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
So let’s try to construct the correct voice, the one you
should be hearing as you read this story.
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.
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.
“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
“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.
“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.”
“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. “
“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,
“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.”
“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.
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
“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
“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?”
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.
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.
It wasn’t a national
headline when the mill collapsed; in fact it was barely a blip on the regional
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
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.
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.
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
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.
The project was just like many other’s that I’ve worked on
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.
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.
Have I done a lot of renovations like this?
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
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
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.
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
Didn’t get any though.
“Did you get those drawings done, send them to me,” was his
That was the week after I had already sent them to him for
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
By then though, it didn’t matter.
We were so rushed that we slowed down, but not in a good
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
Something stupid like that, as dumb as this sounds, makes
the job completely unmanageable.
Like a kid way behind on homework.
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.
No, you’re right and wasn’t just us who were rushing on the
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.
So that’s exactly what we, what I gave them. A basic drawing that showed exactly what they
were contracted to do.
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
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
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
So they kept the people working in the building during the
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
“Um, well probably the contractors and my boss.” Replied
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.”
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
Really, aside from the collapse, there isn’t anything to
separate this project from the previous one.
And even that might not last forever.
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
“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
“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.
I don’t know if indifferent was the right word, but it
“Yep, that’s a fair statement.’ Brian said, responding to my
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.”
But not as surprised as people in the building.