The surprising tragedy that this week had as its epicenter the Champlain Towers residential building in Miami is seen from a distance on the Atlantic Coast although it does not stop bringing back bad memories. On more than one occasion, some Buenos Aires tourist cities have made headlines for the landslides of buildings that caused deaths and that, over the years, reinstated the debate over the state of construction.
Mar del Plata and Villa Gesell are witnesses of the most serious and recent cases. In “La Feliz”, the last fatal episode dates from July 31, 2020, when María Gómez, 48, lost her life when she suffered the impact on the head of a small piece of coating while walking with her two children – -which were miraculously saved and did not even suffer injuries- in the area of Colón and Arenales, a few meters from La Rambla.
In February, March and May 2021 there were three incidents of this nature. There were no victims but the most worrying situation, and which was recorded by the cameras of the Operations and Monitoring Center (COM), was the one that unfolded on May 14. At that dawn the poster and the cantilever of a pharmacy in Fortunato de la Plaza and Talcahuano, an area very crowded by the people of Mar del Plata, fell.
But the antecedent that aroused the greatest commotion in Mar del Plata and the country occurred two summers ago: on December 29, 2018, Agustina Ferro, 35, and her daughter India Luzardi, 3, were walking through the commercial area of Punta Mogotes. until, in a few seconds, three balconies on the corner of Puán and Acevedo collapsed on them. Nothing could be done to save them. And at the height of the following season, Villa Gesell reported a very similar event: on January 5, 2020, three balconies of the apartments of the GufiYiyo building fell off, located on Costanera Avenue, a few meters away. from 301 Street. Fortunately, on that occasion, the end was different and there were no injuries.
“It is a wake-up call for everyone see how it collapses the way a building did in a seismic, maritime, hurricane and cyclone zone, which has a degree of safety at the time of construction. Of course, the Miami issue can be addressed to different particular issues, but it should be seen as a wake-up call and puts us in a state of sensitivity for what we are already experiencing ”, he acknowledges. Page 12 Nicolás Valdez, Gesellino director of Inspection of private buildings and public spaces.
The management that Valdez leads is only two years old: it was born precisely because of the concern generated by the incident in GufiYiyo. The district had since 2002 ordinance 1847/02 but the problem is that it had never regulated it, so there were no municipal controls. Since the mayor of the Frente de Todos Gustavo Barrera got to work and created the area, 844 notifications have been made to properties, six fines have been applied and four multifamily buildings have been closed. “Here the application of the regulatory framework is very new but it is giving good results,” he highlights.
Gesell’s ordinance is a “faithful copy”, in the official’s own words, of ordinance 12.562 / 97 that has been in force since 1997 in Mar del Plata, and which requires those responsible for buildings over ten meters high and with more than ten years of antiquity present reports that are updated every three years. “The responsibility falls on the professionals who sign the reports and do the work and on each of the consortium owners”, clarifies the Mar del Plata Secretary of Works and Planning, Jorge González.
However, since the Mogotes tragedy there have also been regulatory movements. The first step was taken by former mayor Carlos Arroyo with a decree that established that the owners of buildings with more than two floors and with more than five years must report on the state of conservation of their structures. And in December 2020 – on the second anniversary of the collapse in the south – the Deliberative Council approved a more comprehensive project promoted by the Frente de Todos bloc that became known under the slogan “Safe Buildings”.
Virginia Sívori was the councilor who shaped the ordinance, which includes, among other aspects, the development of an app to open a link channel between registered owners, administrators, professionals or technicians and the municipality, with the aim of keeping updated the maintenance certifications of the buildings and their equipment. To date, it has not been put into practice but Guillermo Montenegro’s official promised, in consultation with this medium, that “in the next few days it will be underway.”
By sharing his analysis of the problem, González does not convey the same tone of concern as the Gesellino director and remarks that the local antecedents are “totally different” compared to Miami’s structural collapse. “In Mar del Plata there is a very different foundation ground, a very different construction from a technological point of view, and important legislation that is also very different,” he says.
