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Types of design errors and responsibilities

Different types of construction mistakes and related responsibilities

Construction mistakes adversely affect the quality, safety, delivery and cost of a project. Find out what they are and how to avoid them!

Reaching the completion of any building design project is already complex as things can get. It becomes even more challenging when those tedious design errors start popping up along the way causing safety issues, budget overruns, and delays, with a consequent negative impact on the quality of the final project.

Fortunately, in comparison to the past, advanced building design technologies and methodologies have been introduced, such as Building Information Modeling, which greatly reduce errors and inaccuracies during the design phase. However, it is impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of making mistakes, which is why it’s crucial to start using a specific tool to solve them efficiently. If you are already considering to adopt a method that makes your design safer and more reliable, start testing a construction mistake management software for free.

So let’s explore the potential design errors by looking at some examples, the related responsibilities and some useful tools that can help avoid them.

Resolution of geometric interferences with usBIM.clash

Resolution of geometric interferences with usBIM.clash

What is meant by construction mistakes?

Construction mistakes refer to oversights, omissions or irregularities that construction professionals (engineers, architects and surveyors) may inadvertently make during the implementation phase of a project. As said before, this affects safety, functionality and quality of the final result.

The causes that lead to these errors are mainly due to:

  • excessive complexity of some construction projects;
  • lack of experience or expertise of the professionals in charge of drafting the project;
  • little in-depth knowledge of technical and industry regulations;
  • lack of cooperation between the parties involved;
  • negligence, recklessness or distraction of design team members.

Inaccuracies and errors due to misconduct during the design phase can generate long delays in the works execution phase and determine the need for costly variations while managing the realization phase. However, the most significant aspect concerns safety as these errors, especially when related to structural design, very often result in accidents that are, to say the least, an enormous disaster.

The best way to understand the terrible effects that an apparently minor design error can have on the safety and success of a project, let’s take a look at some real-life cases.

The 3 most shocking construction mistakes

Calculation and design errors are not as rare as one might think. In fact, they are so common that over the years we have witnessed numerous episodes, more or less striking and of various nature. Some of them have led to the construction of rather unusual or even dangerous buildings. Among these we can definitely mention the below:

  • the “Tacoma Bridge”, the bridge whose construction started in 1938 to unite the cities of Tacoma and Gig Harbor in the United States.  It collapsed in the same year it was inaugurated (in 1940) due to the strong wind that brought the steel structure into resonance, erroneously designed without adequate damping of stresses. The Tacoma bridge was then rebuilt in 1950 with a more stable and resistant structure;
  • the John Hancock Tower, built in the 70s. It quickly became the nightmare of the city of Boston, due to its huge and very heavy glass panes that, under the action of the wind, popped out of the building facade, literally crashing to the ground and endangering the safety of passers-by. To solve the problem, workers had toreplace all the façade panes;
  • “The Walkie Talkie”, the 160-meters-high London skyscraper  characterized by a huge concave façade entirely covered with mirrored glass. Just after its completion in 2014, commuters noticed that the heat at ground level was unbearable. In fact, the glass of the façade, due to their particular shape, captured and reflected sunlight on the ground, causing the pavements and road asphault to heat up to as much as 117 °C, sufficient to cause serious damage to the surrounding buildings and cars parked nearby. In this peculiar scenario of overheating, designers had to resort to adding protective barriers and partially modify the shape of the facade;
The Walkie Talkie | London

The Walkie Talkie | London

The most common design errors

The cases illustrated in the previous paragraph are just some of the most striking construction mistakes that have occurred throughout history. All of them resulted in undoubtedly expensive interventions.

Of course, the design of less complex building works is also subject to various kinds of errors. The most common construction mistakes may depend on:

  • the presence of conflicts between the different building components (structural, architectural and plant engineering);
  • non-compliance with industry standards (safety, fire protection, architectural barriers, etc.);
  • inadequate structural sizing;
  • use of inappropriate or not sufficiently resistant and durable materials;
  • failure to achieve the expected energy performance;
  • the design of spaces and environments that are not very functional;
  • the presence of inaccuracies in the works scheduling and in the cost estimate.

But who is responsible in the case of verified construction mistakes?

According to the current legal provisions and rules of ethics, the responsibility for a design error falls on the designer when, in performing their work, they do not use the “diligence” and “expertise” required for the correct execution of the work.

The term diligence refers to the professional’s obligation to carry out their work in the most meticulous way possible. On the other hand,  “expertise” represents the set of skills and abilities acquired through study and experience, which allow the designer to perform the service in a “professional manner”.

The concepts of diligence and expertise are fundamental because they make it possible to assess the extent of the damage caused by the professional and to determine whether this damage was committed with negligence (i.e. due to carelessness or incompetence) or with gross negligence (i.e. due to recklessness or blatantly superficial choices).

Although the designer is liable for his mistakes in person, it is possible that in some cases the liability for damages could also be extended to the contractor. They have the competence to identify any design defects and are, in fact, required to promptly communicate such defects to the client. If contractors, in spite of having the right, do not report any errors emerging during the construction phase, they may end up contributing to compensation of damages.

Measures to avoid design errors

In order to avoid criminal offences and penalties, it is appropriate to minimise design errors and to resolve them as efficiently as possible.

A very powerful tool that allows you to analyze all aspects of the project starting from the preliminary phase of the design is using a BIM based methodology. BIM software tools allow us to create a unique digital model of the project, including all information relating to the different disciplines which, therefore, is less subject to errors and misinterpretations.

Despite this, there may still be unpredictable problems that can arise due to design errors that need prompt addressing. If you are looking for an effective way to solve issues that may arise in your projects, I suggest trying a software for managing design errors. Its use can improve coordination and collaboration between stakeholders, and maintain open communication among the project team members that can easily identify and solve commonly shared issues.