Sampoong department store collapse

Analysis of the causes of the collapse of the Sampoong Department store building, which claimed more than 500 lives. Description of the violations committed during its construction and operation. The characteristic features of destruction structure.

Рубрика Строительство и архитектура
Вид доклад
Язык английский
Дата добавления 18.08.2016
Размер файла 1,2 M

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Sampoong Department Store Collapse

1. Summary

Sampoong Department Store (SDS) collapse in Korea is one of the deadliest structural failures in the world. In this accident, 502 people died, 937 were injured, and property damage cost was US$216 million. Korean construction industry was booming in the mid 1980s because of their economic development. But an appropriate construction project delivery system was not established in the country. (UK Essays, 2013).

SDS was constructed in 1989 and it was collapsed in 1995 (Chris Mclean, 2014). The reasons of the collapse were:

· profit was given priority over safety;

· not applying engineering principles and techniques; and

· corruption (Macdonald, 2010).

This accident could be prevented. The management of Sampoong made changes on architectural plans without considering proper structural design. Corrupt government officials supported them consistently and gave approval of their works by taking bribes. (Chris Mclean, 2014). Management ignored the signs of structural failure and engineers' recommendations. The structure was so weak that it took only 20 seconds to collapse. (Chris Mclean, 2014)

After the accident, the government found the owner of Sampoong guilty of criminal negligence (History Channel, 1995). Along with them 12 government officials were found guilty of taking bribes. Korean government survey revealed that only 2% of high-rise buildings met standards, 14% needed to be rebuilt, and 84% required repairs. (UK Essays, 2013)

In this situation, the Korean government reviewed the whole system and planned to break ties of corruption. In 2002, they introduced a procurement committee and established an Anti-Corruption Commission to fight against corruption and irregularities. (Chris Mclean, 2014)

To protect public safety, proper regulatory organizations should be established in addressing the issues of ethics, building construction and maintenance, and crisis management.

collapse building live

2. Background

The Sampoong Company signed a contract in 1987 with Woosung contracting company for the implementation of an iconic Department Store on a closed landfill site in Seoul, South Korea. The design of the project presented four basement floors and five floors for commercial offices. The foundation and the basement floors were constructed by Woosung as per the project plan. In later phases of the project implementation, the contractor refused to work as Sampoong owners revised the plan by themselves. Eventually the Woosung was withdrawn and the project was handed over to Sampoong's sister company for the completion of the project. (NSDL, 2011).

Figure 1 : Sampoong Department Store before collapse

The construction was completed in 1989 and the Sampoong Department Store was finally inaugurated on July 07, 1999 with significant changes to its original plan. The changes they made are converting commercial offices to a shopping center, constructing a traditional Korean restaurant on fifth floor in place of a skating rink with modifications to accommodate the heating, firefighting walls and air conditioning. (NSDL, 2011). The Sampoong Department Store was an iconic and successful destination with 1,000 employees and over 40,000 customers daily generating more than US$500,000. (History Channel, 1995). In 1993, the air conditioning units were repositioned by dragging them in the roof and causing significant cracks and damages to the structure noticed at the time.

On June 29, 1995 at 8:05 AM, the security guard of the building heard a strange sound from the roof and left a note to the store manager. The employees also alerted the management about sings of cracks of the restaurants' floor and water leaking from the roof. While checking the roof, the manager noticed a large crack around one column of the building. Later on the same day, the customers complained of strange sounds and vibrations are felt in the building. At 12:30 PM the facility manager decided to shut down the air condition units to control the vibrations and the sounds. At a 4:00 PM meeting, the facility manager pointed that the cracks had reached 4 inches since morning, whereby the structural engineer recommended immediate evacuation of the building. Nonetheless, the store owners declined the engineers' recommendations and ordered the manager to move the heavy equipment from the higher floors to the basement and to continue business as usual. (Chris Mclean, 2014).

Later on the same day, the managers left the building, while hundreds of shoppers were still dining in the fifth floors and basement restaurants. At about 6:00 PM, the evacuation alarms were set on and 20 seconds later the North wing of the department store collapsed over 1,500 shoppers and employees (History Channel, 1995). While the rescue crew with insufficient equipment race the time trying to reach the trapped survivals (History Channel, 1995), the grieving relatives and shocked nation watched the news with anger and disbelieve.

