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ARCOM Conferences

34th Annual Conference – Belfast, UK
3-5 September 2018

Track 1: Failure and Learning from Failure

Lead: Simon Smith, University of Edinburgh (simon.smith@ed.ac.uk)

The impacts of failure of any part of the built environment can vary considerably depending on the nature of the failure and the nature of that which is failed. A catastrophic failure of a critical infrastructure asset such as roads, rail, power stations, water treatment works etc. may have significant societal impacts, whereas shortcomings in the material properties of domestic housing may have more limited effects.

In terms of a construction project, failure can occur at multiple stages. Petroski hypothesises that, to an engineer, “without failure” means “structural soundness”(Petroski, 1982). However, this is not the only mode of failure and measuring failure is particularly tricky as it is akin to measuring a negative. Perhaps the simplest way to define failure is by proposing it as the lack of success and considering measures of success. A construction project could be considered a success if it achieves its aim of creating a stable, fit-for-purpose structure within a certain timescale and budget with a good health and safety record. Therefore, the inverse of this would be a failure of any one of these factors, or a combination.

This track seeks to explore a number of aspects about failure, for instance:

Theoretical, empirical or case study papers that consider the nature of failure and explore its role in the development of the built environment are welcome.


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