Today, January 18th, is the 43rd anniversary of the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. It was an engineering disaster that could have been much, much, worse.
In 1972, construction began on the Hartford Civic Center. The 10,507 capacity stadium was built to be the new home of the WHA hockey team the New England Whalers and local college hockey and basketball teams. The Civic Center was one of the first major buildings to be designed and tested by a computer program. The roof structure consisted of pyramidal “space” trusses supported by four columns designed to provide an unobstructed view for all spectators. Although the contractors and engineers started to notice all sorts of structural problems in the design, in order to save time and money, almost nothing was done to address the concerns. In January 1975 the Hartford Civic Center opened to the public
Then on January 18th 1978 a heavy wet snowstorm had been gripping the city for days. At around 4:15am, hours after thousands of fans watched the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team defeat rivals the UMass Minutemen, the roof of the stadium failed; crashing about a hundred feet into the 10,000 seats below. Thankfully no one was injured. Two workers were in the building at the time, but were not near the wreckage
Initially the collapse was blamed solely on the snowfall, but further investigations found the roof had been already began to critically fail during its construction. Large deformations were already showing in the roof, signifying that the trusses and columns were heavily overloaded. The deformations were a warning sign that the structure was not behaving as the computer model had predicted and were already on the verge of collapse. Because of the lack of peer-review, warnings went unheeded by almost all involved with the construction. It was not a case of if the roof would collapse, but when.
While the Civic Center was being rebuilt the New England Whalers had to temporarily relocate to nearby Springfield, MA. On February 6th 1980 the Whalers, who had by then joined the NHL and rechristened the Hartford Whalers, returned triumphantly to the rebuilt Civic Center; beating the Los Angeles Kings 7-3.
Within six years after the collapse, after the investigations into the failure were complete, all of the parties responsible had reached out-of-court settlements. Essentially getting off with little to no responsibility for a disaster that could have potentially killed 10,000 people
Though the Hartford Whalers are long gone the stadium, now named the XL Center, is still in use; mainly as the home of the AHL hockey team the Hartford Wolf Pack UConn Huskies basketball and hockey teams