Integrity, Engineers & Structural Design

By Janet Walgren
One of the top instructors where I work graduated from one of the top universities for architectural engineering. Then, he got a job as an architect at one of the top five architectural firms in North America. The firm has designed some of the tallest skyscrapers in North America. The job didn’t last long because he refused to design substandard buildings that would fail after the warranty expired. His employer told him that they had purchased his time, talents and signature and that he would do what he was told to do and keep his mouth shut, and if he left the firm he would never get another job as an architect again. He had invested years and thousands of dollars to prepare for his lifelong dream, but he quit anyway. And, now he has become a multi-millionaire as a real estate investor.

I find his story refreshing when I consider his personal integrity; I find it alarming in that I know that skyscrapers have been deliberately designed to fail after the warranty expires. I wish I had a list of those buildings and their expiration dates. Lives are at risk.

Well this is an alarming story, but what about the other devices manufactured by man that are designed to fail when the warranty expires? Cars are well know for the trait so those who can afford it trade them in before the warranty runs out. Those who can’t afford it pay the repair bills after buying someone elses problem. Then there are the little things that break almost as soon as you buy them. As consumers, we should be outraged!

We would be outraged if someone watered down the milk or gas or other liquid commodities that we consume every day so why are we so placid and apathetic about addressing the issue of watered down structural designs? My water heater just broke. The two year warranty just expired. The replacement will cost over $500. The manufacturer said it was just one of those fluke things associated with that model. I disagree. When someone deliberately designs something that should last about ten years but will only last two years and a few months, they are robbers, criminals, thieves without integrity.

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