59 story crisis

59 story crisis - .- 'L' ls . F .J awad Sea, Sand, Sun and...

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Unformatted text preview: .- 'L' ls . F .J awad Sea, Sand, Sun and Fun! Cape Cod is...milcs of white, sandy beaches... icturesquc harbors... charming \' ages...hlstoric museums and sites...surfing...s.1.iling... cntertainment...shopping...fishing... g0lf...tcnnis...frcsh native cuisine... scenic bike trails...and so much more. Come and discover all Cape Cod has to offer! Write for our Ere: Accommodations Directory or all (503) 362-3225 CAPE COD CHAMBER OF COMJHERCE T'.O. Box l6, Hyannis 9, MA 02:601-0le - _ u . Mo:- 1w,“ 'Myrecrpefor -‘ e incredibly sharp latrines", k ‘1‘, CbtfiChoire'dlamond honf‘sbarpmrs' : =~ _ ‘ .. .. .- . .. rooommumeaotsoonmmon a: store in your area. call Edgetrall Corn. (800) 342-3255 Saics & Purchase. Yacht Charter. Management. The experts -W0rldwide. CALL I-BCX'l-fi'zb-OOI'J FOR FULL COLOUR CHARTER BROCHURE AND COMPANY PROFILE. Yachting Penna: inter-Miami 33"."? Richmond Place. Brighton BN2 2Ni's. England Telephone [4411273 571723 Fax: [-I—III'Z'JJ 57‘an _______._.._ if YACHKT 'VG PARTNERS " —- ,Jiilntnatirnal—- PO SITKNO CHPRI Villas and Cottages by the week or month (415) 252-9410 MAPS 5C RAVEN“, mess The Perfect Fa ther's Day Gift. Beautiful Wall Maps Free Catalpg (800) 237-0798 Box 850. edford. OR 9750] CITY Peale; ,".‘_-'_' bowel. inn/u _»_.,—1- THE FlFTY-NlNE-STORY CRISIS Wat's an engineer’s worst nightmare? To realize that [be support: be denyzedfiar a shzsrraper Mae Citicorp Center areflmued—m‘tndbmirane season is approaching. BY JOE MORGENSTERN N a warm June day in 1978, William LeMessurier, one of the nation's leading structural engineers, received a phone call at his headquarters, in Cambridge, Massachu- setts, from an engineering student in New Jersey. The young man, whose name has been ion in the swirl of sub- sequent events, said that his professor had assigned him, to write a paper on the Citi- corp tower, the slash—topped silver skyscraper that had become, on its completion in Manhattan the year before, the seventh—tallest building in the world. ' LeMessurier found the subject hard to resist, even though the call caught him in the middle ofa meeting. As a structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stub- bins, Jr., he had designed the rwcngl—five-thousand— ton steel skeleton beneath the tower’s sleek aluminum skin. And, in a field where architects usually get all the credit, the engineer, then fifqr-hvo, had won his own share of praise for the tower‘s technical elegance and singular grace; indeed, earlier that year he had been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor his pro- fession bestows. Excusing himself from the meeting, LcMessurier asked his caller how he could help. The student wondered about the col- umns—there are four—that held the building up._ According to his professor, LeMessurier had put them in the wrong place. “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 prom— ised to call back after my meeting and explain the whole thing." The problem had been posed by a church. When planning for Citicorp Cen- ter began, in the early nineteen—seventies, the site of choice was on the east side of Lexington Avenue between Fifty-third To avert disaster, LeMessurr'rr knew that be wait/d have to 51m the whistle quickly—1m bimsef and Pith-fourth Streets, directly across the street from Citicorp’s headquarters. But the northwest corner of that block was occupied by St. Peter's Church, a decaying Gothic structure built in 1905. Since St. Peter’s owned the corner, and one of the world's biggest banking cor- porations wanted the whole block, the church was able to strike a deal that seemed heaven-sent: its old building would be demolished and a new one built as a freestanding part of Citicorp Center. To clear space for the new church, Hugh Stubbins and Bill Leh’lessurier (he pronounces his name "LeMcasure’U set their fifty—nine-sron' tower on four : massive, nine-Story—high stilts, and po- 5 sitioned them at the center ofeach side, 5 rather than at each corner. This daring é 46 scheme allowed the designers to canti- lever the building's corners seventy-two feet out over the church, on the north- wesr, and over a plaza on the southweSt. The columns also produced high visual drama: a nine-hundred—and—fourteen— foot monolith that seemed all but weightless as it hovered above the street. When LeMessurier called the stu- dent back, he related this with the pride of a maSter builder and the elaborate pa- tience ofa pedagogue', he, too, taught a structural—engineering class, to architec- ture Students at Harvard. Then be ex- plained how the peculiar geometry of the building, far from constituting a mistake, put the columns in the strongest position to resist what sailors call quartering winds—those which come from a diago— nal and, by flowing across two sides of a building at once, increase the forces on both. For further enlightenment on the matter, he referred the student to a tech- nical article written by LeMessurier's partner in New York, an engineer named Stanley Goldstein. LeMessurier recalls, "I gave him a lot of information, and I said, “Now you really have some- thing