Most Expensive Construction Mistakes In The World

Let's explore some of the most expensive construction mistakes in the world!

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All over the world, huge, awe-inspiring construction projects, from skyscrapers to suspension bridges, dominate our skylines. As you can imagine, these construction projects are built on plenty of blood, sweat and cold, hard cash!

But they don’t always turn out the way their developers anticipate. In fact, basic mistakes in multi-million-dollar projects can see new buildings abandoned, bridges destroyed, or entire complexes collapse!

So, grab your hard hat and hang onto your wallet, as we take a look at some of the most expensive construction mistakes in the world!

GALLOPING GERTIE

When it opened in 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington cost $6.4 million to build. That means, if it was built today, it would cost a whopping $126 million!

At the time, it was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world by main span. To put that in perspective, only the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the George Washington Bridge in New York City outspanned this mega project.

golden gate and george washington bridges
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With so much money sunk into it, construction workers were alarmed when - during the building process - the bridge began to move vertically in windy conditions. The workers continued to follow the design regardless, giving the bridge the nickname Galloping Gertie.

Poor Gertie wouldn’t be galloping for long however as just over 4 months after the bridge opened to the public, it spectacularly collapsed into the water below!

tacoma narrows bridge collapsed

But how could such a collapse be allowed to happen? Well, Galloping Gertie was the first bridge to be built with large beams of carbon steel anchored in concrete blocks. Preceding bridges had typically used open trusses, a framework designed for structure support.

The new design had the effect of diverting wind both above and below the bridge, resulting in a swaying effect. One day, the swaying developed into a dramatic twisting called aeroelastic fluttering! But on that morning, the bridge wasn’t fluttering as much as it was flying!

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And so, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge went down to its watery grave! There were no fatalities, but the last person to cross the bridge, Leonard Coatsworth, lost both his car and his dog, Tubby.

In addition to the $6.4 million blunder, Coatsworth was able to claim a total of $50,000 in today’s money for all he lost. For 4 months of precarious bridge-crossing, that’s one seriously expensive bill!

DEMOLITION DERBY

Until September 2021, Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, was the home to 15 high-rise buildings owned by Yunnan Honghe Real Estate. However, the volatility of the property market in China, meant that the buildings, which cost 1 billion Chinese yuan or roughly $157 million, were left unoccupied for 8 years!

yunnan honghe buildings
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After the construction company in charge ran out of money in 2013, the basements of these buildings were submerged in rainwater, causing irreparable damage. With maintenance costs rising and money on the project hemorrhaging, there was only one option left: a demolition derby!

In the eye-catching collapse, the buildings were torn to the ground in just 45 seconds using more than 6 tons of explosives placed at 85,000 blasting points. Well, $157 million is a lot of money to spend on one very big pile of rubble!

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DEATH-RAY DEBACLE

The Vdara Hotel & Spa, which opened in December 2009, is one of many hotels, spas and casinos lining the Las Vegas strip. Before it opened, it had racked up a total of $8.5 billion in construction costs. With all that money going in, you’d assume the experts would have eliminated every possible construction mistake, right!?

Unfortunately, the Vdara had a fatal design flaw. For 90 minutes at midday, an intense concentration of light from the main glass building reflected the sun’s rays onto a single point in the pool area, making it hot enough to singe hair and melt plastic.

Most Expensive Construction Mistakes In The World

This was the result of the curved, glass surface of the hotel acting as a parabolic reflector dish. The concave shape was accidentally ideal for reflecting sunlight intensely and, ultimately, the hotel’s glass surface concentrated the light into a 10-by-15-foot hot zone on the pool deck.

Vdara hotel hot ray

If a building’s worth $8.5 billion, you’d assume inadvertent death rays were an architectural impossibility. But, if you like your hotels of the evil arch-nemesis variety, the Vdara would be right up your street! To the rest of us, that’s $8.5 billion that could have been spent on a less deadly design!

COLLEGE CHAOS

If you are into contemporary architecture, you might have heard about Frank Gehry. Described by Vanity Fair magazine as the most important architect of our day, Gehry’s buildings have become world-renowned attractions.

