Wiki Team 8: Abby Schwab, Aaron Pinkett, Christine Taylor, Theodore Wilson


  • Construction collapse
  • Crossbeam
  • Formwork
  • Lateral Force
  • Diagonal Bracing Member
  • Temporary Supporting Structure
  • Shoring system


The New York Coliseum was an exhibition hall built during the 1950's in New York City. During the construction in 1955, 10,000 square feet of the main hall collapsed (Kaminetzky, 1991). Several of the crossbeams connecting the posts of the formwork did not offer enough protection against the lateral forces. The workers used the crossbeams to transport concrete around the construction site via buggies. The live load of the buggies was too heavy for the crossbeams, causing the collapse. Unfortunately, one worker was killed and fifty others were injured as a result of the collapse. Interestingly enough, the formwork was built to withstand the live loads of the workers but was not reevaluated once the buggies were introduced

Figure A: U.S. Postage stamp commemorating the Fifth Internaional Philatelic Exhibition at the New York Coliseum. Source: Public Domain


Designed by architects Leon and Lionel Levy, the New York Coliseum was built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority under the direction of city planner Robert Moses. Moses condemned the west side of the Columbus Circle after an earlier project had failed (Gray, 1992). He then got the Federal Government to pay the acquisition costs required to buy the remaining lots - old offices, tenements, and minor retail stores.
The design of the Coliseum, essentially a low rectangular exhibition space attached to a taller block of office spaces, has often been criticized for being "utterly pedestrian" and not relating at all to the curve of Columbus Circle. The Coliseum was covered with unadorned white brick and metal paneling.
Construction began in 1954 with the collapse occurring in 1955. The Coliseum was finally finished in 1956 and opened with the capacity to house six different shows simultaneously. The opening exhibits were the New York International Auto Show, the National Photographic Show, and the Fifth International Philatelic Exhibition (Gray, 1992). In 2000 the New York Coliseum was demolished in order to build the AOL Time Warner Center (Gray, 1992).

Figure B: A view of the New York Coliseum as it was in 1956. Source: Public Domain


The New York Coliseum was a concrete structure, which consisted of twenty-inch think waffle slab floor (McKaig, 1962). The form of the floor was two stories high and supported by timber shores connected to a crossbeam. However, the crossbeams did not brace against lateral instability. Later, when twelve 3,000-pound power buggies were driven across the formwork at twelve miles per hour they imposed a lateral thrust onto the deck (Purva, 2010). The lack of diagonal bracing members to transfer the lateral force caused the structure to sway and fail without warning. In essence, there was an inadequacy for the temporary supporting structure to maintain the load of the buggies under the pressure of a horizontal or oblique thrust on the main exhibition floor. The movement and sudden stopping of the buggies created this thrust. Other activities such as dumping concrete on the floor also attributed to the structural failure.


Unfortunately, this failure could have been prevented or at the very least held to minimal damage, provided that they had appropriate lateral and horizontal bracing of the temporary support structure. From this failure, we learned that shoring systems should be well braced to support lateral dynamic loads and that we should always recalculate to account for the effects of moving power carts or related modern equipment on temporary framework. As a result of the Coliseum collapse, the industry tightened formwork regulation and increased the number of proper inspection facilities on construction sites. Specifically, the district attorney made recommendations to revise the building codes about temporary formwork structures.

Despite the tragedy of the New York Coliseum collapse, formwork failures still occur on large construction projects. For example, in Japan a temporary shoring system collapsed occurred during concrete placement in 1992 (Carper, 1997). Materials from the second floor fell into a ground floor swimming pool when 800 tons of material was being transported. This resulted in seven deaths and thirteen other workers sustained injuries. Despite the precedent set by the New York Coliseum, temporary formwork is not given as much care as the actual structure, even though formwork often represents over half the cost of reinforced concrete structures. Even with all the required codes in place, formwork collapses depend on how much time and attention the construction managers spend building and inspecting the temporary formwork.


Concrete System Collapses and Failures During Construction

Tropacana Casino Parking Garage Collapse

Indian Bridge Collapse (December 2009): A bridge construction in India recently collapsed killing 30 people and trapping 20. This more modern example shows how construction collapses can occur even now if the proper attention is not given during early construction work.


Carper, Kenneth and Feld, Jacob. (1997). Construction Failure. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, NY.
This book provided information about other similar structural failures. We used an example of a Japanese construction collapse similar to the New York Coliseum to show how temporary formwork problems still can occur. <>

Delatte, Norbert J. and Rens, Kevin L. (2002). "Forensics and Case Studies in Civil Engineering Education: State of the Art." ASCE Publications.<>
This publication provides historical context and forensic engineering analysis to give a new point of view on the civil engineering failures of the New York Coliseum.

Gray, Christopher. (1992). "STREETSCAPES: THE COLISEUM; The 'Hybrid Pseudo-Modern' on Columbus Circle'". New York Times. <>
This Times article provides a brief written history on the New York Coliseum. It includes details about how the project was started and what has happened to the building since the construction finished. It also provides some criticism of the buildings utilitarian purposes and aesthetic functions.

Kaminetzky, D. (1991). Design and Construction Failures: Lessons from Forensic Investigations. McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y.
This book provides information about the technical details of the construction. Also, it provided some solutions on how to prevent similar failures.

McKaig, T. (1962). Building Failures: Case Studies in Construction and Design. McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y. 14-16.
This book provides a detailed technical look at the formwork structure that collapsed during the construction stage. As well as providing dimensioning and sizes, the book also paraphrases the official statements made about the collapse.

Purva, Gujarp. (2010). "New York Coliseum". Auburn University. "Lateral Stability of Structures." BSCI CAPSTONE. Auburn, Alabama. <>
This article talks about the injuries sustained by the workers during the construction collapse and the causes of the structural failure. It also provides a brief overview of the lessons learned from the building failure.