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Schadenfreude… and you thought you had it bad!

January 22, 2018 | By Dan Leduc

January 22, 2018 — As a construction lawyer, a large part of my practice tends to focus on projects gone wrong. You may be thinking of some of your own projects right now, asking What the hell went wrong?

Well, the Germans have a word that may help explain exactly what you may be feeling by the end of this column: schadenfreude, which is the pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune. A quick look at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) construction project should help get you thinking that—whatever your situation—it could be a lot, lot worse.

The BER had an original cost estimate of $2.98 billion CDN; current costs are pegged somewhere near $8 billion. Construction began in 2006 with an original opening date of October 2011. In fact, 10,000 guests had been invited for the opening, which was to be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel… six years later, and the airport is still not open.

The list of reasons for the delays and cost overruns is incomprehensible: for starters, a roof that was almost double the weight it should have been, automatic doors that would not close during a  re event, parking garages that began to crumble in early 2012, and missing luggage conveyors and check-in counters.


Feeling better yet? Here are some more disconcerting facts:

• In 2014, Stern Magazine reported the principal designer of the smoke extraction system and other life safety components — Alfredo di Mauro — was not, in fact, an engineer (despite claiming so on his business cards). He was an engineering draftsman. “No one asked about my university qualifications,” he confirmed on Spreeradio in 2014. “That wasn’t necessary for the work we carried out.”

• Part of the life safety system he designed included funnelling smoke underneath the airport’s walkways in one singular exhaust system, which is counterintuitive, as we all know smoke rises. The revised exhaust system calls for multiple systems controlled by more than 90 km of wiring.

There are endemic design flaws and deficient construction, including overburdened cable shafts where, in certain instances, phone lines are placed immediately next to high-voltage wiring; approximately 60 km of cooling pipe were installed with no thermal insulation (walls have to be demolished to correct it); insufficient cooling and emergency cutoffs to the entire IT system; incorrectly calculated flight paths and sound protection zones.

• The airport itself is undersized. Initially planned for 27 million passengers annually, BER will have to be expanded as soon as it opens (whenever that is!).

More recent events include:

• In October 2016, it was determined the motors that open/close windows would not operate above 30°C and needed to be changed.

• Sprinkler heads were replaced in late 2016 and early 2017 for increased water flow, but the pipes were too thin to withstand the increased water pressure. This required re-piping.

• With the limited airflow, mould is persistent throughout a building that was closed-in 10 years ago.

• On March 5, 2017, the main transformer station exploded (tinyurl.com/ybm8x8zc).

• Escalators were designed too short. Rather than order and install appropriately-sized escalators, stairs were added to address the shortfall (tinyurl.com/yae6e9rv).

The scope of this article does not permit me to go further but, trust me, there are hundreds of additional errors in design and construction. And you thought you had it bad!

Dan Leduc is a partner in the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP and practices almost exclusively in construction law. He is frequently called upon to advise and represent owners, engineers, subs, suppliers and builders in front-end services such as contract review, tender issues and general construction matters, as well as in litigation and arbitration. Always willing and able to take on new clients and mandates, Dan can be reached at dan.leduc@nortonrosefulbright.com or 613-867-7171

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Electrical Business Magazine.

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