Unstable buildings

In the past couple of months, there have been a number of buildings in Kampala that have partially collapsed, killing several people each time. Many of these instances have been at construction sites where the buildings weren't yet complete. But there have been some failures of completed buildings too. As a result, there has been a lot of public outcry about building design and safety. (This is good!)
President Museveni (moo-seven-ee) even went so far as to say that the architects and engineers involved in the collapsing buildings should be hanged! Obviously, that is ridiculous and I think he was speaking in hyperbole, but a number of local architects and engineers have been put in jail as a result of their role in these building failures - nevermind the fact that the architects and engineers have little control over how the buildings are actually built once their design plans are given to the contractor, and that the city government does very little in the way of requiring construction inspection or code compliance.
Anyway, I have been starting to take note of some unsafe structures here as I pass them, and where possible, try to see if there is anything I can do to bring about a little more safety. I saw one such building on the way to ARA several weeks back. It stood out to me because this little 1-story covered patio area looked like the roof was going to cave in at any moment. After a week went by and passing this patio roof a couple more times, I finally felt like I needed to say something. Alisha and the boys were with me a couple of Saturdays ago, so we pulled the car over out front and I went to talk to the people inside.
I was actually a little nervous to pass under the patio roof to talk to the people, but as I approached they waved me back. I walked under the roof, noting the 3 women and 4 small children sitting under this very unstable structure unsuspectingly watching TV (there's a Bar under the roof). I explained briefly why I was there to a couple of men, who quickly got another man who listened to what I had to say. He was quiet but friendly, and asked me to wait for the owner while he went and got him. Two minutes later, he appeared from the back with a man in his 50's who greeted me and asked what he could do for me. I explained the situation, that I was an engineer and I felt that his roof was very dangerous. I told him that the problem was there was too much stuff on the roof, and that if he just removed the stuff he would make it a lot safer.
Well, it didn't go so well. He stayed friendly, but I don't think he was understanding me very well. He kept thinking that what I was telling him was going to cost a lot of money. I kept telling him that taking things off the roof shouldn't cost anything, but he didn't get it. I think he might have been muslim, as he clearly had a negative view of white people (common among some Ugandan muslims). Though he said it with a slight smile while holding onto my hand (Ugandans are just terrible at being rude - their culture is so friendly that they usually find it very hard to be anything but friendly to white people - a big generalization and it doesn't apply to everyone, but the vast majority are this way) , he basically told me that all the white people in Uganda were leeches and that if I wanted to help I should just give him money.
So I ignored his comments and explained once again that within 30 minutes and no money spent, he could have the problem solved. He finally said ok, though I wasn't sure if he was just saying that to get rid of me. As I left, I told him one more thing. I said, "And I want to tell you something. I am not a leech. I don't have a job here - everything I do here is for free and I get paid by people in the U.S. All of the money I spend here is from the U.S., so I am taking nothing from Uganda and actually contributing a lot to your economy." He kind of looked at me stunned and said 'Ok'.
I was kind of bothered by the fact that he had said that, and I doubt that what I said changed anything in his mind, but hopefully I planted a seed of doubt that some of the lies he's obviously been told about Westerners in Uganda are not true.
Well, it was a couple of weeks before I passed by there again, but I wanted to snap a picture. I had to be careful about doing that as I'm sure they would've recognized me and not been pleased to see me taking a picture. But in any case, when I snapped the picture, I could tell that they had removed about 3/4 of the stuff from the roof! It's still unsafe and could fail at any time, but hopefully with less weight up there the collapse will be slower and they'll have time to shore it up before it comes all the way down.
This is the picture I snapped of the roof. Believe it or not there is a lot less stuff up there than there was. It's still dangerous, and has partially collapsed at the front (it was that way prior to me noticing the building a few weeks ago), but hopefully they will continue removing stuff. The dark opening under the portion of roof that is sagging (near the center) is where I walked in to speak with the owner. Scary.
So I snapped a few other pictures of some construction items here, some good, some bad, that I thought were interesting. Enjoy - sorry for the 'engineering' post!
This is kind of a scary wall. It's a driveway supported by an unreinforced brick retaining wall that is about 15 feet tall. There aren't even columns in this one. I'm hoping they used the brick to form the outside of a concrete core wall, but even so, given the way they reinforce walls here this is still scary (you can see a concrete core wall with reinforcing in a different picture below).
The other side of the driveway wall - the brick mortar joints (vertical distance between bricks) vary in thickness, but some of them are over 2 1/2 inches thick! (they should be closer than a 1/2 inch)
This is actually a pretty well-built retaining wall. I saw them as they built it since it's right on the way to the pool we swim at. At the bottom, they used the stacked rock on the outside as a form for a solid concrete wall. Every 3-4 meters they had column reinforcing in the wall (spacing out the reinforcing in the wall would be better than clumping it together into columns, but I have never seen that done here - they always form 'columns' with the rebar even if it's a solid wall). The weep holes (pipes sticking through the wall) are great for the heavy rains too and really reduce the stresses on the wall. The hollow block wall on top is not retaining soil, and is not filled or reinforced (other than the colums).
A different wall (across the street), but built the same. You can see that the rebar is set in columns. The wall pictured here is about 15-18 feet tall with a road at the top! Certainly not meeting U.S. design standards, but pretty well built by Ugandan standards.
You can see the small rebar 'stubs' sticking out of the wall below - about 6 inches long (should be 4-5 times that much sticking out)
The house below the wall across the street. This too is fairly well built, though no where near Western standards. The walls are plastered so you can't see, but they consist of unreinforced brick with reinforced concrete columns interspersed. The front awning (roof is not yet on) leaves a little more to be desired - the brick stacked on top of the concrete trellis would likely come down in an earthquake since it's just sitting up there.
These metal huts are used as housing for military cadets and their families. Structurally they are fine, but they are not an ideal design here at the equator where the sun is shining most of the time. How these people sleep at night in these 'saunas' is beyond me.


Anonymous said…
Hi Crawford family! My name is John, and I received your blog information from Laurie Staff. I am very good friends with Laurie's son Jordan and Iv helped out in her class. I am currently a Freshmen at Arizona State University and attended North Medford High. Your blog is of interest to me because I will be traveling to Uganda with a youth group from Medford in the beginning of May. I wasn't sure how the best way to communicate with you all so hopefully we can get in touch and Id love to hear about Uganda. I realize it is going to be an eye-opening experience this summer. God Bless and I hope to hear from you. My email is john.clarke@asu.edu


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