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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

The Sampoong Department Store Collapse

Collapse of Faultily Constructed Department Store in Korea Killed Over 500

Sampoong Department Store collapse
Post-collapse photograph of the Sampoong Department Store

On June 29, 1995 a mall in Seoul, South Korea collapsed with an estimated 1,5000 people inside. In less than 20 seconds, a section of the five-story building came crashing down into the basement, killing over 500 people. 1   The collapse of the building, which was constructed using steel-reinforced concrete pillars, was blamed on faulty construction. 2  

The building had a number of structural modifications during its lifetime which contributed to the collapse. It was originally designed as an office building with four floors, and constructed in 1987. When it was later converted to a department store, support columns were cut away to accommodate escalators. The owner, Lee Joon, carried out these modifications over the objections of the original contractors, whom he fired and replaced.

A fifth floor was eventually added to house a restaurant. It involved installation of a heavy concrete slab. A heavy air conditioning unit was added to the building's roof, exceeding the design loads by a factor of four. Haphazard relocation of the air conditioning unit damaged the roof structure.

Prior to its collpase, the building showed cracking due to the overloading produced by the faultily-engineered fifth floor and air-conditioning unit placement. 3  


Sampoong Collapse Cited to Explain WTC Collapses

In response to a requests for peer review of a draft paper by physics professor Steven Jones challenging the official explanations for the collapses of the Twin Towers and Building 7 ( Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?) a civil engineer cited the Sampoong department store collapse as an example of a symmetrical structural collapse not induced by explosives. The reviewer uses the above photograph to make the following claim:

In the picture, it is easy to see that there is very little debris on the street, and note how uniform the width and depth of the debris is along the street, reinforcing the symmetry of the failure. This structure was 9 stories tall (5 above ground and 4 below). At the lower center, in the space between the beams and columns you can see how fine the rubble is. This type of debris field and limited adjacent structural damage can only exist if the collapse occurred in a highly symmetric manner.

Here the reviewer appears to make over-reaching conclusions, both on the nature of this collapse, and its comparability to the collapse of a skyscraper such as Building 7.

  • The sources of this photograph do not indicate how long after the incident it was taken, and whether much of the rubble had already been removed.
  • The Sampoong building was apparently framed with reinforced concrete, not steel columns and beams.
  • The Sampoong building was not properly engineered, and showed signs of failure before the collpase. Being a short building, it did not have to withstand wind-loading events that any skyscraper has to withstand on a regular basis.
  • The Sampoong building was not even a high-rise, let alone a skyscraper. The reviewer's assertions that the failure was symmetric, if true, would not be remotely applicable to the collapse of a skyscraper such as the three World Trade Center towers, each of which had height-to-width ratios of over five.


1. Explorer:Collapses, nationalgeographic.com, 9/13/05 [cached]
2. Collapse of Sampoong Department Store, nema.go.kr, [cached]
3. Sampoong Department Store collapse, wikipedia.org, [cached]

page last modified: 2013-03-20