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When Buildings Fail: How Forensic Architecture Can Become the CSI of a Building.

08/01/2022, by Lidija, in Exterior | News & Media | Windstorm Inspection, 0 comments

When structures fail, they often fail spectacularly—and at times, catastrophically. But failed structures also serve an essential purpose: They teach us how not to construct a building. It takes a specialized team of researchers, analysts, engineers, and architects to find the problem. This type of investigation is called “forensic architecture.”

Building failures are not a new phenomenon. They have occurred since humans created their first shelter. But the causes of these failures have changed over time as materials, techniques, and styles have evolved. Some are poor design, low-quality materials, and lack of construction expertise.

A handful of historical failures, beginning with the Fidenae amphitheater (which collapsed in AD 27 when too many Romans jostled onto it trying to catch a glimpse of an impending gladiator fight) and ending with a Chinese apartment building (which toppled over in 2009 after its foundation became soggy).

Considering how many structures humans have constructed over the last millennium, it’s surprising there aren’t more.

When they do happen, they are not always catastrophic. Sometimes, they can be preventative. Regardless, this is where forensic architecture steps in.

You are Watching Too Much CSI on TV

When we think of “forensics,” most of us think of crimes and investigative processes that form the basis of thrilling television shows like CSI. While they won’t be on prime-time TV, forensic architects do use an amalgamation of two branches of science involving detection and investigation. It is more grounded in finding intricate flaws in the construction and design of structures and buildings and a far cry from those thrilling and chilling investigative processes.

Building Failures Come From Many Sources. Forensic Architect Can Find The Root Cause.

Forensic Architectural experts can be thought of as building detectives. They thoroughly examine the structures under due diligence to pinpoint impending danger to a structure and identify any construction flaws related to subpar workmanship, mechanical failures or malfunctioning, and code and regulatory compliance issues. 

Forensic architects understand and interpret the causes of a building failure, comprehend issues, and provide safe solutions. They often work closely with law firms, commercial construction firms, real estate firms, insurance firms, healthcare facilities, civic buildings, law enforcement, higher education institutions, and engineering and architectural firms. Their role is to be a neutral third party; hence they remain unbiased in their assessment, identify the issues, and can provide factual evidence to detect problems that usually don’t manifest for many years after construction. 

What Issues Can Forensic Architects Help With?

In a built environment, once the construction team, architects, and all involved parties have almost completed the project, forensic architects can be hired to suggest problems and correct issues for which the project team will be liable. Hence, in the design phase, they are often called in to provide cost-effective solutions, investigate, and provide unbiased conclusions as they thoroughly understand regulations.

Anyone associated with the construction industry will identify with the myriad issues that creep up on completion day. Imagine discovering structural issues, moisture infiltration or condensation, leaking conduits, and fire safety and compliance issues just when your project is complete? There could be significant barriers to the launch date and perhaps legal problems waiting to happen. 

As the owner, architect, or contractor, it’s thus imperative to hire a forensic architect who can provide long-lasting, cost-effective solutions. Their expertise includes

  • Record the existing physical conditions of the building design 
  • Review specifications, research the requirements, and then observe the functioning of the building systems with natural forces.
  • Collect evidence on fire safety resistance of building components
  • Provide a thorough quality assurance check to prevent structural failure

Thus, if the individual is contracted at the commencement of the project, they can play a valuable part in the construction process to scope out future issues that may arise.  

Forensic architects are professionally consulted after legal issues have arisen or to investigate unforeseen issues after the construction process is complete. They often step in to investigate structural and construction design failures. They can also help mitigate legal issues by collecting evidence and analyzing the collected details to make an official assessment of the cause of structural failure. These investigative details can be presented to the courts as expert testimony in the litigation process, making them an asset to a construction company. Whatever the reason, these highly specialized and skilled individuals provide detailed observations and recommendations detailing structural issues. 

Contact Our Team

We are a multifaceted company with over five decades of expertise in this construction field. We offer innovative and current technological solutions to increase the factual knowledge of buildings and make preventative recommendations about building structures. We have a technologically skilled staff who are knowledgeable about local building design and codes. 

Contact us today for your forensic architecture needs or if you have general questions about building envelope commissioning.