on your professor, because you can explain all ofthis to him yourself.' " Later that day, LeMessurier decided that the information would interest his own students; like sailors, designers of tall buildings mu5t know the wind and respect its power. And the columns were only part of the tower's defense against sway- ing in severe winds. A classroom lecture would also look at the tower's unusual system of wind braces, which LeMes- surier had first sketched out, in a burst of almost ecstatic invention, on a napkin in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge: forty-eight braces, in six tiers of eight, arrayed like giant chevrons behind the building's curtain of aluminum and glass. ("I'm very vain," LeMessurier says. "I would have liked my stuff to be expressed on the outside of the building, but Stubbins wouldn't have it. In the end,I told myselfl didn't give a damn—the strucrure was there, it'd be seen by God”) LeMessurier had long since estab— lished the strength of those braces in perpendicular winds—the only calcula- tion required by New York City's build- ing code. Now, in the spirit ofintellec— tual play, he wanted to see if they were just as strong in winds hitting from forty-five degrees. His new calculations surprised him. In four of the eight chev- rons in each tier, a quartering wind in- creased the strain by forty per cent. Under normal circumstances, the wind braces would have absorbed the extra load with— out so much as a tremor. But the circum- stances were not normal. A few weeks before, during a meeting in his office, LeMessurier had learned of a crucial change in the way the braces werejoined. THE meeting had been called, dur- ing the month of May, to review plans for two new skyscrapers in Pitts- burgh. Those towers, too, were designed by Hugh Stubbins with LeMessurier as structural consultant, and the plans called for wind braces similar to those used in Citicorp Center, with the same specifications for welded joints. This was top—of-the—line engineering, two struc- tural members joined by a skilled welder become as strong as one. But welded joints, which are labor—intensive and therefore expensive, can be needlessly strong; in most cases, bolted joints are more practical and equally safe. That was the position taken at the May meet- ing by a man from US Steel, a poten- tial bidder on the contract to erect the Pittsburgh towers. If welded joints were a condition, the project might be too ex- pensive and his firm might not want to take it on. To reassure him, LeMessurier put in a call to his office in New York. “I spoke to Stanley Goldstein and said, ‘Tell me about your success with those welded joints in Citieorp.’ And Stanley said, 'Oh, didn’t you know? They were changed—- they were never welded at all, because Bethlehem Steel came to us and said they didn't think we needed to do it.‘ " Bethlehem, which built the Citicorp tower, had made the same objection-— welds were stronger than necessary, bolts were the right way to do the job. On August 1, 1974, LeMessurier's New York ofl'ice—-actually a venture in conjunction with an old-line IVIanhattan firm called the Office ofJames Ruderman—had ac- cepted Bethlehem’s proposal. This news gave LeMessurier no cause for concern in the days immediately fol- lowing the meeting. The choice of bolted joints was technically sound and professionally correct. Even the failure of his associates to flag him on the design change was justifiable; had every deci- sion on the site in Manhattan waited for approval from Cambridge, the building THE NEW YORKEIL MAY 29,1995 would never have been finished. IVIost important, modern skyscrapers are so strong that catasrrophic collapse is nor considered a realistic prospect; when en- gineers seek to limit a building's sway, they do so for the tenants’ comfort. Yet now, a month after the May meet- ing, the substitution of bolted joints raised a troubling question. If the bracing sys- tem was unusually sensitive to quartering winds, as LeMessurier had just discov— ered, so were the joints that held it together. The question was whether the Manhat— tan team had considered such winds when it designed the bolts. "I didn’t go into a panic over it," LeMessurier says. "But I was haunted by a hunch that it was something I'd better look into." On July 24th, he flew to New York, where his hunch was soon confirmed: his people had taken only perpendicular winds into account. And he discovered another "subtle conceptual error," as he calls it now-—-one that threatened to make the situation much worse. To understand why, one must look at the interplay of opposing forces in a windblown building. The wind causes tension in the Structural members—that is, it tries to blow the building down. At the same time, some of that tension, measured in thousands, or even millions, of pounds, is offset by the force of grav- ity, which, by pressing the members to- gether, tends to hold the building in place. The joints must be strong enough to resist the differential between these forces—the amount of wind tension mi— nus the amount of compression. Within this seemingly simple com- putation, however, lurks a powerful mul- tiplier. At any given level of the build— ing, the compression figure remains constant; the