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04/01 Direct Link

Read this sentence.

Okay, as you’re reading whose voice do you hear?

Is it your own voice, or someone else’s voice?

It may seem of no consequence, but trust me it is very important that you hear the correct voice when you read. Maybe you think you are hearing my voice, but trust me you have know idea what that sounds like and it wouldn’t be correct anyway.

The whole thing will change if you are listening to the wrong person.

So let’s try to construct the correct voice, the one you should be hearing as you read this story.

04/02 Direct Link

He was ordinary, in almost every imaginable way. 

In fact, it was impressive how well he fit the image of white adult male. Brian was privileged, but he didn’t know it and sitting across from me he nervously leaned back in his chair. I say this because I could see him fighting, very consciously to keep from crossing his arms and hunching his shoulders.

His voice wasn’t overly high, maybe a low tenor and a bit nasally. When he spoke he had a slight California twang to his sentences, something picked up from years of listening to bad country music. 

04/03 Direct Link

What struck me the most was his obvious lack of concern with the situation he was in.

He wasn’t nervous about the consequences, although he should’ve been. He just was upset with how we were treating him, that we were questioning him at all.

So as he sat there, nervously leaning back in his chair and talking with that nasally California twang I hated him. He was the embodiment of what I found revolting in myself.

He proved the stereotype, and with his short blond hair and company polo shirt Brian even looked the part of the privileged white male. 

04/04 Direct Link

“I’m pretty sure I know why you guy’s have me here, and trust me, I get it. I’d probably have me here too if I were in your position.” Said Brian.

“So, I kinda understand what happened, but honestly don’t know how much of a help I’ll be, because I wasn’t there at the time and didn’t spend a lot of time on the jobsite.”

“Not much time at all, really.” Finished Brian as he leaned forward and placed his open hands on the cold table that separated us.

 “Maybe you’re right, and this is just a formality.” I replied.

 

04/05 Direct Link

“It’s definitely one of those things you read about, maybe that has happened once or twice over the past decade. I haven’t personally seen it happen, but know it’s usually something that can be prevented.” He started.

“Can’t everything be prevented though?” Asked Brian, as he picked his hands up from the table.

“I guess the one I remember best was that mill in New England.”

“What mill?” I asked.

“Well, it was like four or five years ago. The floors sandwiched on each other after the central wooden beam split on the first level, causing the walls to buckle.”

04/06 Direct Link

“Oh, yea that mill had been converted into a series of lofts, but on the ground level they wanted a more open floor plan. I think it was a type of communal space.” Said Brian.

“I mean, it’s New England, there’s a lot of those buildings. And people invest in them because it’s a great platform. Big industrial looking building, usually on the outskirts of a busy area.”

“Especially in an area where there isn’t a lot of other buildable land around. “

“But, it fit well into the place, anchored to a small hill overlooking the river town. “

04/07 Direct Link

“Like I’ve said, I wasn’t there at the time, but I did see a lot of the pictures.” He started. 

“By the time this all happened, I was already working on another project, totally different from the renovation of that factory. “

“But as close as I understand, a contractor removed a load bearing wall on the lowest level and didn’t check to see if t was integral to the whole building.” He said, nervously.

 “Do you know if there were people in the building at the time?” I asked.

 “Oh, yea there were a bunch of people over there.” 

04/08 Direct Link

“Some of it was occupied the whole time.” He kind of wrinkled is eyebrows as he answered

I knew it was occupied the whole time, and he knew I knew. But, like all formalities, I was compelled to ask anyway.

“It was one of those sensitive, high pressure jobs.” He said.

“The people paying to get it done didn’t want to stop working, probably because that’s how they were paying for the project in the first place. Business,” finished Brian bluntly.

“Obviously rushing it didn’t end up being a good decision for them, but who could’ve anticipated that?” he said.

04/09 Direct Link

Until that point, Brian was answering questions honestly, as could be expected. Not one of them had the potential to implicate him, yet.

As he sat there, across the cold interview table from me, I tried to keep the process moving. I knew that the more he was able to talk through it the easier it would be for him to skate by.

I agree with him too, and would be trying to do the same thing if I was in his shoes. The problem is, I’m not in his shoes. Those shoes are responsible for at least seventeen deaths.  

04/10 Direct Link

 “I mean, what can you do in this situation.” He replied, looking me in the eye.

“Well, there’s always something to be done. To prevent something like this from happening again.” I said.

“Sure, and in that case I suppose you’d probably want to look at the regulation of load bearing walls or maybe subcontractor supervision.” He said, crossing his arms.

“But, what if we have those already in place,” I started.

“Of course, but you can’t prevent everything with rules and laws. These are buildings we’re talking about,” he said.

“Right, so obviously someone or something failed, but who?”

