The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Critical faults

Rebar missing from underground garage columns at 15 LH apartment complexes

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 3, 2023 - 05:30

    • Link copied

Underground car park ceilings at many apartment complexes for which construction contracts were awarded by a state enterprise were found to be supported by columns without reinforcement bars, known as rebar.

An underground parking lot of an apartment complex under construction in Geomdan, Seo-gu, Incheon collapsed in April, and an investigation found rebar missing in 19 of its 32 parking lot columns. The missing reinforcing steel was blamed as the main cause of the accident. The construction contract for the apartment complex was granted by the government-owned Korea Land and Housing Corporation.

Prodded by the accident, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and LH inspected the 91 LH apartment complexes in which underground garages were built in the flat slab method, in which a ceiling is supported only by columns and has no beams that connect the columns.

They checked if rebar was lacking in the columns supporting the ceiling of the underground garage, and announced the results of the check this week.

Reinforcing steel was found to be missing or insufficient in 15 complexes. In one complex, none of the 154 columns had reinforcing bars.

Residents are currently living in all units at five of the apartment complexes, and people are still moving into three of the complexes. Seven of the complexes are under construction.

The problem is hard to accept. Failure to comply with related regulations irrespective of the reason endangers residents' lives and safety.

The flat slab method itself is fine if executed according to the rules. Conventionally, a ceiling is supported by columns and beams. In the flat slab architecture, the load of the slab and a structure above it is transferred directly to the columns. So columns must be reinforced with a web of steel bars to shore up the load. In a flat slab structure, reinforcing bars are a must. If they are omitted, the ceiling can collapse as in the Geomdan apartment complex parking garage.

Inspection found reinforcing bars missing in the stage of blueprints in 10 complexes. They were not installed in five other complexes despite design drawings that instruct installation.

If LH and the construction engineering & inspection firms involved had managed the architectural design and construction contractors properly while checking construction sites on the scene, such a critical defect would not have been found in so many apartment complexes. LH seems to have been negligent of management duties after awarding contracts, while the contractors and inspectors flouted rules and regulations.

Critics suspect there to be a “construction cartel” of LH employees and its retirees reemployed by companies competing to win its projects, which amount to trillions of won (billions of dollars) each year.

The non-profit Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to inspect the state corporation for alleged collusive ties between LH employees and retired LH employees in the Geomdan apartment incident. This argument is not out of the blue.

According to the civic group, which analyzed 536 private architectural design contracts with LH, 47 companies employing retired LH employees are said to have won 297 contracts (55.4 percent) worth 658.2 billion won ($508 million, 69.4 percent of the total contract amount).

Illicit construction practices are a chronic problem. In order to cut costs, contractors sometimes use less reinforcing bars and other materials than is required by the regulations and subcontract works at sharply reduced prices.

The omission of reinforcing bars may not be a problem limited to LH projects. The government is also checking all of the 293 private-sector apartments that have applied the flat slab method. Additional cases of missing rebar may be found.

The government should speed up the inspection and take reinforcement steps immediately. If reinforcing bars are found to be missing, the architectural design and construction inspection firms as well as the builders must be closely investigated to establish causes and liabilities.

The government must also figure out ways to eliminate “construction cartels.”

Apartment complexes that lack rebar in underground garage columns endanger people's lives. Such faulty work must be dealt with as a serious offense.