Tragedy of the Highland Towers: Facts about Building Collapse in Malaysia
Malaysia is increasingly being called the economic miracle of Southeast Asia. Its economy today is one of the most competitive and fastest-growing in Asia and even in the world. The construction sector keeps up. But still, due to many climatic, geographical, and geological factors, there are a lot of challenges.
The underdeveloped regulatory framework of engineering surveys shows that not everything is as smooth in the construction sector of this country as it seems at first glance, especially if we are talking about not unique objects. We are about to tell you the shocking facts about the catastrophe of the Highland Towers.
Challenges in Malaysia’s Construction Industry
In Malaysia, not everything goes smoothly in the construction sector, especially when it is not about unique facilities with good funding and a high level of control. The most common causes of building collapses in this country are landslides, floods, hurricanes, and storms in times of rain. Interestingly, in Malaysia, there are no specific rules and regulations on the requirements of engineering surveys for construction, although many of the principles have been discussed at length many times.
The choice of contractor here depends mainly on the consulting engineer. And unfortunately, as in many other countries, the cost of these surveys is too often the determining factor. Only the most reputable consultants choose contractors based on their qualifications, merits, and reliability.
It is also a serious concern that consultants in Malaysia tend to leave the development of survey programs to contractors, which in many cases leads to insufficient or even erroneous information on site conditions for designers. In addition, in most cases, there is a lack of oversight of prospectors’ work.
Building Collapse in Malaysia: Surveyors’ Mistake
The most tragic consequence of the surveyors’ and their consultants’ mistakes was the collapse of one of the Highland Towers buildings in the Hill View area of Ulu Klang in Selangor in 1993.
This complex of three 13-story apartment buildings and a swimming pool was built between 1974 and 1982 at the foot of a hill with steep slopes. The site of these buildings was first drained by a stream conventionally called the East Stream, but it was diverted to the side by a special pipe system. It turned out that the site of the complex was chosen extremely poorly – and the surveyors, consultants, and decision-makers from the Highland Tower developer company were to blame.
In the early 1980s, terraces were created on the slope above the Highland Towers complex, and in 1991 construction began on the top of the hill to build another apartment building, so the natural vegetation cover was destroyed there. In addition, water from the new construction site was diverted into the pre-existing pipeline system for the waters of East Creek.
As a result, the pipes were overloaded, clogged with sand and silt, and began leaking in many places. The soil surrounding them began to saturate with water and undergo rapid erosion. To strengthen it, a retaining wall was built at the bottom of the slope, but it did not help. Heavy rains in November-December 1993 made the situation much worse, and the level of groundwater became critical (it even started to flow freely on the surface).
Eventually, the ground failed, and a large landslide began to slowly slide down the slope over at least a month. Residents of Highland Towers had already noticed in November that the cracks in the walkways around the complex were gradually widening. In addition, the retaining wall at the bottom of the hill began to crumble.
But unfortunately, no pre-Highland Tower collapse case study was done on the situation. And at lunchtime on December 11, 1993, the foundation of the first building, which was hit by a landslide, could not withstand the pressure and has collapsed. As a result, all thirteen floors of this building collapsed sideways, splitting into sections.
Aftermaths of the Building Failure in Malaysia
Despite the hard work of the rescuers, 48 to 55 people died, according to various estimates. Only three were rescued alive from under the rubble, but one of them died soon after in hospital. Had the collapse happened at night instead of during the day, there would have been considerably more victims. Soon, the residents of the remaining two buildings in the complex were evacuated, as a check showed that they too were in danger of collapse.
These towers still stand abandoned, but often serve as shelters for criminals, drug addicts, and homeless people.So the authorities are considering dismantling them. Meanwhile, landslides from the slopes in the area continue to descend from time to time, sometimes causing more deaths in the private sector.
After the tragedy with the first building of the Highland Towers, the Malaysian government initiated the development of a system of inspection of survey reports by independent experts. But only some states have already addressed this issue.
The country as a whole does not yet have strict regulatory requirements in this regard. Therefore, media reports of destruction and casualties in Malaysia, which could have been avoided with quality and sufficient engineering surveys, proper selection of construction sites, and adequate design, are still quite frequent.
The list of such accidents in Malaysia is almost endless. Since their natural causes are mostly the same (landslides, floods, hurricanes, storms), officials, surveyors, planners, and builders in Malaysia should think about how to avoid destruction and loss of life in such situations.
This is what will happen if the country’s construction industry continues to develop at the same pace and if investments in engineering surveys and other phases of construction are allocated for the construction of not only luxury housing, office skyscrapers, and other unique facilities.