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The Design Flaw That Almost Wiped Out an NYC Skyscraper 183

Posted by timothy
from the let's-not-blow-this-out-of-proportion dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Joel Werner writes in Slate that when Citicorp Center was built in 1977 it was, at 59 stories, the seventh-tallest building in the world but no one figured out until after it was built that although the chief structural engineer, William LeMessurier, had properly accounted for perpendicular winds, the building was particularly vulnerable to quartering winds — in part due to cost-saving changes made to the original plan by the contractor. "According to LeMessurier, in 1978 an undergraduate architecture student contacted him with a bold claim about LeMessurier's building: that Citicorp Center could blow over in the wind," writes Werner. "LeMessurier realized that a major storm could cause a blackout and render the tuned mass damper inoperable. Without the tuned mass damper, LeMessurier calculated that a storm powerful enough to take out the building hit New York every 16 years." In other words, for every year Citicorp Center was standing, there was about a 1-in-16 chance that it would collapse." (Read on for more.)
Pickens continues: "LeMessurier and his team worked with Citicorp to coordinate emergency repairs. With the help of the NYPD, they worked out an evacuation plan spanning a 10-block radius. They had 2,500 Red Cross volunteers on standby, and three different weather services employed 24/7 to keep an eye on potential windstorms. Work began immediately, and continued around the clock for three months. Welders worked all night and quit at daybreak, just as the building occupants returned to work. But all of this happened in secret, even as Hurricane Ella, the strongest hurricane on record in Canadian waters, was racing up the eastern seaboard. The hurricane became stationary for about 24 hours, and later turned to the northeast away from the coast. Hurricane Ella never made landfall. And so the public—including the building's occupants—were never notified.

Until his death in 2007, LeMessurier talked about the summer of 1978 to his classes at Harvard. The tale, as he told it, is by turns painful, self-deprecating, and self-dramatizing--an engineer who did the right thing. But it also speaks to the larger question of how professional people should behave. "You have a social obligation," LeMessurier reminded his students. "In return for getting a license and being regarded with respect, you're supposed to be self-sacrificing and look beyond the interests of yourself and your client to society as a whole.""
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The Design Flaw That Almost Wiped Out an NYC Skyscraper

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  • Nuh-uh! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @10:52AM (#46794505) Journal
    "In return for getting a license and being regarded with respect, you're supposed to be self-sacrificing and look beyond the interests of yourself and your client to society as a whole."

    No way! This is America! You're supposed to extract as much wealth as you can for yourself! Society as a whole doesn't exist!

    So what if the building blows over and kills thousands - I guess we won't buy another building from those guys will we! The market takes care of that sort of thing - it's like magic!

    HW

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:30AM (#46794673)

      Yes, it does, pretty well. I've used a PE (Professional Engineer) for exactly that reason - they "sell" trustworthiness, objectivity. The person I bought my house from and I paid the PE precisely because we know they sell the truth, rather than telling either of us what we want to hear.

      That's the same thing CPAs sell - the market pays Price Waterhouse Coopers to find the truth, rather than skewing things.

      • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:04PM (#46794865)

        Yeah, I remember how well that worked in the 90's

        Remember when Arther Anderson stood up to Enron and refused to sign their books. And in turn sacrificed the lucrative consulting contracts with Enron for only CPA fees.

        As opposed to simply adding a footnote disavowing the report before signing it anyway.

        • by Shinobi (19308)

          Why look there only?

          Look at all the software hiding behind various licenses that include clauses to try and escape responsibility?

          Many EULA's from corps such as Microsoft and Adobe for example. Then there's Open Source licenses such as GPL and BSD.

          That's actually an interesting engineering ethics issue: Can you, as a licensed software engineer, in good conscience release software under any license with such clauses, without totally violating your responsibilities and duties as an engineer?

          My personal take o

          • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:31PM (#46795333)

            What jurisdiction do you live in that actually licenses software engineers?

            • Many states in the US now license software engineers because the national organization now has criteria. A problem is that you need sign-off from an existing PE who knows your work, so there is a bootstrapping problem. A new software PE has to be approved by an existing PE, but there are virtually no existing software PEs to approve the first generation.

              Of course, it's always been possible to work under the same ethical guidelines voluntarily. More than once I've told a client I won't do something because

              • by fliptout (9217)

                This is less of an issue than you make it out to be. I got my PE license with the computer engineering test, and I'd happily sign off on somebody taking the software engineering exam. I would have taken the software engineering PE exam, except it was not offered in my stated at the time (Texas). Coincidentally, Texas was the first to offer that exam.

