Suspiciously missing Millennium Tower documents seem suspiciously missing

Well you can get partway through a project with incompetence and then someone at least partly competent writes a report that says “this thing is screwed”, at that point management can either hush it up and hope luck will win out for them, or at least time (I think CA has some crazy law that makes it extremely hard to sue for damages if a decade has passed, even if the issue is rough to spot)…or they can spend a lot of extra money, time, and maybe lose the permit and lose all the money they already put in.

The same can happen with people being generally competent, and running into bad circumstances as well (that is the risk of large projects…but the risk should be for the investors, not the people who buy the housing!).


Few weeks ago on PBS, NOVA was exploring tall buildings and the problems that come with them. Sure enough, they did a bit on the Millennium Tower … and I thought yeah, they’re gonna expose this farce with the solid science and critical thinking that one would normally assume a prestige show like NOVA does.

They discuss the historical sinking & leaning, “But a fix underway will make all right” and then interview Mr. Hamburger regarding the new piles… and by the end of that segment… he left with the impression that this fix is guaranteed to solve all the problems caused by the nearby Metro station construction (not short piles or incompetent engineering, it was a that hole across the street, eh?)

After watching it, I was a bit dumbfounded. There’s controversy regarding Mr. Hamburger’s involvement and professional impartiality but yet they presented him like he’s competent and has it all under control.

So when they do shows about medical stuff… now you gotta wonder what sort of quacks they’re dealing with.

NOVA took a bit hit in credibility AFAIK.


Sure, it’s possible. But if laziness, this is a kind of laziness that puts the officials themselves at risk. So it seems less likely they would risk their cushy job without any counter incentive.

The people making the building have an incentive to believe their methods will be safe - it will save them money. So I can understand their dumb actions from that side.

But an official could be quite lazy here and still be saving themselves from any risk. “The regs require this number of pylons sunk this deep. Do your plans do that? …No? Then you have to make the plans do that. Not my problem.”

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Maybe they can just declare the building dead and quietly move it to Scotland. I hear that’s all the rage these days.


No less than it puts the designers and builders at risk.


Sure, but the designers and builders have a money incentive for their stupidity. I can picture what could cause such wilful blindness on their parts: the possibility of making more money by saving cost.

It’s hard for me to see the SF officials taking this risk without some similar incentive affecting their thinking.


If this building goes down then it’s not going to help their future employment prospects.

The SF officials are just as prone to laziness as anyone else. It’s easier to rubber-stamp a building permit or an inspection report, and most of the time they can do so without consequence because most of the time the engineers putting up the building are competent enough to do their job right.


Agree. It’s just that, as I’ve said, this would require a specific kind of laziness on the SF officials that it’s hard for me to understand without some sort of extra incentive in the picture. For the designers and builders, that incentive is possibly saving money. But what would this laziness gain the SF officials?

As opposed to just about the same amount of effort with no risk for the SF officials to just barely glance at the plans and say “No, you have to try again. It’s your extra work, not mine.” Or even leave that assessment to the office scrub.

In fact, it could even have been less effort for the officials to say that.

But of course, reasonable people can disagree on this.

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Generally speaking a government review (or any review) of someone else’s design is never going to be nearly as in-depth as they expect the design company’s in-house review to be.

I’m a licensed engineer who has worked on large projects that get reviewed by state officials. (In my case, a special division within the Department of Occupational Safety and Health) In my experience the ones I’ve dealt with aren’t lazy or incompetent, but given the number of personnel and the time they have available, there’s absolutely no way that they would be more likely than the company design team to catch design errors. Mostly they’re looking for gross and obvious stuff and making sure that the company appears to be following good design processes overall. They’ll also “spot check” certain random features in more detail just to be sure the designers can answer their questions.


That makes sense to me. But this does come across to me as gross and obvious stuff? Not having the foundation be supported as per existing regulations, in an area that is actually reclaimed area from the sea…even as a layperson, I recall hearing of specific regulations in NYC where pylons had to go into the bedrock and be at least some proportion to the height of the new building.

All that said, I am a layperson in this of course.


This is so creepy. This is why building & safety departments exist today. There may be a need for a state czar who can override anyone trying to bury these things for the public interest. Also wondering is there an inspector general digging into it?


“We’re sorry, those documents are no longer available because after the Hamburglar returned them to us we put them under the building to help shore it up.”


Guy wires. Hundreds of thousands of guy wires to keep it vertical.


Because nothing says “absolutely no reason to take a second look at your foundation” like discovering that something down there is porous enough to be absorbing tons of concrete?

That seems like one of those theories that has darker implications if it turns out to be true than if it turns out to be false.


What a rissole.


I’m a software engineer, so I am an expert on building things that fall down.

And the one thing that I have absolutely learned during the course of my career is that if you don’t understand why something is happening, it is going to bite you in the future.

In some ways, things that mysteriously work when you think they shouldn’t are as threatening as things that don’t work when you think they should. It means your mental model of what’s happening is wrong, and that means that the system can (and will) fail in new and unexpected ways down the line.

So “we don’t know where the grout went, but we’re sure it’s all cool now” gives me the cold shudders, because that only ever ends one way.

Also, I’m sorry, but I have to say this. “Ron Hamburger”? Seriously? I mean, really?


Michael Biehn?


I love this post
Yeah ol’ ron sure doesn’t cut the mustard. One fine day reality will ketchup to him.


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