The vicious cycle of collapse

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The vicious cycle of collapse


 The façade of a 39-story apartment building under construction in Gwangju collapsed on January 1. [YONHAP]

The façade of a 39-story apartment building under construction in Gwangju collapsed on January 1. [YONHAP]

The author is a life and economy team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. 

In April 1970, an apartment building in Mapo District, western Seoul collapsed four months after construction. The construction took one year, half the average. Investigations found there were only five steel bars in a column that should have 70. The accident caused 74 casualties.

In June 1995, Sampoong Department Store in Seocho Distict, southern Seoul collapsed. It had the biggest sales revenue at the time, and it had taken six years to build. The building was originally designed as a shopping arcade but changed to a department store. In the process, walls were removed so that only pillars had to support the weight of the building. A pillar that should have 16 steel bars had only eight. The bars connecting the floor and the pillar were not up to standard. The disaster resulted in 1,445 casualties, including 502 deaths.

In January 2022, Hwajeong I-Park in Gwangju, South Jeolla collapsed. The exterior wall of the apartment building collapsed 10 months before completion. One construction worker was found dead and five are still missing. Half a century ago — and even now — Korea is still stuck in a quagmire of subpar construction. Let’s look at the cause of the Hwajeong I-Park collapse. Poor concrete work, poor supervision, insufficient safety training and excessive corner cutting are considered the causes. But there is one fundamental cause that triggers all these reasons. It is the “lowest bidding system.”

Hyundai Development Company (HDC) is the builder of I-Park, but it isn’t actually building it. It only designs the building. Out of 100 workers at the construction site, only ten, including the site manager and construction manager, are HDC employees. The rest are subcontractors. HDC employees are only in charge of management.

The problem is the standard of selecting contractors. As a contractor that bids the lowest price is awarded the project, bidders have to offer unreasonably low costs. So, once construction begins, it will use all kinds of methods to turn a profit. To cut costs, three people will do what five people should have. If ten pieces of equipment are needed, only four will be used. Labor and equipment costs can be cut by working on fewer days. Work is often subcontracted again, passing the job onm at an even lower price. Poor construction is inevitably the result.

While it is important to handle this accident, the government must learn from the disaster because the lowest price bidding system is 70 years old. Pay the proper price to get the work done properly.

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