                • I called the Texas licensing board asking how this is supposed to work and the person who answered pretty much said "yeah, you're screwed, unless you've been working as some other type of engineer".

                  I'd really like to talk to you about just how you went about getting licensed, and under what conditions you'd sign off on someone else. If you're nearby, maybe I can buy you lunch sometime. I can be reached at deepmagicbeginshere AT gmail.

          • by russotto (537200)

            That's actually an interesting engineering ethics issue: Can you, as a licensed software engineer, in good conscience release software under any license with such clauses, without totally violating your responsibilities and duties as an engineer?

            Why not? As long as you explicitly note that you are NOT guaranteeing it under your engineering license, and you aren't providing it under conditions where signed-off software would be required, why would it be unethical?

            Ethics -- in general, not in the sense of a

          • Can you, as a licensed software engineer, in good conscience release software under any license with such clauses, without totally violating your responsibilities and duties as an engineer?

            I have an engineering degree, but am not a "professional engineer". I've worked for over a decade on proprietary embedded projects based largely on open-source software.

            We generally write good code (though there will always be known issues) and we provide extensive support for our products, and charge accordingly.

            On the other hand, we also contribute features and bugfixes back to the upstream open-source projects.

            I don't see a conflict.

        • Arthur Anderson was a 100-year old brand worth $9.3 billion. Because they violated the public trust, they are now worth about $0. The company still exists, but noone will buy from them.

          Sony, on the other hand, is still selling electronics after rooting their customers' computers wholesale. Electronics company does something unethical - they have a PR problem for a few months. CPA does something unethical - the market executed them.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Yeah, I paid a PE to review a deck design. I threw out his plans and re-designed it myself. About 2 weeks after that, a similar deck to what the PE designed failed, injuring 20. My deck is still standing strong. Like this article, the regs counted on one strength measure, ignoring all others (quartering winds ignored in regulation, because a traditional building is strongest against them). So they built it to the regulations, but the regulations were flawed. Same with me. The deck materials would sup
        • > Yeah, those CPAs auditing Enron did a bang-up job of it, didn't they?

          The 100-year old firm that audited Enron was worth over nine BILLION dollars at the time. It's now worth a few thousand, because nobody will ever hire them. The market executed them.

          Compare Sony and their root kit.

          • by Jeremi (14640)

            The 100-year old firm that audited Enron was worth over nine BILLION dollars at the time. It's now worth a few thousand, because nobody will ever hire them. The market executed them.

            A system that makes sure a failure doesn't occur a second time is better than nothing, but it's not as good as a system that makes sure the first failure doesn't happen. (Whether it's "good enough" depends on how acceptable it is to suffer that first failure)

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      The insurance premium on that building must have been astronomical until it was fixed!

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      You ignore the fact that he can be held criminally liable. Let a skyscraper fall and you're talking casualties in the 5 digit range. There is no way to stop that avalanche of outrage. In fact, I'd be surprised if the engineer didn't have to be taken into protective custody for his own safety. The people responsible for building safety will catch hell too. Catastrophic destruction gets catastrophic response.

      • by Megane (129182)

        Example: Hyatt Regency walkway collapse [wikipedia.org]

        The contractor made changes to save money. Only in this case they got the PE to sign off on their changes without evaluating them.

        • by amiga3D (567632)

          Only 114 dead. Compared to a falling skyscraper it's nothing. Bad but not bad enough to generate the hysteria neccessary for a lynching.

    • Yeah same as the GM engineers who didn't 'call out' their company for their shitty ignition switch, or Toyota engineers for their shitty firmware. If they did their job any better strictly for their companies, they would have killed off all their market.
    • You left out the bail-outs for the city and the insurance companies that would not cover the disaster because, well, because, such a scenario was not in the fine print.

      Yepper.

      Pure fucking magic!

  • That sounds familiar. Wasn't there an episode of Numb3rs based on that?

