We’ve been closely following the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, where over 700 people have lost their lives when an eight-story garment factory collapsed on April 24th. Rescue workers are still pulling victims from the wreckage and the death toll continues to rise. “Fast Fashion” and lack of corporate social responsibility certainly contributed to the disaster, but there’s also another issue at hand that is even more important – building practices. Bad buildings kill people. Without proper building codes, appropriate architecture & engineering, safe building practices and government oversight, inadequate building practices put people at risk. This incident makes it plainly obvious that the construction industry in Bangladesh is broken – and everyone involved, from the owners to the architects, engineers, planning commission, inspectors and even the municipality is to blame.
The story plays out like this. A day before the collapse, building inspectors found cracks in the factory and ordered that all businesses stop work and immediately vacate. Some of the businesses and offices in the lower floors headed the warning, but the garment factories above insisted their employees come to work anyways. The next day, not long after the work day started, the building collapsed trapping hundreds of people. Lives could have been saved if the owners of the factory cared more about their workers than meeting a deadline, but the building was still intrinsically flawed.
The ultimate fault is not clear without further engineering investigation. It could be the building was not designed and engineered as a garment factory to handle the weight of all the people and equipment. There are also reports saying it was designed to be a six-story building, but two more floors were added on top, so the actual construction of the factory could be to blame. Another factor in this disaster is the local government’s permitting and approval process. As the garment industry is a huge source of income for Dhaka and Bangladesh, corners are often cut and corruption is rampant. Bribes likely occurred at many points along the multi-stage approval process, which allowed for a poorly constructed building to exist putting hundreds of people at risk. Once operational, the situation was likely made even worse by the addition of even more equipment and people than it was designed for, which further weakened an already poorly built factory.
Already, the Rana Plaza tragedy is the worst industrial accident in the area and in the garment industry – even worse than the garment factory fire in that killed 300 people in Pakistan in 2012. While fast fashion is certainly a culprit, this accident would have never happened if architects, engineers, contractors and inspectors had done their job correctly from the very beginning. Cutting corners is a bad practice in any line of work, but especially dangerous in the building industry. Hopefully, in the wake of this accident, the local government can revamp their process and begin truly enforcing the codes that were in place. Other countries and cities should also take head – bad buildings kill.
Want to learn more about this architectural tragedy? Read a first hand account of the relief efforts from Mohammad Tauheed, a TED Senior Fellow and architect runs ArchSociety.com, a nonprofit community resource for architects and designers in developing nations.