Architecture Engineering Planning Forensic Services

Chicago Porch Collapse

In the early morning hours of June 29, 2003, during the course of a party held at apartments on both the 2nd and 3rd floors of a Lincoln Park neighborhood building in Chicago, the rear porch collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 13 of the participants and bodily injuries to many others. At the time of this collapse, as many as 114 persons were estimated to be on the two upper levels of the porch structure. Based upon accounts of the event, the upper floor porch framing gave way, sending that portion of the porch and its occupants downward onto the occupants of the lower level, resulting in further collapse with much of the porch construction falling into the basement level "pit" below. All that remained standing after this collapse was the porch roof, the four main wood posts, portions of the porch decks at all three levels, and elements of the cantilevered porch stairway. Unfortunately, these remaining elements of the porch, which was only a few years old at the time, were removed the following day and stored off-site.

We were contacted by the City of Chicago Department of Law two days later and were able to inspect the debris removed from the site prior to the demolition. Primarily, this consisted of wood framing and floor deck material removed by the police and fire personnel during their rescue operations, as well as other materials found on those portions of the porch left standing after the collapse. We were able to examine many of the 2x8 floor joists, 2x10 headers or wall ledgers, guardrail units, floor decking, as well as porch furniture, beer kegs and miscellaneous personal items. Despite lack of any on-site inspection of the collapsed porch before the demolition, we were able to reassemble portions of the framing and to analyze both the framing members and their connections. We later visited the site and were able to document and examine any remaining connections still embedded in the rear masonry wall and the porch foundations.

At the request of the Office of the Mayor, by July 23, 2003 we prepared a report outlining our analysis of the collapse, the materials used in the construction, stresses that would have been caused by mandated loadings, findings as to the construction, and our findings or conclusions as to failures on the part of the building owner and the porch contractor to comply with the governing provisions of the building code. This report was then utilized by the City in their legal actions and served as the basis for settling the case. Several years later, our report was introduced as part of the legal actions taken by the families of the dead and injured.

Subsequently, we were included in a number of actions taken by the City of Chicago to respond to this tragedy and subsequent findings and incidents involving poor, structurally unsound or otherwise hazardous and dangerous porches throughout the City, including;

• Assisting in developing revisions to the Chicago Building Code covering load requirements, railings and other structural elements for all new porches and decks

• Serving on several sub-committees or task forces to update requirements for the construction and other requirements for existing porches

• Assisting in the development of a manual providing guidelines and details for the construction and repair of porches and decks

• Developing and teaching a training course for building inspectors and plan examiners covering proper construction and details, existing porch evaluation and the newly developed porch manual