  • by Albert Schueller (143949) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @10:58AM (#46794533) Homepage

    It's not clear at all to me why the OP or the editors wouldn't at least mention that this information is taken nearly word-for-word from the really excellent weekly podcast 99% Invisible, so I'm making this comment to get it on the record. Also, here's a gratuitous link to the podcast: http://99percentinvisible.org/ and the episode: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/structural-integrity/

  • It's interesting to consider that the contractors were able to keep this secret despite its news value. This may challenge those who are against conspiracy theorists: 'The story you're telling would come out'. The Snowden revelations have shown that many hints WERE accurate - but some strongly underestimated what the NSA was up to. Conspiracy theorist 1, others 0 on this one...
    • by frinsore (153020) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:33AM (#46794681)
      If you read the damninteresting.com article in the expanded summary it mentions that no one knew about it because there was a press strike. Wikipedia confirms [wikipedia.org] that all 3 major New York City newspapers were on strike while the building was being repaired.

      The repairs were only "secret" because no one was asking questions about it.
      • So all the newspapers of the USA were closed and no TV stations were broadcasting news? Certainly today it would make a strong story - after all we're resurrecting it after all these years; I'm dubious that the fact that the newspapers of New York were shut would be a such a barrier then.
        • Re:Press strike? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:39PM (#46795063)

          So all the newspapers of the USA were closed and no TV stations were broadcasting news? Certainly today it would make a strong story - after all we're resurrecting it after all these years; I'm dubious that the fact that the newspapers of New York were shut would be a such a barrier then.

          Those were much different times. There were no 24 hour news channels, no internet, and radio was somewhat different then. Print was just about the only place this kind of thing would have showed up. And since most papers were more focused on the city they were based in, it's unlikely it would be reported in another cities paper. Remember, TV news was an hour, at best, in the evening. Even if it would have ended up on the evening news, it would probably have been mentioned in a 30 second bit at best. There wouldn't have been a 2 hour "special report" on it.

    • by Shompol (1690084)
      Because "do some emergency welding work" and "weld here" is not newsworthy.

      I am more curious about what the reply was to the undegrad student and how did they keep him quiet. Also, did he get a congressional medal for saving 1000s of lives?
      • by speederaser (473477) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:07PM (#46795201)

        I am more curious about what the reply was to the undegrad student and how did they keep him quiet.

        According to TFA the undergrad student was a she not a he. From the article:

        The BBC aired a special on the Citicorp Center crisis, and one of its viewers was Diane Hartley. It turns out that she was the student in LeMessurier's story. She never spoke with LeMessurier; rather, she spoke with one of his junior staffers.

        Hartley didn't know that her inquiry about how the building deals with quartering winds led to any action on LeMessurier's part. It was only after seeing the documentary that she began to learn about the impact that her undergraduate thesis had on the fate of Manhattan.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      But the story DID come out.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:41AM (#46794731) Journal
    When did (s)he graduate? Where did (s)he end up? Doesn't (s)he deserve at least a minor credit in this story?
    • by afgam28 (48611) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:41PM (#46795069)

      I'm not sure what the author means when he says that the student was "lost to history", because at the end of the article he says that it was Diane Hartley.

      The BBC aired a special on the Citicorp Center crisis, and one of its viewers was Diane Hartley. It turns out that she was the student in LeMessurier’s story.

      Her name is also mentioned in some papers on engineering ethics:

      http://www.onlineethics.org/cm... [onlineethics.org]
      http://www.theaiatrust.com/whi... [theaiatrust.com]

      • by pepty (1976012)
        The oldest source the author used (a '95 New Yorker piece that broke the story) said he was lost to history, and quoted LeMessurier:

        "I was very nice to this young man," LeMessurier recalls. "But I said, 'Listen, I want you to tell your teacher that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, because he doesn't know the problem that had to be solved.' I promised to call back after my meeting and explain the whole thing."

        None of the sources agree on the details of how the problem was discovered.

    • by pepty (1976012)
      She (Hartley) got varying credit for the story - each version of the story seems to split the amount of insight Hartley, her professor, and LeMessurier contributed to finding the problem differently. Regardless, she didn't find out about her contribution until 20 years later. Depending on the source you read: Her professor raised the issue of quartering winds. She called and talked to one of LeMessurier's staffers about them. LeMessurier called back and explained how he had taken quartering winds into acco
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:41AM (#46794733)

    Another engineering fail is the collapse of indoor walkways at a Kansas City hotel. Except the fail actually killed over 100 people:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyatt_Regency_walkway_collapse

    Interestingly, the _original_ designs for both the walkways and the Citigroup Center tower case were safe. In both cases contractors requested design changes, and the engineering firms didn't do a proper review when approving them.

