In July of 1981, two elevated walkways over the lobby of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel collapsed during a party, killing 111 people and injuring 188 others.

The engineering services on this structure had been awarded on the basis of low bid, and the design professional services were limited by contract. In order to keep his fees low, and because of the “practices of the industry at the time and past dealings with the fabricator, the Engineer had specified that the detailing of the rod connections of the two walkways to the building be done by the fabricator.”

Had a properly qualified and experienced design professional carefully designed and detailed these rod assemblies, this disaster may have been averted.

A 1984 U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee report on Structural Failures in Public Facilities (House Report 98-621), stated that one of the six factors of critical importance in causing the structural failures in this particular project was the selection of architects and engineers based on bid. When such selection is generally made on a “low bid” basis, the report stated as one of its findings:

“…there is a tendency to unrealistically reduce the price when price is known to be the primary basis for the contract award…use of “low bid” procedure has frequently resulted in insufficient funds allocated to a project to adequately verify the accuracy of design and to thoroughly check plans before construction…selection of an Architect or Engineer solely on price-competition basis provides the potential for reductions in quality due to initial underestimation of the costs and resources required to adequately perform the work.”

The recommendations of that same report went on to say:

“Federal procurement practices that lead to or promote the selection of Architects and Engineers on a ‘low-bid’ basis should be changed to require…greater consideration given to prior related experience and past performance of the parties seeking the contract award.” 

This is an excerpt from an Arizona State University lecture on Ethics and Safety in Construction. Click here to view the full presentation.