Beautiful building, eh? Well, you won’t have to look at it anymore after viewing this video. The mall collapsed in Mexico City on July 12, some four months after opening amid controversy, said by the Associated Press to have involved “loss of open space, congestion and other issues.” Might one of the other issues been its ugliness? Probably not. We have learned, as a defense mechanism, to tune that out. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the accident. By the way, the photo above shows the luxury mall before its collapse.
Named Artz Pedregal, the mall is assumed, prior to investigation, to have failed for “structural” reasons. Being built on unstable soil may be considered a genuinely structural reason. Maybe there were philosophical reasons involved as well.
Many structures nowadays are designed using computer programs to generate mathematical algorithms to specify precisely the amount of stress that a structure can withstand. Bridges are a clear example of the exchange of principles involved in this advancement of design procedures. It used to be that engineers designed a bridge’s structure to support much more weight than necessary. Safety, based on a recognized lack of precision in old stress calculations, required redundancy.
Now that we can supposedly determine precisely how much weight a bridge can carry, we can save a whole lot of money by using that precision to avoid redundant cost. Why have bridge girders that can withstand three (or thirty!) times the expected stress? Some bridges fall because there was a bolt loose, but perhaps that bolt was loose not because a workman made an error but because the algorithm for how long the bolt needed to be was faulty.
Prior to an investigation, it is impossible to know whether the collapse of Artz Pedregal was caused by a drastic algorithm fail. Notice, however, that the photo of the mall before its collapse features a recent cliché of modern architecture. Perhaps it is a feature stolen from the late Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI art center, completed in 2009 outside of Rome. Like the center’s wing, the mall’s wing is cantilevered to appear as if it is about to fall down. And so it did. A structure that looks as if it is about to collapse is obviously more likely to collapse, all other things being equal, than a structure that looks solid.
Architects should learn from that. The perils of exactitude in the computer-assisted design of buildings might not be worth the cost.