buck stops with the Engineer that seal the drawings (National Geographic, time mark 43:53).

Illustration after collapse from website
Illustration after collapse from website

The final reflection in this section about human behavior focuses around those that were at or near the Hyatt Regency on that fateful night in 1981. It is a tribute to those average citizens that acted in heroic ways to aid strangers in their time of need. Those that would be considered “professional” yet going beyond what would be expected has to include emergency room physician, Doctor Joe Waeckerle, who after completing his shift at an area hospital, took on scene firefighters with him to help the injured. Doctor Waeckerle would set people’s bones, even amputate limbs, to stabilize patients for transport to nearby emergency rooms. Firefighters and rescue specialists Michael Trader and Roger Tuder were next to Doctor Waeckerle, as he helped 11 year old Dalton Grant, and his mother, trapped some 7 hours after the collapse.

“Non-Professional” people even stepped in, forgetting about the danger posed to their selves in order to bring better survival chances to the injured. People like crane operator Chet Hinkley who brought his crane from a nearby construction

Picture of cranes from website
Picture of cranes from website

site, breaking through the glass windows of the Hyatt’s atrium to lift literally tons of debris to allow rescue workers to get to the injured survivors. Jackhammer operator “Country Bill” Allman carrying his 95 pound jackhammer, surgically removing the concrete and steel deck exposing victims to be removed. In times like this, people endure more than they thought they would previously. Liquor dealer Frank Hashman stood right next to Doctor Waeckerle, holding IV’s, as he amputated a man’s leg to give him a chance to live, just to have that victim die later. These stories from survivors and workers at the Hyatt, recorded only five days after the event (ABC 20/20, 1981). These people holding to an ethical standard that shined as bright as the sun, on that dark ominous summer night in 1981.

© 2012 Dan Demland


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