Without doubt the occasional irrational fluctuation in share prices at the Stock exchange is primarily due to greed breaking loose. Well, this unchecked greed ,on evidence that can be easily adduced, has broken loose in building construction sector.Which explains why we are increasingly recieving media reports of incidences of building collapse around the country. Apparently , some decent building construction practitioners (under influence of greed) have quickly become so psychotic and neurotic basket cases, that they are ready and willing to disregard building construction code regulations and act out their fantasies in the name of making quick bucks. And these fantasies are proving very expensive in terms of waste of building materials that are often reduced to a pile of rubble, reworks costs and loss of lives. No doubt this trend must be arrested before it gets out of control.
Which is why we should not just look at the problem from the point view of a social scientist,but also from that of a building construction guru.And according to any such guru worth his or her salt, there are actually six causes that can make a building to come tumbling down like a land slide.
First in the list are issues to do with inadequate foundation .We need not look no farther, than at the well documented and infamous case of the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy,to appreciate why a good building foundation matter so much to high performance and durable buildings . It is the foundation that does a lot of behind the scene heavy lifting- carrying the loads of walls , floors and roof as well as occupants and furniture and transmiting them safely to the ground. Any deficiency in foundation will make this transfer nearly impossible, causing all manner of distortion and cracking in the substructure .Also, unsuitable foundation for a given a construction site subsoil could cause the building load to overwhelm it, leading to disproportionate consolidation and settlement that may ruin the foundation and the building. Finally , where a thin slab of less than 100mm is poured, or the slab is not reinforced with a steel mesh when there is a demonstrable need for it , like at a site that has soft spots, then such work is sure fail to spread the building load evenly and will creates problems later as different part of ground settle disproportionately. Any time building construction practitioners ignore to take in consideration the building load and soil type, it amounts to no less than setting the stage for a disaster, like the one we often read about in the local paper news.
Another thing,is that some developers and contractors fail to remember that you can only do so much, when rushing or fast-tracking the construction of a building , beyond which the quality of the structure will seriously be compromised. This because modules such as the foundation, suspended floor slabs and load-bearing walls and columns take their sweet time to cure and reach full or designed strength. Any additional load of a floor or roof before the minimum required curing time lapse(a few weeks) will put severe strain on the superstructure and may cause it to collapse suddenly and without warning. And why in the world, would someone be in such a hurry, you may ask. Bank loan repayment is the answer. These developers cum landlords, being short of funds , borrow bank money to fund their projects and for one reason or other ,want the building to be complete and bring home rental income, by the time the first few loan repayments falls due.But to their chagrin ,this bite proves too big to chew and end up not only failing to achieve their goal, but also meet financial ruin with without ceremony.
Then there is the small issue of inaccurate mixing of materials when making mortar and concrete. The aggregate mix must be in certain pre-determined proportions if you are to have a structurally strong building .However on the one hand, some unscrupulous people out to save money may knowingly use less than required proportion of cement. The end result is mortar and concrete that is too weak when it sets, that it cannot possibly withstand the compression forces of the building load. On other hand , the mason may be injudicious and use excessive cement that produces very strong mortar-a kind of mortar that creates strong but brittle bonds. In this case the bricks or blocks will not be able to withstand effect of weather related shrinkage and expansion, causing the loss of the bonds and structural cracks in the walls. And these cracks will eventually be made worse by the building load per square meter. All these scenarios are an albatross across the neck of the building’s future.
Directly related to the foregoing is the question of unqualified workers hired on many building construction site because of lack of skilled labor in the sector. This problem is twofold: On the one side ,the Kenya association of master builders (KAMB) has made it known to anyone who care to listen, that the building construction is grappling with a serious shortage of skilled masons, plumber and such trades professionals. On the flip side, BORAQS (Board for registration of Architects and Quantity surveyors of Kenya) continue to lament the inadequately staffed offices of county inspectorate of physical planning because of a shortage of middle level supervisory building construction professionals. What this means is that , a lot work is being done by unskilled workers and there is not enough government supervisors to enforce the building code regulations . For example when this kind of workers ignore treating the foundation with anti-termite solution before pouring the slab, there is basically no mid-level county government supervisor to enforce that requirement, something that is sure undermine the durability of a building.
And as if all these are not enough problems for one sector of the economy, we have also the pesky issue of substandard building materials. Recently I was shocked by a hardware merchant who asked me if I wanted to buy genuine original steel bar or counterfeit , which he said were cheaper to entice me into the trap. My point-there is a big market for counterfeit and substandard building materials in the country. When such building materials are used, we end up with structurally weak buildings, because while the materials are relatively cheaper , they are at the same time of very dubious quality. In fact,the quality is so dubious that deploying the materials on a building is like using un-fired clay bricks to build a dam wall. What is more worse, some unscrupulous developers and contractors use scrap metal or inappropriate steel to reinforce concrete in slabs and columns!
To crown all the above reasons , is the universal problem of human character failings called corruption. County government physical planning or inspectorate officers routinely fail to enforce the building code regulations or fail to bring down building condemned for demolition because of kickbacks they have received from landlord and developers. These are the very building that collapse a few month down the line, taking with them blameless lives.
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