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Jackie Craven

Why Did the Charles-de-Gaulle Airport Terminal Collapse?

By May 24, 2004

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"I can't explain what happened. I just don't understand it," Paul Andreu, architect of the collapsed terminal at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, told L'Humanite newspaper. The 450-meter long terminal building is an elliptical tube constructed of concrete rings. Andreu, who also designed the French terminal for the English Channel Tunnel, drew upon principles of tunnel construction for the airport terminal building.

When it opened last year, many people praised the futuristic structure, calling it both beautiful and practical. Since there were no internal roof supports, passengers could move easily through the terminal. Some engineers say that the terminal's tunnel shape may have been a factor in the collapse. Buildings with no internal supports must rely entirely on the outer shell. However, investigators point out that it is the role of engineers to assure the safety of an architect's designs. Leslie Robertson, a chief engineer of the World Trade Center towers, told the New York Times that when problems occur, it's usually in the "interface" between architects, engineers, and contractors.

The collapse killed several people and left a 50 by 30 meter hole. It will take many months, and perhaps years, for investigators to determine whether the fatal collapse was caused by design flaws or oversights in construction. Meanwhile, airport officials say that they may tear down the terminal rather than repair it.

Learn More About the Charles-de-Gaulle Airport Terminal Collapse:
 Photo of the Terminal (Paul Andreu)
 The Architectural Blame Game (The New York Times)
 Paul Andreu: Official Site
 Paul Andreu: BBC Profile
 Disasters and Collapses: Index
 Famous Tunnels

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