In 1977, architects realized that Manhattan's Citicorp Tower could be brought down by a high wind

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Seems like a good spot to point out the difference between a structural engineer and an architect.. William LeMessurier was the structural engineer responsible for the problem. Hugh Stubbins was the architect, a role comparatively aesthetic in context.

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I didn’t care if it could fall down, I had to walk past the construction site to get to the short lived Federation Trading Post on the next block. In 1978 I played my first arcade video game there: Space War.


And the problem was discovered by an architecture student, Diane Hartley, and her professor. Because of a design change in how the support structures were fastened, a stable structure became vulnerable. No note on who changed the original call for welds to bolts.


The mistake was going with the architecture firm of Pig & Pig, rather than budgeting the extra expense of hiring Third Pig, LLC.


What if Bad Guys find out about this? /s

I took some courses in architectural engineering in school, and found it to be a nice compromise between the two disciplines. Of course, I only took enough of it to see how easy it can be for everything to go terribly wrong, and to appreciate those with the skill to overcome those problems before they occur.

There was a good episode of 99% Invisible which told the whole story of the Citicorp Tower, back in 2014. I’d known the basics of the story from an old TV documentary, included in the link below, but hadn’t known about Diane Hartley’s role before I listened to this:

Structural Integrity at 99% Invisible


Usually, the engineers make it work and the architects get the credits.

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“just so you know, all the real work is done by an engineer”
-an engineer


Futility closet seems to specialize in stories about ambiguous data, seperating fact from fiction, trying to get it right when there’s just not enough Information to go on.

Which makes this story particularly moving: one guy has all the hard information in black and white, and he makes exactly the right call. And gets unconditional support from all the other players. Kind of amazing that no other player decided to be a dick about it!

Anthropomorphic climate change is going to kill a lot more people than the tower collapse would have. The math is just as compelling. But the scale, and not having a clear line of responsibility, seems to evoke exactly the opposite kind of crisis response.

I think we are really going to need more stories like this in the months and years ahead.

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I saw a PBS documentary about this and they were still retrofitting the fix when a hurricane hit. Thankfully they had done enough and it remained standing.

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