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Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail
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Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  616 ratings  ·  44 reviews
The stories that make up Why Buildings Fall Down are in the end very human ones, tales of the interaction of people and nature, of architects, engineers, builders, materials, and natural forces all coming together in sometimes dramatic (and always instructive) ways.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton Company (first published June 1st 1992)
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Nov 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technology
Why did the pyramid at Meidum shed 250,000 tons of limestone outer casings when few of the others have? Why is the pyramid shape a logical structure for a country where the only available building material is stone? Those and many other questions are answered in a fascinating book by Matthys Levy. The bottom blocks of a pyramid must support the weight of all the blocks above it; those on top support only their own weight, much like a mountain. The classical 52o angle was adopted only after it wa ...more
Dec 29, 2009 rated it liked it
The topic is lovely: the details of structural failures. The author is an expert, able to draw on his rich career experiences and with amusing anecdotes, like when the opposing-party attorney asked the court to stop calling him "Doctor", since "who knows what a PhD from the University of Rome means or if it's comparable to an American doctorate." (The attorney was overruled.)

The writing is very uneven, however. Some topics are treated in great detail; others are glossed over superfic
Laura Woodyard
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
The technical discussion on architectural development are implicit throughout this thoroughly researched read. The expert opinion, the analytical skills, the discussion of mechanical stress, and the other forms of gravity and strain, and many integral aspects of design and infrastructural development are critical to the solid foundation for a building. What is also taking into consideration are environmental elements that need to be built into the design plans, and a well developed understanding ...more
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: default
Structural engineering is a tricky thing. A vast majority of buildings stay up, but this book discusses the multitude of factors that can contribute into failures. Definitely a worthwhile read if you're interested in learning how a small and subtle design flaw or change can cause a building to fail.

Presented as a loose collection of failure modes and examples, the reader is probably well served to read the appendixes first to get a basic refresher of the physics and engineering behind the
David Baer
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this multiple times, always with wonder and amazement at the seemingly-insignificant details that cause major disaster. Like the walkway collapse that was caused by the builders changing the configuration of a joint such that a certain nut/washer had to carry twice the design weight. Oops. And people die.

Tends to make one appreciate government regulation.
Dec 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: hilr
I read "Why Buildings Fall Down" for a course I took on this subject. It deals with the topic by studying examples, such as bridge failures, plane crashes, and so forth. It's not stylish, but it's interesting, and it was perfectly fine for the course.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great introduction. Would love to see another revised version one day
Oct 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This nonfiction book is about the explanations of why structures, like bridges and buildings, fall down/fail. The author's intent is to educate the reader about past structures failing. The author explains why they fail, like if the design was poor or the rust problem was ignored. He also wants to educate the reader about the forces that were incorporated in the time before the structure fails. The problem that this book talks about is that many buildings have fallen over the years, hurting hund ...more
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
I learned some really interesting things about architecture and buildings and all the different jobs it takes to build a building/structure. The beginning of chapter 16 sums up all the ways that buildings fall down the best: "We build structures with the faith that they will last forever...the forces of nature and human error often conspire to confound our optimism and cause structural failures...pressure of population growth, our lack of respect for the past, or our belief that violence solves ...more
Jason Mccool
Very good. Although it starts out a bit slow, Mr. Levy and Mr Salvadori really showcase a wide variety of structural failures from around the world and across a broad timeframe. It's a good read for any engineer or architect looking to learn from the mistakes of the past so as to not repeat them, and for the average person wanting to learn some of the challenges of our job.

Overall, I don't think he gets too technical for the average reader, and the prolific illustrations and appendices are help
Tristan Leisten
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shelf
I read "Why Buildings fall down by Matthys Levy.
I quite enjoyed this book, It provided an interesting mix of of architecture, and science. It promoted the idea of imperfection and learning from others mistakes. It provided reader involvement with multiple interesting tests, and experiments. Throughout the book it talked about classic works of architecture, and failed architecture examples that teach classic mistakes. This book goes through important details of building and how they could h
Darshan Pala
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
An exceptionally well written book! It is a good read not only for an outsider of the structural engineering community but also for a practicing engineer. The book is filled with illustration and at no point does it get boring(well at least for a structural engineer). Salvadori is a gifted engineer and goes to great lengths in explaining not only the physics behind a tragedy, but also narrates the human side of the story very well. There is also a very well written appendix at the end to give a ...more
Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Probably best for the technically minded, but this is a great book. Salvadori puts an easy conversational tone on what would otherwise be fairly dry material. Not only was I completely engaged by the stories of architecture's most notorious failures, I learned a lot about structural theory. To know why something falls down, he explains fully why it was standing in the first place.