wind may blow harder, but the structure doesn't get any heavier. Thus, immense leverage can result from higher wind forces. In the Citicorp tower, the forty-per—cent increase in ten- sion produced by a quartering wind be— came a hundred—and—sixty—per—cent in— crease on the building's bolts. Precisely because of that leverage, a margin of safety is built into the standard formulas for calculating how strong a joint must be; these formulas are con- tained in an American Institute of Steel Construction specification that deals with joints in structural columns. W hat LeMessurier found in New York, how- ever, was that the people on his team Cl'l Y PERILJ had disregarded the standard. They had chosen to define the diagonal wind braces not as columns but as trusses, which are exempt from the safety factor. As a result, the bolts holding the joints together were perilously few. "By then," LeMessurier says, "I was getting pretty shaky." He later detailed these mistakes in a thirty-page document called “Project SE— RENE"; the acronym, both rueful and apt, Stands for “Special Engineering Re— view of Events Nobody Envisioned." ‘Nhat emerges from this document, which has been confidential until now, and from interviews with LeMessurier and other principals in the events, is not malfeasance, or even negligence, but a series of miscalculations that flowed from a specific mind-set. In the case of the Citicorp tower, the first event that nobody envisioned had taken place when LeMessurier sketched, on a res- taurant napkin, a bracing sysrem with an inherent sensitivity to quartering winds. None of his associates identified this as a problem, let alone understood that they were compounding it with their fuzzy semantics. In the Stiff, angular lan- guage of “Project SERENE," “consider— ation of wind from non-perpendicular directions on ordinary reCtangular build- ings is generally not discussed in the lit- erature or in the classroom." LeMessurier tried to take comfort from another element of Citicorp's advanced design: the building's tuned mass damp- er. This machine, built at his behest and perched where the bells would have been if the Citicorp tower had been a cathe- dral, was essentially a four-hundred-and— ten-ton block of concrete, attached to huge springs and floating on a film ofoil. When the building swayed, the block's inertia worked to damp the movement and calm tenants’ queasy sromachs. Re- ducing sway was of special importance, because the Citicorp tower was an un— usually lightweight building, the twenty- five thousand tons of steel in its skeleton contrasred with the Empire State Build- ing's sixty—thousand—ton superstructure. Yet the damper, the first ofits kind in a large building, was never meant to be a safety device. At best, the machine might reduce the danger, not dispel it. EFORE making a final judgment on how dangerous the bolted joints were, LeMessurier turned to a Canadian engineer named Alan Davenport, the director of the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory, at the University of Western Ontario, and a world authority on the behavior of buildings in high winds. During the Citicorp tower’s de- sign, Davenport had run extensive tests on scale models of the structure. Now LeMessurier asked him and his deputy to retrieve the relevant files and magnetic tapes. “If we were going to think about such things as the possibility of failure," IeMessurier says—the word “failure” be- ing a euphemism for the Citicorp tower’s falling down—"we would think about it in terms of the best knowledge that the state of the art can produce. which is what these guys could provide for me." On July 26th, he flew to London, Ontario, and met with Davenport. Pre— senting his new calculations, LeMes- Surier asked the Canadians to evaluate them in the light of the original data. “And you have to tell me the truth," he added. "Don’t go easy if it doesn’t come out the right way." It didn’t, and they didn’t. The tale told by the wind—tunnel experts was more alarming than LeMessurier had expected. His assumption of a forty—per— cent increase in stress from diagonal winds was theoretically correct, but it could go higher in the real world, when storms lashed at the building and set it vibrating like a tuning fork. "Oh, my God," he thought, "now we've got that on top of an error from the bolts being underdesigned." Refining their data fur- ther, the Canadians teased out wind- tunnel forces for each structural member in the building, with and without the tuned mass damper in operation; it re- mained for LeMessurier to interpret the numbers’ meaning. First, he went to Cambridge, where he talked to a trusted associate, and then he called his wife at their summerhouse in Maine. “Dorothy knew what I was up to," he says. “I told her, ‘I think we've get a problem here, and I'm going to sit down and try to think about it.' " On July 28th, he drove to the northern shore of Sebago Lake, took an outboard mo— torboat a quarter of a mile across the wa- ter to his house on a twelvedacre private island, and worked through the wind— tunnel numbers, joint by joint and floor by floor. The weakestjoint, he discovered, was at the building’s thirtieth floor; if that one gave way, catastrophic failure of