    • I don't know about "safe" but the original design for the Hyatt Regency walkway would not have been up to KC's building code.

      source [engineering.com]

    • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @04:03PM (#46796113)
      I wouldn't blame the contractor for requesting a design change in the Kansas City walkway case. It wasn't a cost-cutting move like in the Citicorp building case. The original walkway design was one of those stupid architect/engineering designs which looked fine on paper but was impossible to actually manufacture. The original design called for 3-story tall rods hung from the ceiling to support both walkways. To install it would've required the lower walkway on the floor, attaching the rods to it, threading the retaining nuts for the upper walkway from the top down (a process that probably would've damaged the threads on the nuts enough to compromise their structural integrity), lowering the upper walkway from 4 stories up through the rods until they met the retaining nuts but keeping it suspended (the rods can't support it in compression), then simultaneously lifting both the upper and lower walkways to connect the rods to the ceiling.

      The design is fine if you can magically materialize the rods, retaining nuts, and walkways in place, as they appeared on paper. But it's one of those designs where it's completely impractical to get from the disassembled parts to the completed design. The contractor correctly called out this idiotic design and suggested splitting the rods in half - one for the upper walkway, the other for the lower walkway. That way they could connect the rods to the upper walkway, lift it in place and mount it to the ceiling. Then attach the rods to the lower walkway, lift it in place to mount it to the upper walkway.

      It was the architect/engineers who didn't properly vet the change. If the two rods had been above/below each other with a mating connector (emulating the original single-rod design), all would have been fine. But the contractor had suggested offsetting the two rods sideways so they could both be sent through the upper walkway, using the walkway itself as the mating connector. That offset (1) transferred the entire load of the lower walkway onto the upper walkway instead of just the rods, and (2) converted what was supposed to be entirely axial loads on the rods into a torque on the walkway floor; a floor whose structure wasn't designed to withstand that much torque, and didn't on the night of the disaster. The engineers should have caught that and come up with a different design.
  • by CanadianRealist (1258974) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:48AM (#46794757)

    I know hindsight is 20/20 but not considering the effect of wind hitting the corners of the building seems unbelievable. With no support at the corners it seems obvious* that the easiest way to cause a failure would be to apply force directed towards a corner. TFA does say that wind at the corners is not usually an issue, but when designing something so radically different you have to consider the effects of those differences.

    *For anyone who has ever played with Lego: imagine building something that looks like that building and think of the easiest way to push it over. Consider how you control the direction when felling a tree.

    • by Talennor (612270)

      And it was obvious enough for an undergrad to discover. Even though it passed the (at the time) tried and true methods that proved the fitness of many designs. It even became a cautionary tale that improved our procedures without the building falling down and killing people (which I find to be the truly amazing part of this story).

      However, your lego example could point out why wind wasn't tested at the corners. In pushing over legos you assume a constant force from any direction (since you're pushing with y

      • But wind produces considerably less force at angles.

        True, which is why that is not normally considered. But in this case the lack of support at the corners made the building particularly vulnerable to diagonal forces. That was the point I was trying to make with the Lego example. And if you're designing such an unusual building maybe you should consider more than just the first "first obvious choice" for what could go wrong.

  • by dicobalt (1536225) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @11:50AM (#46794769)
    A teetering bank towering over a church?
    • by PNutts (199112)

      Holy tongue twister Batman!

    • by Alsee (515537)

      Or flip the view:
      A towering bank undercut by a small church.

      ----------------------

      In the intersection between religion and the modern world
      Religion razes grandeur to the ground for 20 pieces of silver.
      In the intersection between religion and the modern world
      Religion refuses to budge from barren historical ground.
      In the intersection between religion and the modern world
      A towering bank undercut by a small church nearly kills us.

      -

  • by PPH (736903)

    LeMessurier realized that a major storm could cause a blackout and render the tuned mass damper inoperable. Without the tuned mass damper, LeMessurier calculated that a storm powerful enough to take out the building hit New York every 16 years.

    Sonds like he forgot to account for systematic risk. Mutiple failures caused by one underlying event having a higher probability than unrelated failures. Its a common problem with the quantitative approach to analyzing failures.

