Engineering Consultants Cite Design Errors For Partial Building Collapse in Pittsburgh

A design flaw and the use of the wrong type of steel are being blamed for the collapse of a large concrete slab that left a 30-by-60-foot hole in Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center just over a year ago. On Feb. 4, the city's Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA) issued its final report on the incident, based on the findings of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, the engineering firm hired by the SEA.

According to the report, a defective slot in the steel connection prevented smooth movement of the steel beams. In addition, the choice of steel beam used to build the structure was too rigid, reducing its flexibility. Both of these contributed to the collapse of the beams under the weight of a tractor trailer in the convention center's loading area last February.

In addition to closing the building for a month and canceling several shows, the collapse caused $4 million in damage, half of which was covered by insurance. The SEA is looking to prestigious NYC-based design firm Rafael Vinoly Architects,which designed the convention center, and ADF International, a steel contractor from Terrebonne, QC, Canada, to cover the difference. Rafael Vinoly Architects, however, has denied any liability.

"Rafael Vinoly Architects was the firm that created the convention center's architectural design; however, it did not engineer the building's structural steel beams, and,more importantly, it was not responsible for the design of the connections between them," the company said, in a statement given to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Allegheny County councilman Jim Burn told the paper that he thought the process was "far from over," despite the SEA report. ADF International could not be reached for comment.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the first Gold Certified LEED convention center in the United States. Rafael Vinoy Architects is currently involved in designing structures for MGM Mirage's CityCenter project in Las Vegas.

Originally published February 25, 2008