Monday, June 12, 2017

Peter's POV - May 2017


It looks like the City of San Francisco is adding a new tourist attraction to the city's landscape. The Golden Gate Bridge, China Town, The Embarcadero, The Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Lombard Street just to name a few, will be joined with a new attraction so even more tourist can cram into the already jam packed city.

What I'm talking about?

The Millennium Tower, which was built just about 8 years ago, decided that the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy gets too much attention and fame. The Millennium Tower, which has sunk into the ground a bit and is leaning these days, had set its sights on usurping the tower at Pisa as the most leaning tower on earth. You know here in America if you are not the biggest, the strongest or the best, then nobody gives a hoot. That’s why we call the championship games in baseball the Word Series, the basketball finals the World Championship, although everybody knows that in other countries people play pretty good baseball and basketball too. So The Millennium Tower wanted to be the Most Leaning Tower on earth. The way things go, it has outdone the Leaning Tower of Pisa bigly... (Big-League Ha-ha-ha)

Everybody knows that The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the free standing bell tower, has been tilting ever since it was built in the 14th century. Over approximately the past 800 years the top of the structure has moved horizontally about 13 feet or 154 inches to be exact. In the past almost 10 years the Millennium Tower has leaned about 15 inches on top. If it continues like that, in the next 100 years it will reach the displacement of The Tower of Pisa. After that? It will have the title: The World Champion of The Leaning Towers! We will be the best in the world again! (You don't have to worry about what will happen 800 years from now, but theoretically the horizontal displacement would be about 100 ft.)

What has really happened?

The 58 story concrete condominium building, said to be the heaviest building west of the Mississippi, was built on a landfill. There are two ways to build on a landfill to avoid excessive and uneven or differential settlement, which can create this type of leaning. Use a "Mat" foundation, which is a massive concrete footing occupying the entire foundation area of the building to spread the vertical-gravity load, (excessively used in the low lying, marshy areas in Texas) or use deep piles to reach the underlying bedrock for firm support. Neither system was used. The piles supporting the building did not go deep enough into the bedrock, in this case about 200 feet below the surface. Instead, the builders relied on piles that were driven into firmly compacted sand and mud about 60 to 90 feet below.

Who is at fault?

If the structural engineer followed the soil or geotechnical engineer's recommendations and did not make calculation mistakes, it appears that the geotechnical engineer is on the hook.

In the meantime, values of the condominium properties are plunging and the lawyers are circling like vultures in the San Francisco sky...


A very strange thing happened lately to our office.

Most of you know that there is a state law for structural observations for certain phases of construction, performed by the design structural engineer. This structural observation has nothing to do with the city's inspector coming to the site and signing the job card. This structural observation program was designed to protect the owner of the job, that the contractor builds the structure exactly as it was designed by the structural engineer and approved by the city's plan checker and doesn't leave out any important element from the construction. It also protects the contractor by shifting the responsibility to the structural engineer, should any problem surface long after the building was finished, because he approved every phase of the construction. It is a win-win situation.

When we finished a small residential project lately, the contractor noticed the mandatory structural observation schedule on the plans. He immediately demanded the removal of those, saying that he knows how to build a building and he doesn't need anybody to check his work. He said he knows the city building inspector and he - the inspector - will approve his work, so he doesn't want the structural engineer coming to the site during construction. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that if we do not comply with the state law and don't indicate the necessary structural observations on the plans, we could be legally liable. We also told him, that if he doesn't want us to perform these observations, then don't call us, we will not go on our own, only when it is requested.

Unfortunately we didn't come to an agreement, we did not remove the observation schedule, but he didn't pay us for the work either. We did not have a choice, but had to go to court to have the court decide. The question really was: As a professional, can we do less than the law requires, even if it is with the knowledge and the request of the client?

What do you think what was the court decision?

P.S. Of course, the law was upheld. We won and even got paid, although it looks like - not surprisingly - the contractor will not use our services in the near future...


You really think housing is pricey in America? Be glad you're not in Hong Kong! Are prices are getting out of control? Maybe so if you consider that a dilapidated fixer-upper in San Francisco can fetch easily over a couple million dollars, but if you fantasize about going abroad to get more home for your buck/euro/yen, make sure you choose wisely.

A recent study of more than 300 metropolitan housing markets in nine countries by research group Demographia found U.S. Housing markets to be the most affordable, beating out Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and China (well, just Hong Kong).
To rate affordability, researchers used a metric called "median multipliers", which is the median housing price divided by the median housing income. Basically it's how many years' worth of household income you'd need to buy a home. A market is rated "unaffordable" with a calculated value of above 3.0 and "severely unaffordable" if it's above 5.1.

There was a lot of variation among the 88 markets surveyed in the U.S., from a bottom-scraping 2.1 in Detroit to 9.2 in San Francisco, but the average rating stands at 3.4 and even if you're counting only major markets (with population over 1 million) the rating is still 3.6.

But that's remarkably livable compared to Hong Kong, at the other end of the scale with a median multiple of 17, a record high in the 11 years of the survey. Put into starkly human terms, even if you could direct all your household income toward buying a house, it would take 17 years before you can afford one. By the way, Hong Kong also had the smallest homes in the study, with an average size of a new home at just 484 square feet.

Working 17 years for a home of 484 square feet? I think we should stop crying foul for our home prices "going thru the roof..."

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