    • by pepty (1976012)
      LeMessurier didn't forget systematic risk, but he certainly evaluated it differently than the disaster planning engineer he brought on board to help deal with the problem:

      http://people.duke.edu/~hpgavin/cee421/citicorp1.htm

      LeMessurier didn't think an evacuation would be necessary. He believed that the building was safe for occupancy in all but the most violent weather, thanks to the tuned mass damper, and he insisted that the damper's reliability in a storm could be assured by installing emergency generators. Robertson conceded the importance of keeping the damper running--it had performed flawlessly since it became operational earlier that year---but, because, in his view, its value as a safety device was unproved, he flatly refused to consider it as a mitigating factor. (In a conversation shortly after the World Trade Center bombing, Robertson noted dryly that the twin towers' emergency generators "lasted for fifteen minutes.")

      I wonder if the emergency generators are in a basement that could flood?

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        I wonder if the emergency generators are in a basement that could flood?

        No, that'd be stupid. The generators are on the top floor. But the fuel is under the basement for safety (and not fully sealed from water contamination).

        Or, as I have seen in person, the grid power comes in the basement, and the generator feeds the basement cutover switch, but they put the generators on the roof, and the fuel on the roof of the parking structure (to reduce fire risk to the building), with a safe and reliable connection between the fuel and generators. When the flood hits, the electron

  • Ahh Unions... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PrimaryConsult (1546585) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:01PM (#46794851)

    I want to be in support of unions, but then you read about shit like this. Basically, "Hey, let's render inoperative some vital equipment necessary to make the determination on whether 10 blocks of Manhattan need to be evacuated because they weren't wired by union electricians"...

    One time, the readings went off the chart, then stopped. This provoked more bafflement than fear, since it seemed unlikely that a hurricane raging on Lexington and Fifty-third Street would go otherwise unnoticed at Forty-sixth and Park. The cause proved to be straightforward enough: When the instrumentation experts from California installed their strain guages, they had neglected to hire union electricians. "Someone heard about it," LeMessurier says, "went up there in the middle of the night, and snipped all the wires."

    • I'm not sure how my post is offtopic considering I quoted one of the linked articles...

      • by Kuroji (990107)

        Someone who has mod points today and has been involved with a union saw this and went 'how dare you badmouth unions', probably.

  • In other words, for every year Citicorp Center was standing, there was about a 1-in-16 chance that it would collapse.

    Well, no. That figure only applies if a power outage (affecting both the city power and the building's emergency power, so as to disable the building's tuned mass damper) occurs simultaneously with every occurrence of high winds. Or if the building's owners decide to just turn off the tuned mass damper for giggles, and leave it turned off for a decade and a half.

    Far more interesting - and potentially scary - was the fact that even with the mass damper, the building would expect to see winds sufficient

    • by careysub (976506)

      In other words, for every year Citicorp Center was standing, there was about a 1-in-16 chance that it would collapse.

      Well, no. That figure only applies if a power outage (affecting both the city power and the building's emergency power, so as to disable the building's tuned mass damper) occurs simultaneously with every occurrence of high winds. Or if the building's owners decide to just turn off the tuned mass damper for giggles, and leave it turned off for a decade and a half.

      ...

      True, but even restating is as "Every 16 years the building was in a state where if the power failed, it would collapse" is pretty serious especially since these events are always in the middle of severe storms.

  • by ed1park (100777) <ed1park@NOSPaM.hotmail.com> on Saturday April 19, 2014 @12:04PM (#46794863)

    “How the hell can you ignore this?” - Robert Boisjoly, Thiokol booster rocket engineer for the Challenger
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02... [nytimes.com]

    “They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,” - Kunihiko Shimazaki, a retired professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03... [nytimes.com]\

    For things that are too big to fail and would cause major disaster, the corporate shield must be removed and executive management must be held directly responsible. Financially and criminally.

  • The original New Yorker article had a fascinating tidbit: when the architect realized the danger, he arranged to deploy a network of strain gauges to monitor the actual stresses in the building's critical structural nodes. This was done as an emergency, overnight IIRC. Several days later, the data stopped flowing. It turns out that the electrician's union found out that it was done without the union contract and had the wires cut.
  • The article makes me think of the Hancock Tower [wikipedia.org] in downtown Boston. It had all sorts of issues with the wind including the large glass panels falling from the building to the streets below.
  • by multi io (640409)

    LeMessurier calculated that a storm powerful enough to take out the building hit New York every 16 years." In other words, for every year Citicorp Center was standing, there was about a 1-in-16 chance that it would collapse."

    Umm, actually that would be p=1-(1/E)^(1/16)=0.0605869 (about 1-in-16.5052).