The Sampoong Department Store collapse was the deadliest disaster in South Koreans' history were more than 501 fatalities and over 937 injuries reported and the estimated property damage of the building was $216 million US dollars . (Macdonald, 2010)

Figure 2 : Sampoong Department Store after collapse

3. Investigation

After the collapse Korean authority thought that it is a terrorist attack by bomb explosion. The second idea came to their mind that it is a gas explosion in parking of the store. Those two ideas were eliminated by experts of explosion and terrorist attacks. Then investigations started for verification of design of the department store. They found that the original design of the building has been changed and many things added during the construction of the building (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

3.1 Design and faults

Sampoong department store construction started in 1987 over land fill (Chris Mclean, 2014). In the beginning it was designed as office apartments with only four floors. During the constructions the management changed it to be a department store under pressure of Lee Joon the future chairman of the Sampoong group. (UK Essays, 2013). He insisted to add fifth floor to the building but the contractor refused to carry on due to the changes in plan and design that were unsafe. It needed more and thicker columns to hold the loads of the structure. (UK Essays, 2013).

The head of Sampoong group changed the contractor and the assigned Sampoong construction company to complete the construction. (Chris Mclean, 2014). The fifth floor was added later to the building plan to accommodate the regulations of the government, to prevent the whole building to be used as department store without any entertainments. The owner insisted to convert the skating rink with eight traditional Korean restaurants. In traditional restaurants people usually sit on the floor. Therefore they increased the thickness of the slab by 30 cm to install floor heating system in it. It added more weight and stress transferred through the columns downward. (UK Essays, 2013). They designed the building by using a flat slab system instead of ordinary slabs including columns and beams. “The flat slab system can be defined as a construction method that builds safely several columns established in the upper part inside of the building”. (UK Essays, 2013).

The disadvantage of this system is that it needed many columns to carry load and stress directly from the slab. In this system no cross beams or steel framework is used for load transmission. For that reason the framework must be constructed perfectly. (Chris Mclean, 2014).

Figure 3: Flat Slab System

This system is not the best choice for department store construction because it will make the space narrow since many columns needed for such structure. (UK Essays, 2013).

They changed the plan and design to install escalators, so they cut hole in each slab which made the structure weak. (Chris Mclean, 2014). They removed the block walls for the purpose of widening the space of a floor, especially in shopping area. They changed the shape and size of columns to meet fire regulations which also they made the structure weak. They increased the distance of spans between the columns up to 36ft that was unsafe. (Chris Mclean, 2014). They reduce the size of columns especially in escalators area by 25% for architectural reasons. Even they used sea water in concrete. (UK Essays, 2013).

3.3 The main reasons of collapse

All points mentioned above affected the structure of the building in general. But there were some actions and mistakes lead to collapse. The professor of civil and structural engineering Long Chung from Dankook University had been hired by prosecution office to investigate the building collapse. He eliminated the preliminary two concepts of collapse; those are terrorist attack and the gas explosion. Because bomb explosion has a unique mark, is called Dupree field. For example in Oklahoma city the federal building was attacked by a bomb blast, the Dupree field reached up to thousands feet away the building, while in SDS it didn't reach far from the building (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

Professor Chung started to investigate the structure drawings and recalculated all structural design and compared them with architectural drawings. He found that columns diameter has been changed from 80cm to 60cm.” I notice the diameter of columns was reduced in the drawings. When I saw this, I immediately know that something seriously wrong” (National Geographic Channel, 2014). He sent his team to the site to take the actual measurement. He found that the reinforcement steel bars of the slabs were placed in wrong position. They should have placed those 5cm from the top of slab but they placed those 10cm from the top of slab. That's made the slabs thinner, and reduced the ability of the slabs by 20% at the connection area between the columns and the slabs (National Geographic Channel, 2014). The heating system in the fifth floor added more load transferred through the columns downward (National Geographic Channel, 2014). The store stayed stable for six years. “There is always a critical point if you go beyond that points the building will collapse” Long Chung (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

Finally Professor Chung found the main reasons of the collapse. After through interrogation of the facility manager, he found that two years ago three air conditioning (AC) units were moved from east side to other side of the roof. Weight of each unit was 15 ton and moved because of complaints of residence of sky scrapers beside the department store.

They dragged the AC units over the roof by rollers, and cracked the entire roof slab. Column E5 was severely affected by dragging AC units. Each time this AC unit turned on, it developed vibrations and propagated through unstable roof down to the fifth floor (National Geographic Channel, 2014). Over the time the cracks became wider around column E5 until reaching the breaking point (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

Figure 4 : Three AC units dragged across the roof Figure 5: Cracks transferred from Roof to Columns

Figure 6: Vibration effect of Air Condition units

Figure 7: Location of E5 Column

There were many indications that the building has serious problem. Before 15 days of the collapse, a restaurateur of the fifth floor informed the management about development of cracks in the ceiling. But the management did not respond. Again before five days from the collapse, costumers of the same restaurant noticed water leakage from the ceiling. Three days before the collapse people noticed a gas leaking in the same area (UK Essays, 2013).