04/11 Direct Link

“I definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk with me Mr. Younger,” I said, politely. 

“Not that I really had a choice in the matter, but thank you.” Replied Brian.

His arms were still crossed when I informed him that we’d be going over the next round of questions. Mostly a background session on the project as a whole. See, I knew he was the one who screwed up, but I needed to prove intent.

Without intent, he’d be no more guilty than the subcontractors who stupidly removed the center walls on the first floor.

But, I needed proof. 

04/12 Direct Link

The town of Waterborough is a small town in the northeast, centered around a defunct mill. About a decade ago a developer grabbed up the building and renovated it into a collection of high-end lofts. 

A relatively straightforward project, no one really thought much of the process, or the outcome beyond the boon it was supposed to be for the sleepy town. 

If you walk along the main street you can still see one of the towers for the now raised mill looming over the river and low brick buildings. The rest of the structure collapsed shortly after the remodel.

04/13 Direct Link

It wasn’t a national headline when the mill collapsed; in fact it was barely a blip on the regional radar.

 It didn’t go unnoticed for lack of severity or anything like that though, no it was just an issue of timing. That building failed the same day that a hurricane made landfall along the gulf coast, consuming all of the nations bandwidth for tragedy.

 “So, Brian how did you hear about the mill incident from Waterborough?” I asked politely.

 “The news, and well, trade publications mostly,” he replied. “It was a big deal for people like me.”

 “That makes sense.”

04/14 Direct Link

“Can you recall the decided cause of the collapse in Waterborough?”

Shifting in his uncomfortable metal chair, Brian was looking for the right words to say.

“Not, that the a wall was removed or something. But more, how that was allowed to happen?” I asked, adding clarification to my original question.

“Oh, yea. Well, it was a lot of things really.” He replied.

“Of course, but what do you recall the most. There had to be something that sticks out.”

“You know, I’m really not sure.” He replied, obviously avoiding the subject altogether.

“Fair enough, we’ll talk about it later.”

04/15 Direct Link

“I fell like we’ve gotten off track, talking about the Mill in Waterborough.” I said getting back to my seat, after getting some water from the pitcher on the table near the door.

“That’s probably a good idea,” said Brian, sympathetically.

At that he seemed to relax a little bit, leaning back into his chair and unfolding his arms. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about Waterborough, even though it ostensibly had nothing to do with him anyway.  

“So why don’t you tell me a bit about how you got involved with the project?” I asked him calmly.

04/16 Direct Link

And at the suggestion that Brian tell me how he got involved, he comfortably dove into an implicating story about the repurposed factory and the events that led to it’s eventual collapse. Maybe he didn’t feel that he was implicating himself, but with every syllable he uttered the case became stronger.

And for the next bit of this situation I want you to recall that voice we’d worked to build at the beginning of the story.

I want you to recall that voice because that entitled white guy will be the one doing the talking for the next few chapters.

04/17 Direct Link

So, really it’s just my job to accept this type of engineering work as it comes.

 And when they told me about the renovating the old factory space, turning it into a data warehouse for Loop I didn’t like have a choice in the matter.

It’s work, you do it.

Besides, there didn’t seem to be too much for me to do on this one. I wasn’t the lead architect or anything. All I really needed to do was design all the interior spaces of the building. They didn’t want anything too grand either, just some very basic working space. 

04/18 Direct Link

The project was just like many other’s that I’ve worked on before though.

Big emphasis on speed, and low emphasis on resources.

In fact, the company was trying to cut so many corners that they even wanted to keep working in the same place.

Exactly, they wanted to be working in the factory as the renovations were going on. Probably to save money on a temporary office suite. 

Well, they were already in the building before, so the cost of moving, even for a little while.

Yea that could completely change the affordability for doing something like that at all. 

04/19 Direct Link

I remember my first day on the project, walking through the in use office.

 I started right from the beginning, so at that point, it was simply a poorly organized mess of an office. Data cables everywhere, no good lighting and a lot of dead space. It was habitable, but not showy.

Not even ironically showy, I’d say that.

Because it was a cold storage and packaging plant, the area was very subdivided, which is exactly what they were trying to change. Loop is one of those new companies, looking for alternatives to closed office space.

 Collaborative, just not wise. 

04/20 Direct Link

Have I done a lot of renovations like this?

Yea, probably.

I mean I work over here right, and that’s all the rage. Maybe not as bad on the east coast, where ‘historic mill’s’ are everywhere, but still.

From the start this project didn’t seem to special to me either and honestly, aside from the collapse it still doesn’t seem to remarkable.

Let me clear this up though, most companies wouldn’t have that many people still in the office during the renovation. That was a little challenging, but I understand why they did it.

Completely understand it.

