parallax background

What caused Champlain Towers South to Collapse?

In the early morning of June 24, 2021, Champlain Towers South partially collapsed killing 98 people and shattering the lives of countless others.

The 13-story, 136-unit beachfront condominium in the Miami Beach suburb of Surfside was completed 40 years ago, in 1981. News reports from well-respected national publications compiled below suggest that the building collapsed as a result of flawed design plans, poor construction, the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association’s failure to adequately fund reserves, and a resulting lack of proper maintenance and repairs. Experts quoted in these reports believe the building was structurally defective from its inception. In a recent 2018 report, a consultant hired by the condominium association found a “major error” in the building’s original design that caused “major structural damage.” 

The National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) is conducting a federal investigation, examining everything from the original design and maintenance records to soil conditions on the site.

News organizations – including the Miami Herald, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today – have been conducting their own investigations by analyzing building plans, applicable building codes, photos of the debris, interviews with engineers, witness accounts and sophisticated computer simulations. The consensus from these in-depth articles is that Champlain Towers South was a fatally flawed structure from the beginning.

In August, a consolidated class action complaint was filed on behalf of victims, survivors and their families alleging the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association breached its duty by neglecting to maintain, repair, and replace the building’s common elements and portions of condominium units that provided structural support to the building, making the building unsafe and ultimately causing the collapse.

In November, the complaint was amended to add defendants associated with a neighboring building, claiming the construction of the new apartment complex in 2017 contributed to the collapse. The trial date is set for March of 2022. To date, media reports, NIST and other independent expert investigations have not detailed any proof of these claims. You can read the complaint here.


Here is key information that has been published to date:


House of Cards: How decades of problems converged the night Champlain Towers fell

In the middle of an unremarkable night in late June, a residential tower in Surfside, Florida, spontaneously collapsed, burying 98 people in a concrete tomb. The collapse of Champlain Towers South was unprecedented. The tower wasn’t particularly old or under major construction. There was no earthquake, gas explosion or terrorist attack to blame. After standing for nearly four decades, one wing of the building simply caved in –– for no obvious reason…Read the full article here.

Behind The Florida Condo Collapse: Rampant Corner-Cutting

SURFSIDE, Fla. — In 2017, Abraham Topp and his brother took over the Champlain Towers South condo where their parents had lived happily for two decades on an idyllic stretch of beach—and quickly found signs of trouble.

Water persistently leaked into the underground garage below the pool deck, Mr. Topp said. Workers regularly pulled up pavers on the deck to perform repairs. The amount of work the tower needed was piling up, triggering talk among residents of a looming assessment in the millions of dollars to foot the bill…Read the full article here.

How to make the Surfside tragedy even worse? Add an ugly fight over money | Editorial

What could possibly make the Surfside condo collapse even more tragic? A fight over money.

Survivors and heirs are at odds over who is entitled to what, who is to blame for the collapse that killed 98 people and how to fairly divide money from insurance, lawsuits and charitable contributions…Read the full article here.

Grand jury: After Surfside collapse, require frequent inspections, stricter association rules

In the wake of the deadly Surfside condo collapse, Miami-Dade County should institute more frequent building recertification inspections, and condo associations should be required to annually certify routine maintenance and building repairs, a grand jury recommended on Wednesday.

Those were among the many recommendations issued Wednesday by a grand jury tasked with exploring condo safety following the June collapse of Champlain Towers South that killed 98 people in one of the nation’s deadliest building failures…Read the full article here.

A lost ‘Champlain’ tower languishes in Surfside. Residents don’t know if they’re safe

In the late 1970s, a group of Canadian developers swooped into Surfside, a golden-beached winter haven with a dysfunctional small-town government.

There they laid the foundations for a cluster of high-rise condo buildings along the coastline just north of Miami Beach, three of which would carry the “Champlain” name…Read the full story here.

Surfside tower was flawed from day one. Designs violated the code, likely worsened collapse 

Champlain Towers South was poorly designed, even for the 1970s when the plans were originally drawn and codes were less rigorous, according to an analysis of building plans, applicable building codes and photos of the debris performed by the Miami Herald in consultation with four engineers and a general contractor. 