3.4 The day of the collapse

June 29 at 9:30 am less than eight hours from the collapse, some restaurateurs informed the facilities manager that huge cracks appeared around column E5. The vibrations from the AC units transferred through the roof slab to E5 column and hit the connection point between the column and the fifth floor slab. The width of the existing crack was increased until it reached to 10cm, so no more connections were there only through the reinforcement steel bars. Five hours before the collapse, the vibrations affected the entire building. Many people noticed that so the facility manager turned the AC units off. But it was too late and no one warn the shoppers and employees. 20 seconds before the collapse, the department store was full of costumers. The fifth floor connection area between the column E5 and the slab was totally broken. So within 20 seconds all five floors crushed down on more than 1500 innocent people. Professor Chung said that the reasons behind those mistakes were human ignorance, negligence and greed (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

3.5 Corruption

· Changing plan and design of the building from offices block to department store and adding the fifth floor which was not in the original approved design (Chris Mclean, 2014)

· Firing the first contractor because he didn't accept to carry on the unethical work and warned the management about consequences of the work (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

· Assigning Sampoong's construction company to finish the additional extension (UK Essays, 2013).

· Firing some engineers because they refused to reduce the size of columns and making holes for escalators in each slab. It was a conflict of interest with threatened and fraud (UK Essays, 2013).

· Taking bribe by twelve local buildings officials as much as 17,000 USD to give approval of the change and certification (UK Essays, 2013).

· The senior executives left the building without warning the others (UK Essays, 2013).

· The facilities manager informed the owner about the risk of collapse few hours before the accident and he suggested closing the store department. The owner refused to close the building and ordered to close the fifth floor only. Then they removed the expensive merchandise from there (National Geographic Channel, 2014).

4. Conclusion

Sampoong departmental store collapse was clearly a conflict between money and safety. Lust of money ruined many lives, and huge property was damaged in terms of monetary value. In the accident, 502 people were died, and 937 were injured. The property damage was worth of US$216 million. The accident could be avoided in every steps of construction and management of the building. Public safety was completely ignored because of corruption and unethical practice in the industry. (Chris Mclean, 2014)

4.1 Causes of the Collapse

From the beginning of construction of the building irregularity was a part of every single footsteps of the process. These irregularities were supported by corrupt government officials in exchange of bribe. In the beginning, Sampoong executives converted the office block to a superstore. Without doing necessary changes in design they cut the flat slabs to setup escalators in each floor that weakened the structure. To do so they eliminated some columns without applying any engineering principles and engineer's opinion (sampoong department store collapse). In addition, they changed the 5th floor from hockey rink to a traditional Korean restaurant. To make sitting arrangement on the floor of the restaurant they made four extra feet thick floor to hold heating system in it. They even did not maintain the alignment of column in 5th floor which is a basic civil engineering principle (Chris Mclean, 2014). Along with this the column size was also reduced up to 25% on the top floor (UK Essays, 2013). At the end, they shifted the air conditioning (AC) unit on the top of the building because of complains of the neighbors about its noise. The vibration generated from this AC unit eventually lead the development of crack in the building.

Other than the unauthorized changes made during and after construction, the Sampoong executives did not address the issues appropriately developed in maintenance phase. After development of severe crack the authority denied to evacuate and close the building by ignoring engineer's recommendation. One man's want of money caused death of 502 peoples and injured many more. The reason for the collapse was absolute fraud rather than technical issues (UK Essays, 2013).

4.2 Persons Responsible

Chairman of Sampoong Department store Joon Lee, and his son Hang-San Lee, manager of the building were the decision makers of construction and maintenance of the project. Their lust and greediness along with the consistent support of corrupt government officials were responsible for the collapse (UK Essays, 2013). The first contractor working in the project was Woosung Construction. When the chairman changed the plan significantly after they had finished the foundation and lower level structures, Woosung refused to work as it was not safe. The Sampoong authority hired their own construction company and finally they finished the construction of the building according to the plan of chairman and manager (Chris Mclean, 2014). The first crack was observed before 15 days of the collapse, but the executives ignored it (UK Essays, 2013). If this crack was repaired at that time, the collapse could be prevented (UK Essays, 2013). The death toll could be reduced significantly by taking necessary steps by evacuating the building even before the collapse (UK Essays, 2013).

