September 27, 2021

The Perfect Storm of Tall Buildings, Lawsuits & Insurance Claims


There is a lot of interest in building taller residential  buildings, all governed by strata associations.  Bigger and taller comes with its own set of problems.  That is documented with Vancouver House which has a pipe failure flood water on  several of its floors  and with the Shangri-La where the potential for windows to pop out onto the ground below means a pricey repair. The two strata committees in the Shangri-La are going to court  for a one hundred day trial in October to recover costs from insurers, as well as the developers, construction companies and contractors.

Supertall tower 432 Park Avenue in New York City  is so high at 426 meters that it had to get approval from the Federal Aviation Agency to construct. That height was achieved through a loophole: the developers  installed many “mechanical floors”, which are not counted into a building’s allowable floor space high up in the tower but gain an additional 25 percent in height. Sadly those same mechanical rooms have been   responsible for several broken water feeds and a water line failure which rendered half of the building’s elevators useless.

There are weather dynamics of taller buildings that purchasers may not be aware of: towers flex in the wind, and they can cause elevator cables to bang, trapping occupants inside. Like a hull of a sailing ship, the walls can groan as the building sways, and air whistles around door openings and elevator shafts. Counterweights were installed at 432 Park Avenue  to dampen that sway.

You can imagine the structure’s noise and internal wind can be disconcerting to residents. This is another reason that taller buildings are designed with bends and twists, so someone high up in the tower cannot look down and see the building sway.

The owner of a unit in a tall building has a dilemma: they want to preserve their capital and be able to sell their unit, but they also want to be able to get problems fixed and have it all covered by insurance. And it is a huge capital investment: The 432 Park Avenue tower which sold out at 3.1 billion American dollars has a 96 floor penthouse that sold for 88 million dollars. That’s US dollars.

Last week the BBC reported that the strata owners of 432 Park Avenue are now suing the developers over 1, 500 defects and deficiencies in the building.  The BBC describes the 250 million dollar lawsuit being filed for problems that “included an electrical explosion in June that left residents without power and “horrible” inexplicable noises and vibrations.”

Sadly many of these issues are described as life safety and have resulted in owners being stranded when elevators went out in the building.

The video below shows how the massive damper on the top of  432 Park Avenue  which works  to reduce building flex and sway during a significant wind event. The video was produced as part of a technical tour during the New York Conference of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2015.


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  1. Tall

    The purpose
    of building form
    is for sunlight to
    reach within
    the walls, deep
    in one’s heart,
    protecting the embrace
    of winter with flashes of
    light, and the caress of
    summer with weaving

    first stanza of a poem about what tall buildings really want to be

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