Most of the column designs were too narrow to safely accommodate the amount of reinforcing steel called for in the plans at the basement and ground floors, especially at the critical areas where the columns connected to the slab, engineers’ calculations based on the building code requirements at the time show…Read the full article here or here.  

Surfside collapse may be rooted in the past. But accountability starts now 

In the search for answers in the Surfside condo collapse, revelations about the original construction plans are becoming increasingly troubling.  

The 12-story building was completed 40 years ago, in 1981 — a lifetime in South Florida. Most of the people in charge of designing and approving the building are long gone. Condominium construction was going full-tilt in that era, but construction methods were weak, at least when it came to single-family homes, and so was enforcement of the building codes. We learned that painful lesson in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew flattened entire neighborhoods. 

In a Miami Herald investigation into the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse, engineers consulted by the Herald said original design and construction flaws alone were unlikely to have initiated the collapse. But the deficiencies, they agreed, “could have been the difference between a single floor caving in and the kind of progressive collapse that killed 98 people on June 24.”…Read full editorial here or here.  

Sea rise under scrutiny in condo collapse: Corrosion likely, but no sign of sinkhole” 

Scraped clean of tons of rubble late last month, the bare garage floor of Champlain Towers South appears to rule out at least one early suspect in its catastrophic collapse. 

There were no telltale signs of a sinkhole. 

The garage floor, the building’s lowest level, remains in one piece with no craters or potholes suggesting unseen geological forces were at work. The “sinkhole” a doomed resident saw opening from her balcony in a final phone conversation was likely not erosion beneath the building but the implosion of the concrete pool deck above the garage floor — the seeming trigger event of a massive and still unresolved structural failure…Read full article here or here.

“Feds’ video shows ‘astronomical’ corrosion, crowded rebar in Champlain Towers debris”

New footage released by a team of federal investigators on Wednesday offered more evidence of overcrowded concrete reinforcement and extensive corrosion in Champlain Towers South — issues first raised by engineers as part of a Miami Herald investigation into the structural integrity and design of the building, which collapsed in June, killing 98.

The footage was released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on the same day it announced the team that will conduct its five-pronged investigation of the disaster, which will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, a Cuban-born engineer who grew up in Miami. Still frames of debris pictured in the video reveal densely-packed steel reinforcement in various elements of the building, as well as extensive corrosion where one column met the building’s foundation… Read full article here.

They Were Bullies’: Inside the Turbulent Origins of the Collapsed Florida Condo” 

The team that developed Champlain Towers managed to build the condos despite checkered pasts, internal strife and a last-minute change that infuriated leaders in Surfside, Fla. 

It was in the middle of summer in 1980 when developers raising a pair of luxury condominium towers in Surfside, Fla., went to town officials with an unusual request: They wanted to add an extra floor to each building.

The application to go higher was almost unheard-of for an ambitious development whose construction was already well underway. The builders had not mentioned the added stories in their original plans. It was not clear how much consideration they had given to how the extra floors would affect the structures overall. And, most galling for town officials, the added penthouses would violate height limits designed to prevent laid-back Surfside from becoming another Miami Beach…Read full article here.  

The Surfside Condo Was Flawed and Failing. Here’s a Look Inside

A Times investigation shows how faulty design and construction could have contributed to the collapse of the building in South Florida.

The collapse of the Champlain Towers Southcondo left 98 people dead and triggered investigations that could last years. Such a catastrophic failure would almost certainly have many contributing factors, engineers said.

The New York Times created a 3-D model of the tower based on the original design drawings. That model, combined with a review of documents and interviews with structural experts, reveals how design errors, last-minute changes, dubious construction practices and years of worsening deterioration could have all contributed to the collapse… Read full article here.

Behind The Florida Condo Collapse: Rampant Corner-Cutting

SURFSIDE, Fla.—A startling discovery awaited an engineer who drilled into the ground-level concrete slab at Champlain Towers South last year. He could find no waterproofing in two separate sections, the engineer wrote in a letter to the condominium board.

Without that essential layer for a high rise facing the punishing Atlantic Ocean, rainwater and salty sea spray likely had seeped in for decades, slowly weakening the steel rebar and concrete holding up the condo building. Indeed, the engineer reported at the time seeing significant concrete deterioration.