I'd read the 1st edition years ago, but I read the second edition recently and the afterward on the WTC c
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good book, a riveting review of all the reasons buildings fall down. Uh, well, actually, rivets are barely mentioned, and don't appear to commonly be a factor. Very entertaining, interesting and educational, at least if you're an engineer like I am. It also includes the demise of other structures besides buildings, like bridges, dams, etc. Once in a while, the book gets off-topic a bit, but always in a good way, or at least an entertaining way. The most interesting thing? Even an Egyptian pyrami ...more
Aug 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
A short, fun layman's level description of why building fall written by experts in the field. I spent most of the time wishing the book was longer. Famous collapses like Galloping Gerdie fills only five pages. There are some strange bits where the author transcribes parts of his testimonies in court in which he gets one up on the opposing attorney. In spite of that, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to just about anyone.
May 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Definitely a must-read if you're interested in seeing how to analyze any kind of system failure, not just structural ones. It goes without saying that this is also an excellent read if you're interested at all in structural engineering or architecture, although it helps to come in knowing a few basic things. There are some cautionary tales in here that shouldn't be forgotten, particularly the story of the Hyatt Regency Hotel walkway collapse in Kansas City.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of architecture, engineering
This book is a collection of cases describing how and why structures failed. A few of the cases are dull as hell, but most are interesting, and the discussion flies right along. If anything, it's a little maddening that so little time is spent describing the materials themselves and describing the failures a little more 'rigorously'. That's not really what this book is for, though (there's a pretty good appendix anyway), so I would recommend picking it up.
Jessie Moberg
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in building construction
One of my favorites.

This is a great work by two very intelligent structural engineers. They explain the processes and nuances in an informal way and break everything down in a non-technical way.

I also love the way they describe some truly horrific building failures without a hint of malice or disrespect for the designers and engineers.
Dec 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people that go in buildings
A gift from salim to jump start site (still dormant!).

This book is pretty entertaining. very simply and directly conveys why structures fail - bridges and buildings mostly. written with a bit of academic smugness but beyond that pretty spot on. De-emphasizes the math and explains pretty well for folks who are not engineers.
Allen Garvin
Jul 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A fabulously interesting book I've been reading on and off for months, frequently referring back to previous chapters to reread sections. The physics and engineering of fault tolerance, and how small perturbations, changes, unforeseen stresses, and many other things, often very minor, cause catastrophic failures (and also, the problems afterward of determining the cause).
Apr 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Quirky. Could have been approachable to someone without structural engineer background, it's a good idea to read the appendices first. Some of the avant garde failures leave you thinking "why were they so confident it would stand up".
Sep 02, 2012 rated it liked it
While the book contained a lot of interesting situations of building failure, and was fairly comprehensive, the point of each chapter is not often entirely clear. Additionally, the book seemed a bit too technical for the lay person audience that it claimed to be written for.
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I do forensic analysis of building facades so I am fascinated with buildings fail. This book provided down to earth explanations as well as the engineering explanations as to why many large buildings have failed. For someone with my weird taste, it is well worth reading.
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A book every structural engineer should read. Written for the laymen and a bit dated but easy to understand, pretty good graphics and thought provoking stories. A quick read which will make you think twice about driving over a bridge...
Tim Robinson
Jun 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: engineering
Why domes and trusses, rooves, dams and bridges fall down.
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Profound. Will change your way of looking at buildings, how they are built, and what happens to them.
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Architects & planning to be
Recommended to Daniel by: My son
It makes you realize how important structure is and gives one an appreciation of collaborating and working together
Roxie Romanov
Sep 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books about architectureal case studies and structureal behavior I've ever read.
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
This was interesting, but for me too technical and repetitive. I didn't want to know quite that much about the reason that bolt failed.
Feb 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Dry, but strangely intriguing.
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