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Actually no, the odds of collapse would be much lower, unless you are assuming that any storm capable of knocking down the building would automatically also cause a blackout that disabled the tuned mass damper that would otherwise allow it to survive. Without knowing the conditional probability of a blackout occurring during such a storm it's impossible to calculate the chances of a collapse.

    • by retchdog (1319261)

      what? where the hell did you pull that from? why 1/e?

      if a storm hit every two years, your method would give a probability of 0.393. what sense does that make?

      • by multi io (640409)

        what? where the hell did you pull that from? why 1/e?

        if a storm hit every two years, your method would give a probability of 0.393.

        Right.

        what sense does that make?

        Imagine you're throwing a 100-sided dice 100 times in two years (i.e. 50 times a year). Then you statistically throw a particular number (say, 1) once every two years. The chance of throwing that number in one year (i.e. in 50 throws) is 1-(99/100)^50=0.395 (=the inverse of not throwing that number 50 times in a row). There you go. If you transition from discrete to continuous probabilities, the number of dice sides and throws approaches infinity, and lim_{x->infinity} (1-1/x)^x = 1/E.

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          uh, sure, except these aren't independent trials. to clarify, the event of being in a storm now, and the event of being in a storm one minute from now are almost perfectly correlated. this means you can't use the product rule.

          by contrast, the event of a storm happening this year vs. a storm happening next year are closer to independent exactly because the blocks are bigger (a storm on Dec. 31 will make a storm on Jan. 1 more likely, but apart from that...).

          your 'improvement' rests on assumptions which are n

          • by multi io (640409)
            You're trying to make stuff up. The probablity not being 0.5 stems from the fact that there will be some years in which more than one storm occurs, and this must be "balanced out" by there being no storm at all in more than 50% of the years (and thus, a probability < 0.5 of a storm occuring in a particular year). If storms don't happen independently, but come in "packs" as you suggest, and you're still holding up your scenario of one storm every two years on average, then the chance of a storm occuring i
  • by Strider- (39683) on Saturday April 19, 2014 @01:00PM (#46795163)

    This case is one of the usual case studies that make up many Engineering Ethics courses (at least it was brought up in mine). The nice thing about this case is that in the end, it all worked out for the better, and is a good news story rather than a disaster.

    The other typical case studies are the Therac 25 [wikipedia.org], Challenger Disaster [wikipedia.org], Hyatt Walkway Collapse [wikipedia.org] and in Canada the Quebec Bridge [wikipedia.org] collapse (which also lead to the creation of the Iron Ring [wikipedia.org].

    There is a significant portion of the Engineering education that is dedicated to reminding prospective Engineers of their responsibilities to society, and the power they can potentially wield. Ethics is also a significant portion of the licensure to get one's professional designation.

    • Precisely. I taught on this exact case study for three semesters while attached as a Teaching Assistant to my university's Engineering Ethics course, which had the guy who literally wrote the book on the subject teaching there.

      One interesting tidbit left out in the summary is the fact that this wasn't necessarily so much an oversight on the architect or engineer's part, so much as it was an oversight in the regulations of the time. Back then, quartering winds were not required to be taken into account in th

      • by Raenex (947668)

        (e.g. the late Roger Boisjoly, who was the Morton Thiokol engineer that strongly warned of the O-ring failure and tried to postpone Challenger's launch)

        I saw a documentary on that. What's sad is that despite all the good work he did to try and avert the disaster, when given a last chance to object on the conference call to NASA he remained silent.

  • Read this when it was in the New Yorker in 1995. [smith.edu]

  • I particularly like the part where LeMessurier, the structural engineer given most of the credit for this giant ugly glass-and-steel rectangle on stilts (with a *gasp* slanted roof, how exciting!) calls the Old Saint Peters Church [nyc-architecture.com] that it was built to accommodate “a crummy old building the lowest point in Victorian architecture."

    If that's the sentiment of the people designing our buildings, then it's no wonder that US cities are such colossal eyesores.

  • ...at least according to the summary, wasn't this a little histrionic?

    "Without the tuned mass damper, LeMessurier calculated that a storm powerful enough to take out the building hit New York every 16 years." In other words, for every year Citicorp Center was standing, there was about a 1-in-16 chance that it would collapse."

    No, the "lack of a tuned mass damper" was already presupposing that the POWER was out. The power doesn't go out in NYC all that often, and even if it did...Would it have been impossibl

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