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Construction rework horror stories: Real examples of rework nightmares

12 Rework Horrors

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Right on time for Halloween, we thought we’d share some spine-chilling rework horror stories: the stuff of nightmares for clients and contractors alike.

Everyone who works in construction has a rework horror story to share. For clients, investors, contractors and architects alike, rework disasters are the stuff of nightmares. An escalator leading to nowhere, a steel support column blocking a corridor, a bridge that fails to meet up in the middle – when construction goes awry the results can be catastrophic leading to delays; escalating costs; ugly, drawn-out legal disputes, tattered reputations and even insolvency.

The issue with mistakes in construction is that the stakes are so high. Margins are slim, materials are expensive, and delays not only hamper profits for the facility owner, but also bear financial ramifications for a long list of suppliers whose valuable time ends up wasted. When things go wrong on a project, they can go very wrong.

Back in 1998, the UK government created a task force chaired by Sir John Egan to explore the state of construction and how the industry might be able to improve efficiency and productivity. Shockingly, the subsequent ‘Egan Report’ stated that rework accounted for 30% of all project activity, prompting urgent calls for modernization, better leadership, improved collaboration and a move away from competitive tendering, amongst other things.

Almost 20 years later, research by the Get It Right Initiative (GIRI) suggested that rework costs in UK construction were still likely to be as much as 21% of all project costs. Despite ambitious targets and a long list of proposed measures for improvement, it seemed that inadequate progress had been made to boost efficiency, accuracy and quality.

When you think about it, with many in the industry still reliant on 2D paper drawings (an innovation utilized by the ancient Egyptians), perhaps the extent of construction’s rework problem is not such a surprise.

Understanding the full extent of construction’s rework problem is tricky. However, if you’re ever in any doubt of the need for the industry to take action, these three real-world examples of rework disasters should give you pause for thought.

1 – Berlin Brandenburg Airport

At number one on the list is the infamous Berlin Brandenburg Airport project. This ill-fated fiasco has attained legendary status in German construction lore and runs counter to every stereotype surrounding the nation’s efficiency, organizational and engineering excellence.

When construction began on behalf of German airport owner/operator FBB in 2006, the project was budgeted to come in at approximately €2.9 billion and to be completed in five years’ time. However, a series of setbacks and scandals plagued the project. Non-compliant fire systems, failure to meet standard acceptance criteria for airport facilities, soundproofing issues, misplaced external vents resulting in leaks, and dangerous wiring were just some of the errors that could and should have been avoided.

Amazingly, some 37 miles of cooling pipes were installed without insulation, which resulted in their removal and replacement, as well as requiring a large number of walls to be demolished.

The airport finally opened in 2020 but – thanks to coronavirus crippling global aviation – the facility’s troubles didn’t end there. Nine years late and estimated to have cost more than three times the initial budget, Brandenburg Airport ranks as one of the most expensive project failures in history.

2 – Harmon Hotel, Las Vegas

For a few short years, the Harmon Hotel stood at the corner of the Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue. To the unsuspecting tourist, there were no visible clues that anything was amiss. It appeared to be a sleek, glass-fronted tower in keeping with dazzling lights and the modern architecture surrounding it.

Beneath the surface, however, the Hamon Hotel was an empty void.

Designed on behalf of MGM Resorts International, the original plans outlined a 47-story tower comprising of 400 hotel rooms and 200 condos above. Work commenced in 2007 but was halted shortly after when inspectors discovered construction errors “so pervasive and varied in character that it is not possible to quickly implement a temporary or permanent repair.”

Tests uncovered that reinforcing steel was either missing or misplaced in columns, beams, shear walls and transfer walls throughout the structure and that the tower was likely to collapse in the event of a ‘code level’ earthquake.

Too costly and complicated to fix and too dangerous to continue, the original plans were scrapped. The top 20 floors which were supposed to comprise the condominiums were abandoned – despite the fact that 80% of these had already been sold.

A bitter legal dispute ensued and by 2015, eight years after work had started, the building was demolished. The demolition reportedly cost $11.5 million, while damages for $400 million were sought prior to the issue being settled out of court.

© Mikerussell

3 – Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 3, Finland

Some projects encounter such a catalogue of problems, you would be forgiven for thinking they are cursed. Unit 3 of Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant falls into that category. The first nuclear reactor to be given the greenlight in western Europe in 15 years, work on the project began in 2005 on behalf of Finnish nuclear power operator TVO and was initially scheduled to take four years to complete. However, as of October 2022 – following billions of dollars going down the drain and tens-of-thousands of wasted person-years – regular electricity production is still yet to commence.

Delays have been attributed to failures in planning, and workmanship, as well as project supervision and oversight. Speaking to the BBC in 2009, an official within the Finnish nuclear safety authority suggested that contractors were struggling to meet the exacting standards required for a nuclear facility because so few nuclear projects had been undertaken in recent years and therefore the project teams lacked sufficient experience. Irregularities in the structure’s concrete foundations, errors in heavy forgings and deficiencies in containment pipe welding were just some of the works that were said to be marred by dangerous lapses in quality.

Originally estimated to cost somewhere in the region of €6.4 billion to construct, suggestions have put the final price tag at about €11 billion. The project’s main contractor is said to have lost as much as €5.5 billion.

Olkiluoto 2014
© kallerna

Averting disaster – How AR is eradicating rework

If reading these rework horror stories is giving you heart palpitations, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Rework is not an unavoidable risk. Errors onsite, and through the construction phase is not something we must begrudgingly accept.

XYZ Reality’s Engineering Grade Augmented Reality headset, the Atom™, brings the 3D model onsite, allowing construction teams to literally visualize where components should be installed in millimeter accuracy. This allows teams to build projects right first time through a process we call ‘proactive validation’.

Proactive validation does away with the traditional ‘build, check and put right’ approach to construction, allowing users of the Atom to confirm that works are in tolerance during the installation process and so, correcting errors before they actualize as costs or lead to delays.

From a baseline of as much as 30%, the Atom brings rework costs down to less than 1% of project costs.

To find out more about rework, its root causes and how it can be avoided, download our whitepaper: Rethinking Rework.