Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rana Plaza building collapse: Designed for 'commercial use'

Why did the building collapse? These articles look at how architects planned the building for commercial use but it was used for industrial use.

New Age: We were asked to design a commercial mall: architect (4 May 2013)
The eight-storey building housing five garment factories which collapsed late last month killing more than 500 workers was only designed as a six-store commercial building, New Age can reveal.
Engineering plans of the building submitted to the local administration in 2004 and used by the army and fire brigade at the site of the rescue in recent days show that the ‘use’ of the building was ‘commercial’ and not industrial.
The architect who designed the original plans of the building has also confirmed to New Age that he designed ‘a commercial shopping mall’ with floors divided between shopping and office use.
The disclosure comes as the focus of attention of government authorities is moving to determining the cause of the collapse of the building and trying to prevent another such
Engineering and architectural experts say that changing the nature of the occupancy of the building and the unplanned construction of two more floors were likely to be amongst the main causes of the building collapse.
They, however, also point to the poor quality of the construction as a factor.
Copies of the engineering plans, which New Age has seen, show that apart from a ‘semi-basement floor,’ the building was designed to have a ground floor and five further floors with a total floor area of 11,580 square metres.
They also state that the ‘nature of occupancy’ was ‘commercial.’
The architect who signed the architectural plans submitted to the municipality also told New Age that he was employed to make a building for office and shops.
ATM Masood Reza, an architect working for the Khulna-based firm Vastukalpa Consultants, said that his firm was ‘asked to design a commercial shopping mall. There were [to be] 3 or 4 storeys for a market and then [two] upper storeys were for offices.’
‘We did not design it for industrial use. At that time, the garment belt was not there. There was no demand for industrial buildings,’ he said. ‘If I had known that it was to be an industrial building, as per the rules, I would have taken other measures for the building.’
Massood, who also teaches architecture in Khulna University, said that in 2004 his firm was employed by a developer, called Tonmoy Housing Ltd, to act as the architects for the building. Both the developer and his firm were, however, then sacked by the building owner.
‘We worked with Tonmoy Housing, not the land owner, and we only did the preliminary design and after that, the land owner expelled the developer and as well as us as we worked with the developer.’
He said that he did the preliminary drawing in 2004 and the firm was ‘removed towards the end of 2005 or early 2006.’
Masood’s claim that his firm was originally employed by developers is supported by the plans which contain the name of Tonmoy Housing Ltd, with an address of ‘Savar Bus Stand, Savar.’
Experts see that the change in the use of a building is likely to have been one of the factors behind the building’s collapse.
‘The problem is that when you design a commercial building, the load calculation is very different,’ Mujibur Rahman, head of the civil engineering department in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told New Age. ‘For industrial use, one needs to consider more loads, considering weight and vibration of machines, so that is the difference. For commercial use, [you] don’t consider machines.’
‘It is difficult to give a quantitative difference between loads required for industrial and for commercial use, but it is significantly different because of the machines and vibration and particularly if generators are on top floors, you need larger dimensions of beams and columns,’ he added.
Mobasshar Hossain, president of the Institute of Architects, supported this view.
‘Change of occupancy is a very dangerous thing’ he said. ‘Your residence is designed for residential purpose but suddenly you change the occupancy for factories. Yes, you can do it, but then [you] have to strengthen the building so that it can take the load of industrial machinery, vibration and movement of a good number of human beings.’
Changing occupancy is, however, one of a number of reasons for the collapse, the expert said.
Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, professor of civil engineering at BUET, said that apart from the change of occupancy, in his view, ‘the main thing is that [the building] was extended up to nine storeys, without, as I understand it, telling anybody.’
‘And there may be other issues about the quality of the construction of the column and beam,’ he added.
Mobassher, from the Institute of Architects, also focused on the poor material used in the construction of the building.
‘I collected the material of the slag and column,’ he told New Age. ‘I could see that the concrete used in the columns was not mixed properly. It was manually mixed. The strongest part of the building should be the column.’
A police officer involved in the investigation told New Age that he had not heard the name of the architect Masood Reza in the context of the building collapse.
‘Tomorrow, we shall collect the documents from the municipality,’ said Masud Hossain, the additional superintendent of Dhaka district police.
Daily Telegraph: Bangladesh: Rana Plaza architect says building was never meant for factories (3 May)
The architect of the eight storey building that collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing more than 500 people, has spoken out for the first time, telling The Daily Telegraph it was planned for shops and offices – but not factories.
Four factories were installed at Rana Plaza regardless – one of which supplied Primark and Bonmarche, the British clothing retailers – and two unplanned storeys were also added, helping to precipitate its collapse.
Massood Reza, the architect who drew up the plan for Rana Plaza in 2004, said he was "asked to design a commercial shopping mall" with "three or four storeys for a market and then the upper two storeys were for offices".
He said: "We did not design it for industrial use. At that time the garment belt was not there. There was no demand for industrial buildings. If I had known that it was to be an industrial building, as per the rules I would have taken other measures for the building."
Other architects stressed the risks involved in placing factories inside a building designed only for shops and offices. The structure may not be strong enough to bear the weight and vibration of heavy machinery.
The government's official investigation on Friday suggested that generators placed on the roof to power the factories – along with the vibration of sewing machines used to make garments – all combined to trigger the building's collapse.
"Change of occupancy is a very dangerous thing," said Mobasshar Hossain, the president of the Bangladesh Institute of Architects. "Your residence is designed for residential purposes, but suddenly you change the occupancy for factories. You can do it, but you then have to strengthen the building so it can take the load of industrial machinery, vibration and the movement of a good number of human beings."
The original plan for Rana Plaza, seen by The Daily Telegraph, duly describes the building's purpose as "com" for "commercial", not industrial.
Primark has declined to say what it knew about Rana Plaza before the disaster. Bonmarche has insisted that it was unaware of any reason to doubt the building's safety.
The Walt Disney Company has announced that it will stop placing supply contracts in Bangladesh and Pakistan because of the safety record of both countries, although this decision predated the latest disaster.
Nonetheless, as the death toll from the worst industrial disaster in Bangladeshi history reached 507 on Friday, the government sought to play the tragedy down.
"I don't think it is really serious – it's an accident," said Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, the finance minister, adding: "The steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn't happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all."

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