Architect Answers in Collapse Probe


The hunt for responsibility in the deadly roof collapse at an Ontario mall continued this week with testimony from the architect who designed the structure more than three decades ago.

Designer James Keywan, 87, told Commissioner Paul Belanger—who is leading the judicial probe—that he had been "very uncomfortable" with the design, but that the original owner had felt it was the best and cheapest option, according to the hearing transcript.

Keywan testified Monday (March 11) via video-conference that he had been responsible for designing the building, but was not to blame for the leaks that contributed to the structure's failure.

The doomed Algo Centre Mall built in 1979, partially crashed down last June, killing two women and injuring 20 others. Immediately after the collapse, reports emerged about decades of leaks and water damage at the building.

The Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry launched the public hearing March 4 to determine the cause of the collapse and make recommendations to prevent future incidents. Live video from the hearing is posted on the Commission website.

The first week of testimony shed light on shoddy construction aspects, poor structural design, failed waterproofing and maintenance issues at the shopping mall.

‘Uncomfortable’ with ‘Uncommon Design’

Keywan, who began designing the building in 1976, testified that he had been uncomfortable about locating an open-air parking deck above retail space.

“I had never done it. It’s not a common thing to do,” Keywan testified. “I was concerned because I didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t know anybody who knew anything about it.”

However, Keywan said, then-owner and developer (and fellow engineer) Nick Hirt wanted the design.

Hirt, now deceased, was vice-president of former mall owner Algocen Realty Holdings Ltd. Algocen owned the mall until August 2005 when Eastwood Inc. acquired the company. Eastwood Inc., led by Bob Nazarian, owned the property when the fatal collapse occurred.

Nazarian, who has been criticized for lack of maintenance and other issues, is scheduled to testify in the coming months, reports relate.

Design Options ‘Too Costly’

Keywan said that multiple design options had been suggested, including placing more retail space or a roof on top of the parking deck, but that Hirt had ultimately rejected them as “too costly.”

after collapse
Travis and Rebecca Aubertin / Wikimedia Commons

A portion of Algo Centre Mall's open-air rooftop parking deck collapsed June 23, 2012, killing two and injuring 20. A hearing into the incident is now underway.

Moreover, underground parking would have been “too difficult” due to rock under the mall, and there was no land nearby for parking, Keywan noted.

In the end, Keywan, who had been licensed as an architect since 1952, signed off on the project without seeing the building or inspecting it after it was constructed. He assumed that everything was done to code, Keywan testified.

He also indicated that he had some knowledge of structural issues during construction, but said he left that to others to remedy.

“I wasn’t going to lean against the column and straighten it,” he said.

‘I Didn’t Design Any Leaks’

Keywan also maintained that he was not responsible for selecting or installing the waterproofing system used on the rooftop parking lot.

“I didn’t design any leaks,” Keywan said.

He said he relied on Hirt’s word regarding Michigan-based Harry S. Peterson Co.’s new and less-expensive waterproofing system. Keywan said he did not know that the system had never been used on a similar structure before.

Previous testimony from Dave Monroe, the former vice president at Harry S. Peterson Co, indicated that the waterproofing system involved using a composite sealant and polyurethane membrane only at critical joints in the concrete, rather than applying the membrane across the entire surface.

Years after the Peterson company tried repeatedly to stop the leaks, a 1992 engineering report concluded: "The design used for this roof slab is inappropriate in achieving a water-tight condition."

'Absolutely Not, Not, Not'

Keywan said he assumed Hirt had done his due diligence with regard to the waterproofing selection.

Asked if he would have designed an unsafe structure if an owner had demanded it, Keywan adamantly responded: “Absolutely not, not, not.”

“I can be concerned about any building I designed. If it’s not taken care of, it will fall down and kill somebody,” he said.

Testimony in the case continued Tuesday (March 12) with the Elliot Lake’s former chief librarian. The city’s library was once a tenant at the mall, which served as a community hub.

More than 75 witnesses are scheduled to testify at the hearing, which is expected to last until mid-July.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Architects; Architecture; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Commercial Construction; Concrete defects; Design; Engineers; Health and safety; Moisture management; Parking Garages; Retail; Roof coatings; Waterproofing

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