Opinion: What Caused the Collapse of Champlain Towers South in Florida?

Photo: Still from security camera footage shows moment Champlain Towers collapsed.

By Jakob Stein

In the early hours of June 24, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Florida, experienced a partial collapse which, at the time of publication, has left 18 people dead and another 145 still unaccounted for. While authorities have launched numerous investigations into the cause of the building failure, and the monopoly media has scrambled to find some party to blame, the guilt for this senseless tragedy lies firmly at the feet of the capitalist system.

Early Thursday morning, exactly one week after the collapse, officials made the call to suspend the search-and-rescue operation due to concerns that the remains of the building that were still standing may also give way as first responders worked below. The only survivors rescued from the building were found within hours of the initial collapse—since then, only 18 bodies have been recovered, and the odds of finding any remaining survivors are extremely low.

In the wake of the tragedy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, established after 9/11 to lead technical inquiries into building failures that result in substantial loss of life, along with other State agencies, has begun investigations into the cause of the tragedy. Several theories have been reported by ruling-class news outlets, the most notable of which is that the underground parking garage was the first to give way as debris and water flooded in from the swimming pool deck above. Once a portion of these bottom floors failed, the floors above followed suit, leaving behind a scene of absolute devastation.

A video taken less than ten minutes before the building gave way shows water pouring into the parking garage, which corroborates statements given by other witnesses.

As part of the building’s 40-year certification in 2018, a report produced by the structural engineering firm Morabito Consultants found instances of cracking and splitting in the concrete columns, walls, and beams, as well as exposed and deteriorating rebar, resulting in “major structural damage.” The report also mentioned a “major error” in the waterproofing below the pool deck, which allowed water to accumulate on the deck until it evaporated. The findings showed that the building needed $15 million in repairs—condo owners were set to begin payments on the assessment just one week after the collapse.

Numerous articles have circulated across monopoly media outlets over the past week questioning whether the blame lies with the building’s architects, the developers who built it, the condominium association that failed to heed residents’ complaints about leaking water, or the municipal and county governments that knew about building issues but did not take action. In the final analysis, it is the capitalist system which ultimately allowed for these problems to exist in the first place and remain unremedied.

Champlain Towers South was originally constructed in 1981—it was the first of its kind to be built in the area since Miami-Dade County banned new construction in the 1970s. At that time, Surfside was in the midst of serious financial problems and also had issues with its sewage and water systems until the Champlain developers paid the municipal government $200,000 for a new sewage system, thereby securing permission for construction.

The 136-unit building stood alongside two nearly-identical buildings, Champlain Towers East and North, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Beachfront property is a lucrative business, as the finite availability of shorefront real estate lends itself to luxury developments for high-occupancy hotels and condominiums. In the case of Champlain Towers South, units could cost upwards of $1 million.

Rigorous procedures to guarantee the safety and structural integrity of these developments ought to be of paramount importance, as the coastal location exposes buildings to the corrosive effects of salt in the water and air, as well as devastating and frequent hurricanes in the case of South Florida.

In capitalism, these vulnerabilities, along with the developers’ need to maximize profits, create a contradiction in which the builders must weigh their responsibility to protect residents’ safety against the financial necessity of realizing as much profit as possible. While they may be forced to mostly comply with certain building codes, their utmost priority is to protect the profitability of their investment—leading to poor decisions, half-measures, and compromises when it comes to safety.

While the responsibility for the building’s planning and construction lies with architects and developers, both the local government and the condominium association that runs the complex failed to take action when made aware of these issues before the catastrophic building failure. There have been several now-public complaints that point to water leaks and other structural issues in the parking garage in the years leading up to the collapse.

All of these issues point to a fatal flaw of capitalism: its prioritization of short-term gain over long-term planning. Housing developments based on profitability rather than resident well-being, the diffused responsibility of individual private ownership, and a bureaucratic government system all contributed to this terrible loss of life. Housing is a basic human necessity, and society cannot leave it in the hands of those who only have their private interests in mind.

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