the whole structure would follow. Next, he took New York City weather records provided by Alan Davenport and calcu- lated the probability of a storm severe enough to tear that joint apart. His figures told him that such an event had a statistical probability of occurring as often as once every sixteen years—what meteorologists call a sixteen—year storm. "That was very low, awesomely low," LeMessurier said, his voice hushed as if the horror of discovery were still fresh. “To put it another way, there was one chance in sixteen in any year, including "It was bar dying wit/J. " 4-8 that one." When the steadying influence of the tuned mass damper was factored in, the probability dwindled to one in fifty— five—a fifty-five-year storm. But the machine required electric current, which might fail as soon as a major storm hit. As an experienced engineer, LeMes— surier liked to think he could solve most structural problems, and the Citicorp tower was no exception. The bolted joints were readily accessible, thanks to Hugh Stubbins' insistence on putting the chev- rons inside the building's skin rather than displaying them outside. With money and materials, the joints could be reinforced by welding heavy steel plates over them, like giant Band-Aids. But time was short; this was the end of July, and the height of the hurricane season was approaching. To avert disaster, LeMes— surier would have to blow the whistle quickly—on himself. That meant facing the pain of possible protracted litigation, probable bankruptcy, and professional disgrace. It also meant shock and dismay for Citicorp’s officers and shareholders when they learned that the bank's proud new corporate symbol, built at a cost of a hundred and seventy —five million dol- lars, was threatened with collapse. On the island, Ieh’lessurier considered his options. Silence was one of them; only Davenport knew the full implications of what he had found, and he would not disclose them on his own. Suicide was another; if LeMessurier drove along the h’Iaine Turnpike at a hundred miles an hour and steered into a bridge abutment, that would be that. But keeping silent required betting other people's lives against the odds, while suicide struck him as a coward's way out and—although he was passionate about nineteenth— cenrury classical music—unconvincingly melodramatic. What seized him an in- stant later was entirely convincing, be- cause it was so unexpected—an almost giddy sense of power. "I had information that nobody else in the world had," Le- Messurier recalls. “I had power in my hands to effect extraordinary events that only I could initiate. I mean, sixteen years to failure—that was very simple, very dear- cut. I almost said, Thank you, clear Lord, for making this problem so sharply defined that there's no choice to make.' " A]: his oflice in Cambridge on the morning of Monday, July Blst, LeMessurier tried to reach Hugh Stub- WOMAN POLICE OFFICER IN ELEVATOR Not that I'd ever noticed Either a taste or a distaste For that supposedly arousing Rebus of pain and desire the uniformed woman, Whether as Dietrich in epaulettes, Or armored like Penthesilea, or in thigh boots And cocked hat, straddling the Atlantic, Fishing for campesinos With live torpedoes, But when the rattling, john-sized Tenement elevator paused Mid-fall to blink a female housing cop Into its humid cranium, I felt her presence Spooling through me like a Mobius strip Splicing her spilling curls, nightstick, the gun at her hip, Chrome shield, the breast it emblazoned, Seamlessly into the same Restless continuum . . . I caught—was it possible?— The scent of some sweet—tincrured oil; Troubling, alluring; and looked away, Then glanced back obliquely; had I imagined it, That sudden scimitar—glint of danger, Or had some forbidden hnpulsr—longing, lust, anger— Tumid inside me like a hidden Semiautomatic In a schoolkid's lunch pack bins, whose firm was upstairs in the same building, but Stubbins was in Cali- fornia and unavailable by phone. Then he called Stubbins’ lawyer, Carl Sapers, and outlined the emergency over lunch. Sapers advised him against telling Citicorp until he had consulted with his own company‘s liability insurers, the Northbrook Insurance Company, in Northbrook, Illinois. When LeMes— surier called Northbrook, which repre- sented the Office of James Ruderman as well, someone there referred him to the company's attorneys in New York and warned him not to discuss the matter with anyone else. At 9 AM. on Tuesday, in New York, LeMessurier faced a battery of lawyers who, he says, “wanted to meet me to find out if I was nutty." Being lawyers, not engineers, they were hard put to tec— oncilc his dispassionate tone with the apocalyptic thrust of his prophecy. They also bridled at his carefully qualified an— swers to seemingly simple questions. When they asked how big a storm it would take to blow the building down, LeMessurier confined himself to statis— tical probabilities—a storm that might occur once in sixteen years. When they pressed him for specific wind velocities—would the wind have to be at eighty miles per hour, or ninety, or ninety-five?