Money is everything.
04/21 Direct Link

When did I know it was going to be a fucked up job?

Right after my boss said, “just get it done.” After I protested that I didn’t have time to research the county code requirements. Granted I didn’t put anything together what would even remotely endanger people, but at that point I knew.

Once I got the drawing ready, I sent it to him asking for feedback.

Didn’t get any though.

“Did you get those drawings done, send them to me,” was his only reply.

That was the week after I had already sent them to him for review. 

04/22 Direct Link

Well, no I didn’t really ever find out what the code was for those walls. But that’s fine, I drew them to be well above the code, whatever it is.

By then though, it didn’t matter.

We were so rushed that we slowed down, but not in a good way.

Like I’ve said, it took my boss a whole week to forget I had actually already sent the drawings he needed. Which is when he asked for them again.

Something stupid like that, as dumb as this sounds, makes the job completely unmanageable.

Like a kid way behind on homework. 

04/23 Direct Link

I remember the space pretty well, and all of the people who were working over it too.

 “Don’t get lost in the maze,” everyone said as I walked through the narrow corridors on the ground floor.

 The exterior walls were all steel reinforced brick, really strong stuff. But interior most of the walls were simple partitions, more insulation than anything else.

 However, there was two load bearing walls that ran horizontally across the entire east portion of the building. They looked similar to the other walls and were just as much in the way.

 But those ones were actually important. 

04/24 Direct Link

No, you’re right and wasn’t just us who were rushing on the job.

The contractors were too, and just wanted to get it done.

Under bid and over stretched, that’s what they were. That’s exactly why I didn’t feel too bad about poor drawings, I knew they weren’t going to pay attention anyway.

Who would? They knew the job, had done it before.

All they really needed was permission to do what they were going to do anyway.

Right?

So that’s exactly what we, what I gave them. A  basic drawing that showed exactly what they were contracted to do. 

04/25 Direct Link

I’m not one-hundred percent sure, because like I’ve said I was already on another project by that time, but I think I know why it came down.

 Sometimes there’s a sequence for removing walls, especially structural walls, when renovating a building.

 Gotta’ make sure the whole thing doesn’t come down with some wall you thought was only a partition. Because once it starts, that’s just how it’s going to be.

 Anyway, the goal was to clear out the narrow spaces on the ground floor, to open it up more.

 I’m thinking they just went to town down there, removing walls.

04/26 Direct Link

How many people?

 Oh, I’m not sure.

 But too many, to say the least.

 Like I’ve said, I do remember the people over there, especially working above the ground floor. They got it the worst.

Again, one of the challenges, but my boss didn’t seem to care and neither did the contractors or the customer. What was the risk, I’m thinking they thought.

 That sort of thing happens in other places, other countries without building codes. Not in this country and definitely not on the west coast.

 So they kept the people working in the building during the whole project. 

04/27 Direct Link

The fluorescent lights hummed quietly as Brian continued to tell his story, how this was all unpreventable.

“Who reviewed the drawings before you gave them over?” I asked smartly. 

“Um, well probably the contractors and my boss.” Replied Brian.

I jotted the sentence down on the paper, the first thing I’d written during the whole interview.

“Did your boss always read drawings?” I asked.

“Not always, but most of the time,” he said.

I let him hang on that sentence for a while before saying, “So it’s not a rule that you get stuff double checked then?”

“I guess not.”

04/28 Direct Link

Do I ever go back and look at my work?

Once it’s completed? Not usually.

That’s probably because looking at several walls inside of a much larger structure is not very interesting. Especially after you’ve done so many of these projects. They all really blend together. Maybe I did that years ago, but not anymore.

And were it not for the collapse, this project definitely wasn’t anything special or to be remembered. Just another renovated old factory.

Really, aside from the collapse, there isn’t anything to separate this project from the previous one.

And even that might not last forever.

04/29 Direct Link

I backed away from the table a little bit, watching Brian as he finished talking about some of his other work, and his feelings towards the buildings 

“But, how do you know a project worked out?” I asked.

“I don’t, and to be honest I don’t care either.” He replied.

I kind of gasped, leaving room for him to add to the statement.

“Really, if the money is in the bank I’ve done my job. I mean, I can’t build the wall and I don’t have any attachment to the project.” Brian said curtly.

“So you’re indifferent?” I asked him.
04/30 Direct Link

I don’t know if indifferent was the right word, but it worked.

“Yep, that’s a fair statement.’ Brian said, responding to my question.

Although I don’t know if indifference is a crime, I do know that negligence can be treated a differently. And in a business where you are designing things that could kill, I don’t know where to draw the line.

What am I trying to prove anyway?

“Were you surprised to hear what happened?” I asked.

“Sure, especially that I was being called to talk to you.” Brian replied.

But not as surprised as people in the building.