Bridge collapse

I'm sure everyone heard about the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore after a massive ship lost power and slammed into one of the support piers. My immediate reaction was that there was no way to design for that kind of impact. Fortunately, it seems like I was wrong.

There is still a lot of speculation and criticism about the design, but I found this article at Live Science interesting. There are sacrificial concrete "dolphins" and timber-and-concrete fenders that are supposed to absorb the energy from an impact. However, ships were much smaller in the 1970s so the dolphins and fenders were not designed for this level of impact.

Another interesting factor in the catastrophe may have been the design, which, according to this Baltimore Banner article, is considered "fracture critical." This means that the entire structure will collapse even if only one section sustains major damage. Essentially, the bridge lacked structural redundancy.

It is going to be months until we see a final report on why this was such a major structural failure so we should resist the temptation to speculate, but it is still fascinating learning for those of us who design structures.

We are now finished with the first quarter of 2024. On to April...


February billings fall, but pace is improving

The pace of billings decline slowed in February with the AIA index coming in at 49.5. This may be good news since anything above 50 is an increase in billings, but we will have to wait and see if this is sustained in the coming months.

Both inquiries and new contracts increased in February, which is a good sign.

The commentary this month covers a review of the improving conditions in the broader economy and how much firms spend on business development. On average, firms spend about 6% of their annual budget on marketing and business development. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of that is for uncompensated conceptual design work. Unsurprisingly, small residential developers are the worst offenders when it comes to free work.

February: 49.5, January: 46.2, December: 45.4, November: 45.3, October: 44.3, September: 44.8

ABI February 2024: Pace of billings decline continues to slow

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Still some economic headwinds to overcome

Sadly, these two articles indicate we may not see a smooth recovery.

First, Construction Dive covers a recent Moody's report that says office real estate values will probably fall by 26% over the next two years, mostly due to higher interest rates.

Office real estate value likely to plunge 26% through 2025: Moody’s

Next, the Associated Builders and Contractors indicated that construction input prices were up 1.4% in February and that inflation pressure continues. This may cause the Federal Reserve to skip expected interest rate reductions later this year.

Bad News: Construction Input Prices Increase 1.4% in February, Says ABC

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SmithGroup sues Pure Architects over alleged design copy

These types of lawsuits pop up every few years, but it is worth thinking about this when you accept a project that was originally started by another firm. I imagine this will also end up as a case for the AIA Ethics Council.

SmithGroup sues Pure Architects and regional pediatric hospital over copyright dispute in Grand Rapids, Michigan

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Growth of young leaders: nothing surprising

This article doesn't include anything new, but it is a good reminder for young professionals to keep an eye on the big picture as they advance in their careers. It is also a good read for older professionals who are mentoring the next generation.

I've always thought it was important to explain to people what they are working on in the bigger sense. That's a lot easier to do when you are working on a major cultural or institutional project than when designing mansions, but it is still helpful for designers to know why the project matters to them, to the firm, to the client, and to the world. They can make smart decisions when they know those factors.

Connection Is Key to Leaders' Success, Experts Tell ENR Chicago Event (alternate link)

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Sagrada Familia to finish sometime between 2026 and 2034

I don't think anyone can claim the Sagrada Familia will be completed on time and on budget. However, the Guardian says the building will be complete in 2026, with further sculpture and site work to be complete in 2034. I'm not holding my breath.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona ‘will be completed in 2026’