Therefore, MIT, one of the best universities in the world, were ecstatic to appoint Gehry as Chief Designer for a new center to house innovative artificial intelligence and computer science research labs.

Known as the Stata Center, the building cost $300 million to build, with MIT paying Gehry a further $15 million for his work. For all that money, $315 million in total, MIT were served up the very odd building below.

Stata_Center_(MIT)

Now, Gehry is known for his original and boundary-pushing designs and the Stata Center certainly pushes the boundaries of good taste, in my opinion.

On top of its peculiar appearance, the Stata Center was also prone to leaks, cracks, mold and drainage problems. Snow and ice cascaded dangerously from window boxes and other projected areas, a consequence of the building’s unconventional walls and radical angles!

Stata Center design flaws

This meant MIT had to spend an additional $1.5 million on repairs, which they – rightfully - sued Gehry’s office for. But the lawsuit was dropped after they both came to an amicable conclusion.

As eye-catching as it is, it was written off by many as too impractical for purpose, making the Stata Center something of a $300 million disaster!

BILLION DOLLAR DISASTER

Often referred to as The Hancock, 200 Clarendon Street, Boston, was supposed to open in 1971 but was delayed until 1976. During that period, initial cost estimates of the 100-storey building ballooned from $75 million to $175 million.

In today’s money, that’s $512 million to a staggering $850 million! And once the tower opened, the money hemorrhage only continued.

During the site’s excavation process, temporary steel retaining walls had been erected to create space. What the designers didn’t see coming however, was that the steel retaining walls would end up warping under the clay and mud they were supposed to hold back.

Hancock Tower design flaws

This caused the soil to shift, which damaged utility lines, the pavement, and nearby buildings such as the historic Trinity Church, which won an $11 million lawsuit. That’s another $53 million added to the bill in today’s money!

This could have been the end of the building’s woes, but The Hancock wasn’t that lucky! What initially seemed like an innovative new design idea – the use of blue, reflective glass on the tower’s external skeleton – turned out to be another flaw in the building’s design.

Soon after opening, the blue glass panels began to detach and crash down onto the sidewalk below without warning! This risked turning passing pedestrians into pavement pancakes, with police eventually deciding to close off the streets below when wind speeds exceeded 45mph.

Hancock Tower glass panel disaster

It turned out the glass panels were detaching because of repeated thermal stresses caused by the expansion and contraction of air between the building’s inner and outer panels. In the end, all 10,344 panels had to be replaced, costing another $5 - $7 million. In today’s money, that would be up to $44 million.

air contraction Hancock Tower

And no, we’re not finished yet! Now, all skyscrapers sway a little bit, but it’s supposed to be so minimal that the occupants of the building don’t even feel it. You might have guessed that wasn’t the case for The Hancock.

In fact, the building’s upper-floor occupants began to suffer from motion sickness because the building swayed so much in the wind. A tuned mass damper, designed to absorb mechanical vibrations, had to be installed on the 58th floor, costing yet another $3 million – a further $18.6 million in today’s money!

tuned mass damper
©Be Amazed

That all adds up to a total of more than $966 million in costs today! That may be $34 million off 1 billion but, you know what, it’s close enough! I think it’s safe to say that 200 Clarendon Street is a one-billion-dollar disaster!

SZKIELETOR

Poland had big plans for Krakow in the mid-1970s, including the construction of the city’s tallest building standing at 301 feet. However, due to setbacks and problems along the way, it would take over 45 years for the now-named Unity Tower to reach completion.

Construction began in 1975 but was halted in 1979 because of the political situation, which saw Poland under martial law in 1981. The ensuing upheaval meant the building was left unfinished.

All that existed at that point was the outer skeleton of the tower, abandoned amid the skyline. This led to the quick-witted Polish public nicknaming the tower Szkieletor; or Skeletor, like the He-Man villain!

Szkieletor and Skeletor
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Szkieletor sat there creeping everyone out for decades until interest in the project was renewed in 2007. A plan was submitted to increase the building’s height from 300 ft to a full 426 ft, but the project was rejected by the Provincial Conservation Council.

