February 22, 2005
In February, the French Minister of Transport
released the conclusions of the technical investigation into
the tragic collapse of Terminal 2E at Paris' Charles de Gaulle
airport. Highly critical, the report says that the structure
had been slowly deteriorating since its inauguration in June
2003. On the morning of May 23, 2004, a 33-foot long section
of Terminal 2E collapsed, killing four people.
The long, tubular structure was designed by Paul Andreu,
who was at the time Director of Architecture for the Aéroports
de Paris, or ADP. Before the collapse, a crack appeared in
the departure lounge roof at the point where an intermediate
steel section meant to connect the exterior glass shell to
the inner concrete shell transpierced the concrete. Concrete
began to fall and the southern lateral supporting beam ruptured.
The folding of the shell brought the entire arched-section
According to the report's main expert, engineer Jean Berthier,
it had only been a question of time before the $960 million
terminal collapsed. One reason was that the steel sections
were embedded too deeply into the concrete. The report also
cited inadequate or badly positioned reinforcing within the
concrete. A lack of redundancy meant that stress was carried
to the weakest points of the structure. The horizontal concrete
beams on which the shell rested were weakened by the passage
of ventilation ducts. Finally, the exterior metal structure
was not sufficiently resistant to temperature changes. On
the morning of the collapse the temperature dropped sharply
to 4.1° C, from 25° C during the week.
Berthier would not go so far as to say that the design was
at fault. Blame will be determined by a judicial inquiry where
ADP, construction company Vinci, as well as Andreu could face
negligence and involuntary homicide charges.
The Berthier report does question whether proper technical
controls were implemented on a project where owner, project
manager and architect were essentially the same company ---
ADP. Now ADP must decide whether to raze the structure or
try and repair it. It is a decision based on cost but also
on a perceived image of security at the airport.