Less than a year later, in the early hours of June 24, part of that slab dropped into the parking garage below. Within minutes, the east wing of the 13-story tower collapsed, killing 98 people in a disaster without modern precedent in the U.S…Read full article here.

“How a collapsed pool deck could have caused a Florida condo building to fall”

After the deadly catastrophe at a high-rise beachfront condo building in Surfside, Fla., in June, suspicion quickly focused on a pool deck outside, in part because years of deterioration had left it badly damaged. But a mystery remained: How could the partial collapse of a patio have brought down much of a 12-story structure that had stood for 40 years? 

A Washington Post examination — based on witness accounts, photography, construction plans, interviews with engineers and a computer simulation using a 3-D model of the complex — explores that question. The review identifies possible sequences of events where the collapse of the pool deck into an underground parking garage at Champlain Towers South could have weakened key columns, triggering the wider disaster…Read the full article here.

Collapsed Surfside Towers Actually Broke Building Code From the Very Beginning” 

For over a month, crews worked to recover survivors and then the dead from the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. The 98th and final victim was identified only two weeks ago. During the same period, forensic engineers have combed through the debris of the 12-story condominium tower, searching for the reason for the building’s sudden, catastrophic failure. Now a report in the Miami Herald based on interviews with engineers and construction experts has pinned the cause on multiple, extensive structural flaws that existed in the building for 40 years…Read full article here. 

A House of Cards: The Miami Condo Collapse Exposes a Dehumanized Mindset in the Built Environment” 

On June 24th, 2021, the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Miami collapsed, killing 98 people. While the causes of the collapse are still under investigation, the building's history of structural deficiencies is likely to have played a part. The Champlain Towers collapse is only the latest in a series of fatal building catastrophes which could have been prevented with proper oversight. In their wake, the continuing deterioration of our buildings and infrastructure causes us to ask if the commodification of buildings as real estate, and exercises in wealth creation, has caused us to lose sight of architecture's primary role as shelter and habitat…Read full article here.  

“We need to be patient — UW’s Dawn Lehman on the collapse of the Champlain Towers South

In the middle of the night on June 24, a 12-story condominium in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. As of July 9, the death toll was up to 78, with 62 people still classified as missing.

While there is currently no explanation for why the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, Dawn Lehman, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been studying photographs, videos, drawings, reports and permits to investigate this tragedy to understand what happened…Read full article here.

Mosalam Provides Key Analysis of Surfside Condo Collapse

Over the last month Professor Khalid Mosalam, Director of Berkeley’s Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, has provided invaluable analysis of the June 24th collapse of a Surfside, Florida, high-rise condominium. In an investigation by The Washington Post, Mosalam and his team used Computers & Structures, Inc. software programs for 3-D modeling and simulations to assess the tragic collapse.

Many questions remain about the failure, including how the partial collapse of the building’s pool deck brought down much of the building. Khalid’s team, which included his current PhD student Mr. Jorge Archbold, SEMM former student Dr. Carlos Arteta and his research assistants Mr. Andrés Torregroza and Ms. Angie Urango of the Universidad del Norte in Colombia, provides one possible answer…Read full article here.

Report: Evidence of extensive corrosion in collapsed condo” 

MIAMI (AP) — Video released by a team of federal investigators shows more evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement in a Miami-area condominium that collapsed in June, killing 98 people. The National Institute of Standards and Technology also announced Wednesday it will conduct a five-pronged investigation into the Champlain Towers South collapse, which will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser. She is a Cuban-born engineer who grew up in Miami…Read full article here.

“Defunct and disorganized: Surfside town records detail woes of code, building departments”

Building officials in the beachfront city of Sarasota, Florida, evacuated the Dolphin Tower condominium in 2010 after its walls cracked and bowed despite efforts to repair them. 
Seven years later, building officials in another beachfront Florida community evacuated the Versailles Sur La Mer condominium after damage by Hurricane Irma revealed longstanding corrosion to structural steel beams.  
And this summer – just days after the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside – building officials in nearby Kissimmee evacuated a condo complex when an engineer alerted them to unrepaired rot that left walkways in danger of collapse…Read full article here.