By 2005, this crumbling exoskeleton was valued at just 30 million zloty or, in today’s money, $9.9 million. It wasn’t until 2020 that it was finally completed, at the eye-watering cost of $113 million!

Unity Tower Poland

Now, you might be thinking that Szkieletor is some kind of underdog. A long-awaited success story that finally blossomed. Well, think again. When you consider that the initial intention was to turn the center of Krakow into a mini-Manhattan, the fact that it took 45 years to complete just one skyscraper is nothing short of a huge failure!

TILTING TOWN

Have you heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The iconic Italian landmark is known worldwide for its distinctive tilt, after it was built on soft ground that couldn’t support its weight. Over 5,000,000 tourists visit the Tower each year, but not nearly as many visit the city of Santos in Brazil. That’s surprising because, while Pisa has one leaning tower, Santos boasts many of those.

Just like the Leaning Tower, the problem with Santos’ askew buildings is in the soil. Below a 23-foot layer of sand lies a layer of clay between 98 and 131 feet deep. Clay, as a rule, does not react well to having large structures built upon it.

clay foundation
©Be Amazed

But, until 1968, there were no restrictions on what foundations could be used for multi-story buildings. Buildings typically have foundations around 164 feet deep but, in Santos, foundations reach between just 13 and 16 feet.

building foundation
©Be Amazed

When constructors realized that this was resulting in the buildings tilting over time, laws were passed regulating what could be built in Santos, and on what surface.

Now, you might think these towers would have been abandoned or demolished. Well, people actually still live there, getting on with their lopsided lives. There has been a local effort to put the buildings upright, but only one of them has received this treatment.

Sao Paolo building correction

But the upgrade to this one building alone cost the government $1.5 million! The fact the city stopped after correcting only one building shows how wasteful they considered the expense.

The really expensive problem, however, is for homeowners. After the tilt of the buildings became noticeable, the value of the properties plummeted. This meant that, if the owners were to sell their homes, it would be at a dramatic loss.

SAMPOONG DEPARTMENT STORE

In anticipation of hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics, Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, underwent an intensive period of urban development. One part of the project was the construction of the Sampoong Department Store.

Originally intended as an apartment building, after construction began, future chairman Lee Joon repurposed the design as a department store.

With the emphasis on commerce not accommodation, gone were many of the design’s support columns, replaced with fancy, new escalators. When the original designer protested this would make the building unsafe, Lee Joon fired them.

Sampoong Department Store support columns

But he didn’t stop there! The entrepreneur added a fifth floor to the design, to make way for either a roller-skating rink or a series of restaurants. Floor space was prioritized in the rest of the building, with more space meaning more commerce opportunities.

All these changes resulted in a very unsafe building opening its doors to the public on July 7th, 1990. Cracks had been appearing in the ceiling since its opening, but they were ignored by Lee and the managerial team. On the morning of 29th June 1995, the cracks dramatically worsened.

Sampoong Department Store ceiling cracks
©Be Amazed

Store management failed to evacuate the building because – in a sign that this really was all about cold, hard cash – the number of customers was unusually high. They simply did not want to lose out on the day’s revenue.

Their decision would prove a greedy, and fatal, error. By 5pm, the 5th floor ceiling was sinking in and, by 5.52 pm, cracking sounds led workers to raise the alarm and evacuate the building! But it was too late

The main roof collapsed, the support columns imploded, and the entire south wing of the building pancaked into the basement! 1,944 people were injured, 502 fatally. The property damage caused by the disaster cost around $216 million at the time, which is a whopping $364 million by today’s standards!

SAMPOONG DEPARTMENT STORE TRAGEDY

And that’s without including the compensation the unethical management were forced to pay to the victim’s families. At first, the families asked for an average of $361,000 each, but were offered only $220,000.

Pay-outs were complete by 2003 and had cost the owners $300 million in total! That included the entirety of Lee Joon’s personal wealth meaning, through his unethical construction process, he had ended up losing everything. And if you ask me, that’s still not enough!

HOTEL OF DOOM

Of all the things that can be said about the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, no one can question the government’s pride in its own achievements.