Eduardo Agüero, the president of the District IX College of Architects, supports this view although he acknowledges that “you don’t need a great collapse to have to regret a human life”. “Since the ordinance is implemented, the degree of general conservation is quite good. What can be seen is a lack of control of the municipality because the area in charge was running out of personnel and technology, and sometimes it seems that if the intimations are not made, the system unfortunately does not work, “he says.
For this reason, the Buenos Aires College of Engineers defends Villa Gesell’s position and ensures that “A case similar to that of Miami could be repeated on our Buenos Aires coast” as a result of the “large number of buildings that need a strong periodic maintenance control” in the seaside towns. In the entity led by Norberto Beliera, they recall that the constructions require “the approval of the structural calculations by the municipalities that they are the ones who have the power of the police “but they point out that” in many cases they lack properly trained professionals to carry out this task. “
Saltpeter, the “aggressive” conditioning factor that always worries
It is clear that it is not the same to think of a construction in San Juan, where seismic activity is recurrent year after year, than in any town in the Atlantic Coast. Each city has its peculiarities. And due to its proximity to the sea, the main precaution to consider within the southeast of Buenos Aires is related to the amount of saltpeter that circulates in the air due to the impact on the corrosion of various materials.
The salinity level that Mar del Plata presents is reflected with the wear suffered by the metallic structures of the coastal sector. Despite using galvanized iron and other processes that extend life, traffic lights, lighting columns, and billboards usually last half the time in Capital or any other part of the country due to exposure to moisture. “The salty air generated by proximity to the sea is the most serious because it generates corrosion in the steel. Steel, when corroding, increases its volume and that breaks everything that is around. This way, the concrete can explode or there can be detachment of the plaster, which is what is normally seen ”, explains Agüero.
Another factor to take into account in constructions near the coast are the wind and the type of soil. “The structures are calculated from a certain proportion between the base and the height, and that’s where the calculation of the wind comes in. The coastal area is characterized by having a strong wind but in general what we do have is very good soil for foundation ”, highlights the architect, and insists:“ The problem is mainly due to the climate. We have a very aggressive climate if we compare ourselves with other places, such as the coast of Chile ”.
The professional also warns that the new plaster materials that are marketed in the industry “are not giving good results either” to face the particular climatic variables of Mar del Plata and the region. “The old process was to make the waterproof coating, the thick plaster, the thin plaster, and then the paint. Now products have started coming that skip three or four steps in one and perhaps in La Pampa or in Buenos Aires they are doing well but here they have generated a lot of plaster detachments ”, he points out.
Valdez, in this sense, refers to the great age of some Gesell homes and the differences that construction presents in relation to the newer buildings. “Our party is 89 years old and there are 88-year-old buildings. Many buildings, the oldest ones, are built with local sand and perhaps there the hygiene process to remove the saltpeter was not respected, or water was used that perhaps was not drinkable. , and all this generates a chemistry different from what can be found today, “he says.
The different voices agree on the need to expand the regulations in force so that there is more strict maintenance and tragedies are prevented. “If we want to avoid structural problems in older buildings, nothing that is done today as a control would prevent it”, Warns Virginia Sívori, the Mar del Plata councilor for the Frente de Todos, and adds:“ The reports that are required now are still semi-superficial things. It is necessary to see more structure, especially in coastal cities, because there are things that do not come to light if a thorough X-ray is not done ”.
The Secretary of Works of General Pueyrredon also emphasizes the conscience and the importance of “taking extreme care” to avoid accidents. “Despite everything that disrupted the pandemic, we are working to make the task easier, not only from the work point of view but also from the economic point of view, so that the consortiums carry out the maintenance that needs to be done. And no There is no doubt that we must continue trying to perfect the regulations so that we not only have the controls that we have today but that in the future there will be more and better ones “, confirms González.
The Gesell official considers that the current ordinance “urgently needs to be updated” and points to criticism of the opposition (in this case, the Juntos por el Cambio bloc) for refusing to deal with a modification that promotes Barrera’s administration. “We intend to have a code that allows us, in a single appendix, to find the regulations that make not only the safety of the construction material but also fire protection, electrical risk, the maintenance of lifts and what concerns a multi-family home ”, Valdez raises, and concludes:“ This is an urgent need to attend to. It is not about sumptuous or aesthetic things but about guaranteeing a safe match ”.