4.3 Actions Taken

The chairman Joon Lee and his son Hang-San Lee was convicted and sent to jail for 10 and 7 years respectively. Along with them, 12 government officials were found guilty of taking bribes and giving approval of changes. They also provided them the provisional use certificate of the building. (UK Essays, 2013).

After the deadly collapse Korean government carried out a survey throughout the country to assess the condition of high-rise buildings. This investigation revealed that only 2% met the standards, 14% needed to be rebuilt, and 84% required repairs. In this situation, the government reviewed the whole system, and introduced a regulatory system and procurement committee in 2002. The objective of the committee was to eliminate any link between government and contractors. In the same year, the government also established Anti-Corruption Commission especially to investigate the corruption cases of high level government officials. (Chris Mclean, 2014).

5. Recommendation

5.1 Ethical Issues

5.1.1 Corruption

Prevention: Regular orientation of codes of conducts and professional ethics for government officials. Detection: Execute diagnostic procedures such as internal and external audit on government offices. Control Programs: Employ transparency of government information and documents to the public such as financial statements, approved plans, inspection reports, and approved permits (Anderson, 2013).

5.1.2 Negligence

· Implement professional accountability for Engineers. Engineering practice should be regulated and protected by law not to execute unsafe practice.

· Implement regular facilities audit and safety inspections by competent inspectors from government agencies. (Convergence Consulting LLC, 2013).

5.2 Technical Issues

5.2.1Construction Phase

· Existence of project consultant firm to check the quality of work during construction phase.

· Submission for approval engineering calculation to correspond with revisions on the original designs prior to implementation of the changes in plans (Macdonald, 2010).

· Employ an efficient design planning process, relationship and communication between architectural, structural designers and builders. (UK Essays, 2013).

5.2.2 Building Maintenance Phase

Develop a Safety Management System (Government of Alberta, 2011)

5.3 Crisis Management Issues

Implementation of Crisis management procedure and guidelines should be made known to all employees. Training should be done regularly.


The tragedy of Sampoong department store collapse has been an eye opener for South Korea on their fast growing economy. This accident has been called the worst peacetime catastrophe in their history. A series of manmade tragedy happened in this period, brought about by rapid boom in construction industry (Hwang, 2014).

During this time, the Korean construction industry was regulated by the government and protected from outside competition. This brought about overloading their local contractors with projects. Government control system in construction industry that served to protect the safety of the public was corrupted with bribery. (NSDL, 2011)

In the case of Sampoong department store disaster, corruption from government officials was evident. The officials allowed such building with structural design deficiencies is constructed. Furthermore, the Sampoong management who knew there were problems within the building, did not warn the public when signs of collapse were imminent. This is because they do not want to lose the revenues for the day. In a period of 20 seconds more than 500 lives were lost.

This incident made us realize the value of rapid industrialization of a country. The country may lose its ethical values in exchange for economic growth. The Sampoong disaster is evidence that in the construction industry managers may take shortcuts and may fail to take into account public safety and less tangible costs in pursuing wealth. (Hwang, 2014).


1. Anderson E. (2013, March). Municipal “Best Practices”: Preventing Fraud, Bribery and Corruption. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy

2. Chris Mclean B.A. (2014). Sampoong Department Store. Retrieved August 27, 2014

3. Convergence Consulting LLC. (2013). International Health and Safety Legal Registers - South Korea.

4. Dyrud M.A. (2011). conferences papers. Retrieved August 30, 2014

5. Government of Alberta. (2011, March 21). Health and Safety Management Systems.

6. History Channel. (n.d.). Disaster Jun 29, 1995 Seoul department store collapses.

7. Hwang K.M. (2014, April 30). Lesson from disasters.

8. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health. (2001). Elements of an Effective Health and Safety Program.

9. Macdonald, S. (2010, November 24). 00 Incident Investigation Report Complete.

10. National Geographic Channel. (2014, July 4). Sampoong Department Store Collapse.

11. NSDL. (2011, June 23). Building Collapse Cases/Sampoong Superstore.

12. Sampoong department store collapse. (n.d.).

13. Tai-Hwan, K. (2014). Population Change and Development in Korea.

14. UK Essays. (2013, November). A suitable function of construction industry.

15. Wikipedia. (2014, August 23). Economy of South Korea.

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