In the late 1980s, North Korean authorities realized that, while New York had the Statue of Liberty, Paris had the Eiffel Tower and Rio de Janeiro had Christ the Redeemer, North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, was lacking a crown jewel in its skyline.

To put an end to this, ground was broken on the Ryugyong hotel in 1987. Designed to exceed 1,000 feet in height, house at least 3,000 hotel rooms and include 5 revolving restaurants with panoramic views of the city, the opening was set for 1989. However, as the decade came to a close, the hotel was nowhere near completion!

Ryugyong hotel height

The external skeleton was finally completed in 1992. With the outer layers finished, perhaps the constructors realized that North Korea was a closed border state that doesn’t massively appeal to tourists and left the inside empty.

Windowless and cavernous, the Ryugyong Hotel has stood abandoned and incomplete ever since! In a bid to repurpose the blunder, the Ryugyong Hotel was first clad with metal and glass, before being equipped with LED lights that turn it into a light show at night.

Ryugyong hotel light show

While, admittedly, it does make the hollow beast look rather fetching, construction work continues to stop and start, with the Hotel of Doom remaining the world’s tallest unoccupied building! And that’s before we even get to the cost!

The estimated production cost for this desolate disaster is $750 million. That accounts for a whopping 2% of North Korea’s entire GDP! So not only can the Ryogyong Hotel claim the title “World’s Largest Metaphor for a Country”, but also “World’s Most Pointless Waste of Money!”

WORLD’S TALLEST TRAGEDY

Expected to reach a height of 3,281 feet and topple the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building by 280 feet, the Jeddah Tower was all set to be the pride of Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah Tower
©Be Amazed

The skyscraper would be made up of more than 700 residential and hotel rooms over 167 floors, with people moving through the tower on the world’s fastest double-deck elevators, reaching speeds of up to 32 feet per second! If all that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it kind of is!

With a cost estimate of a bank-breaking $1.23 billion, construction began in 2013 with enough steel for 8 Eiffel Towers and enough concrete for 6 Hoover Dams.

Jeddah Tower materials
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It was all going to plan but, with the completion of the 63rd floor, development suddenly stalled. The Jeddah Tower was supposed to open its doors in 2017 but several contracting issues led to a slight delay.

Then in 2018 all hell broke loose. A series of anti-corruption purges raged across Saudi Arabia, seizing billions of dollars in assets from hundreds of businessmen – one of whom was in charge of the Jeddah Tower!

Ever since, there has been no progress on the Tower at all. While the consortium funding the skyscraper has signaled its intention to complete the project, there is no confirmed end date.

Jeddah Tower current conditions

So, as it stands, the Jeddah Tower is unusable, unfinished and unbelievably expensive! Who knows if we’ll ever see the Jeddah Tower finished but, if it isn’t, that’s another billion dollars down the construction porta-potty!

DANGER DAM

188,000 people living in Northern California were in for a surprise in February 2017 when they received official notice to evacuate their homes. What was the danger, you ask? Well, to know the answer, you’ll have to get acquainted with the Oroville Dam.

oroville dam
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The tallest dam in the United States, the Oroville Dam was a $25 million response to more than $200 million in property damage because of flooding in Northern and Central California between 1955 and 1956. The dam did its job for 49 years, until the winter of 2017. That year, when it rained, it poured.

Due to the heavy rain, the reservoir’s water levels rose dangerously, and was drained gradually by the dam’s spillway. But suddenly, a crack appeared in the spillway and, not long after, it had grown into a 250-foot crater.

California dam crater
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In a state of panic, officials shut off the water to the main spillway, but the reservoir’s water level continued to rise. The only safety mechanism was a never-used emergency spillway designed to funnel water into the nearby Feather River. However, as water flowed down the emergency spillway, it caused erosion threatening to break the entire dam and spill out into devastating floods!

Thankfully the dam held, and the 188,000 evacuated people were allowed to safely return. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed the entire ordeal was totally preventable. Why? Because the spillway had been built on unstable bedrock.

As a result, the concrete separating trillions of gallons of rushing water from the bedrock over the years had worn paper thin, and a series of systematic failings meant no-one had bothered to check it thoroughly for almost 50 years.

