Designer visits site of terminal collapse

Architect talks with team investigating fatal roof fall


PARIS - The French architect who designed the futuristic terminal building that partly collapsed at Charles de Gaulle International Airport here Sunday visited the site yesterday as airport officials said the damaged terminal could remain closed for up to a year.

Paul Andreu, who perhaps more than any other architect has set the standard for how airport terminals are designed today, went directly from an airplane that had carried him from Beijing to a meeting with investigators trying to determine the cause of the accident.

The collapse of a section of the roof killed four people, injured three and dealt a heavy blow to the airport's finances. Transport Minister Gilles de Robien demanded yesterday that investigators present an initial report in June.

Andreu, 65, did not speak to reporters. But as attention focused on the columns that supported the elliptical concrete shell of the terminal, experts suggested that the collapse was more likely caused by construction errors than by the design.

Hubert Fontanel, the airport's director of operations, confirmed earlier reports that cracks several millimeters wide had appeared in some columns during the early stages of construction. Engineers reinforced those columns with carbon fiber, he said, and the placement of the columns was revised to fix the problem. He said those columns were on a different section of the terminal than the one that collapsed Sunday.

But Fontanel said temporary props would be installed on a section of the terminal building that is the mirror image of the section that collapsed. The supports are intended to protect the intact section so that investigators can study it safely, he said. Both areas differ from the rest of the terminal: they were built with access points to three boarding walkways.

Several engineers familiar with the building say investigators are likely to consider whether the additional load of those walkways could have played a role in the collapse or whether the tendency of the base of the concrete shell to spread as it settled during the past year could have affected the shell's connection to the supporting columns.

"It's at points of contact where two systems are fitting together that human error occurs," said Henry Bardsley, a structural engineer in Paris. "That's one of the consequences of specialization in collaborating teams of the work of a large project."

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