California dam damage

The damage was devastating, with repairs costing a monumental $1.1 billion – a $455 million hike from initial estimates! For a dam that cost less than $25 million, those are some costly repairs!

GLASS BRIDGE BLUNDER

For a few years, glass suspensions bridges were all the rage in China. There are over 2,300 see-through tourist traps dotted throughout China. The largest and most famous, in the mountains of Hunan province, is 1230 ft long and opened in December 2016 to the tune of $48 million! And that’s just one bridge!

Hunan province glass bridge

Now, if you’ve watched Squid Game, you’re probably wondering if these glass bridges are safe. Most of them are made with panes of 50-millimetre-thick glass, steel girders and reinforced cement, so they sound quite safe.

Officials across China even staged numerous high-profile events to prove the bridges safety, like smashing sledgehammers into the glass and driving cars full of people across them!

glass bridge safety
©Be Amazed

However, there were absolutely no national standards for glass attractions like this at the time, which lead to many fatalities across multiple Chinese provinces. In 2019 all glass attractions in China’s Hebei province were closed after serious safety concerns and haven’t been reopened since, sending millions of dollars of construction work down the drain!

And it gets worse. On one glass bridge in Jilin Province, back in 2021, a tourist found themselves stranded on the glass bridge after it was damaged during a gale! Several panes of glass disconnected from the main structure in 93mph winds, trapping the tourist in the middle of the bridge!

tourist trapped in glass bridge

The man was taken to hospital for treatment and psychological counseling, and the entire resort the bridge belonged to was shut down.

It's a matter of time before strict regulations are imposed on all these unregulated bridges, and when they do, you can bet the cost of upgrading and repairing them will be extravagant. Let’s just hope no more tourists have to pay for these construction mistakes with their lives in the meantime!

CHAMPLAIN TOWERS

Part of a three-building complex in the town of Surfside, Florida, Champlain Towers South contained more than 130 apartments, 80 of which were occupied. Built in 1981, the building was one of the many condominiums lining the beachfront. Except for one key difference.

Developers had constructed a ground-level parking garage under the housing units. Not only was this convenient for the homeowners, but the parking garage doubled as structural support to the rest of the building.

Champlain Towers structural support

However, in 2018, residents noticed water penetration was corroding the reinforced steel. The problems were reported, but nothing was done, and so the problem got much worse by April 2021.

A $15 million program of remedial works had been approved, but no work ever took place. Somewhere between the eroding ground-level support structures, land subsistence, and a suspiciously corrupt construction process, Champlain Towers South became an accident waiting to happen.

That was, until June 21st, 2021. You guessed it: Champlain Towers South partially collapsed without warning, with only 35 people rescued from the rubble. It’s one of the deadliest structural engineering failures in American history and incurred roughly $1 billion in compensation alone.

Champlain Towers damage
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GLENCAIRN TOWER

Back in the 1960s, high-rise buildings were the houses of the future! Every major city in Scotland was inundated with these “villages in the sky” that were once considered the height of architectural fashion.

By 2011, however, times had changed and the villages in the sky, like Glencairn Tower in Motherwell, were considered blots on the urban landscape. So much so that the council determined something had to be done to tackle the unsafe and ugly building.

Glencairn Tower

With refurbishments priced at £10 million – roughly $13 million - North Lanarkshire Council determined the best course of action was outright demolition. But that plan then ran into numerous costing issues.

The original demolition price was just under $1 million but, when deadly asbestos was identified throughout the tower, another $500,000 was added to the bill!

Now that might not look like much when compared to the billions we’ve seen wasted on some buildings, but keep in mind this is all relative; a million dollars is a lot to knock-down low-cost housing, with the average home costing about $10,000 to demolish!

demolition costs
©Be Amazed

Complementing the incredible costs, Glencairn Tower went down in a truly incredible demolition. Even if it did cost 166% of the initial cost, Glencairn Tower was never replaced by more low-cost housing.

As a result, not only were its developers out of pocket, but its residents were also out of a home! The entire operation, then, can be considered one colossal blunder!

If you were amazed by the most expensive construction mistakes in the world, you might want to read this article about the most expensive mistakes in History!

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