—he insisted that such figures were not significant in them- selves, since every strucrure was uniquely sensitive to certain winds; an eighty—five- mile~per-hour wind that blew for sixteen minutes from the northwest might pose less of a threat to a particular building than an eighty—mile—per—hour wind that blew for fourteen minutes from the southwest. But the lawyers certainly understood that they had a crisis on their hands, so they sent for an expert adviser they Triggered the blue—lashed, tiny Metal detector of her eye? I backed against my comer, watching The numerals slowly swallow their green gulp of light; Interminable! And as we fell, Our little locked cube of stale air seemed to bristle With a strange menace. ..I thought of harms; My own and not my own, Contemplated or done; Betrayals, infidelities, Coercions, seductions, lies, Ready to confess them all, and more, As if in her firm indifference she'd regressed me Inward down some atavistic line To the original essence, the masculine Criminal salt; a frieze of victims Panelied in my own skull Like a lit cathedral hell... A shudder, and then stillness; Avoidance of each other's eyes As in some bedroom fiasco's wake, The air too brimful with disclosure, till the door Opened and we parted, the clamped rift Between us widening like a continental drift Of the sexes; she to the butcher, the breaker, The ripper, the rapist, I to my therapist. trusted: Leslie Robertson. an engineer who had been a Structural consultant for the World Trade Center. “I got a phone call out of the blue from some lawyer summoning me to a meeting." Robert- son says. “ ‘VVhat’s it about?’ ‘You'll find out when you get there.” 'Sorry, I have other things to do—I dOn't attend meet- ings on that basis.’ A few minutes later, I got another call, from another lawyer, who said there'd been a problem with Citicorp Center. I went to the meeting that morning, and I didn’t know any- body there but Bill. He stood up and ex- plained what he perceived were the difficulties with the building, and every- one, of course, was very concerned. Then they turned to me and said, ‘Well.>l I said, ‘Look, if this is in fact the case. you have a very serious problem.’ " The two structural engineers were peers, but not friends. LeMessurier was a visionary with a fondness for heroic de- -—JAMES LASDUN signs, though he was also an energetic manager. Robertson was a stickler for technical detail, a man fascinated by how things fit together. LeMessurier, older by two years, was voluble and intense, with a courtly rhetorical style. Robertson was tall, trim, brisk, and edgin funny, but made no effort to hide his impatience with things that didn't interest him. In addition to his engineering exper- tise, Robertson brought to the table a background in disaster management. He had worked with such groups as the Na- tional Science'Foundation and the Na- tional Research Council on teams that studied the aftermaths of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. (In 1993, he worked with the F.B.I. on the World Trade Center bombing.) For the liabil- ity lawyers, this special perspective en- hanced his stature as a consultant, but it unsettled LeMessurier from the start. As he remembers it, “Robertson predicted 4‘) to everybody present that within hours of the time Citicorp heard about this the whole building would be evacuated. I al- most fainted. I didn't want that to hap— pen.” (For his part, Robertson recalls making no such dire prediction.) LeMessurier didn’t think an evacua- tion 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 con- ceded 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 un- proved, 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") One point on which everyone agreed was that LeMessurier, together with Stubbins, needed to inform Citicorp as soon as possible. Only Stubbins had ever dealt directly with Citicorp’s chairman, Walter B. Wriston, and he was flying home that same day fi'om California and still didn’t know his building was flawed. That evening, LeMessurier took the shuttle to Boston, went to Stubbins’ house in Cambridge, and broke the news. “He winced, I must admit—here was his masterpiece," LeMessurier says. “But he's a man of enormous resilience, a very grown man, and fortunately we had a lifelong relationship of trust.” The next morning, August 2nd, Stubbins and LeMessurier flew to New York, went to LeMessurier's office at 515 Madison Avenue, put in a call to Wriston, but failed to penetrate the layers of secretaries and assistants that insulated Citicorp's chairman from the outside world. They were no more successful in reaching the bank's presi- dent, William I. Spencer, but Stub- bins finally managed to get an appoint— ment with Citicorp’s executive vice- presidcnt, John S. Reed, the man who has now succeeded Wriston as chairman. LeMessurier and Stubbins went to see Reed at the bank's ornate executive offices, in an older building on Lexing- ton Avenue, across the street from Citicorp Center. LeMessurier began by 50 saying, “I have a real problem for you, sir." Reed was well equipped to under- srand the problem. He had an engineer- ing background, and he had been in— volved in the design and construction of Citicorp Center, the company had called him in when it was considering the tuned mass damper. Reed listened im- passively as LeMessurier detailed the srrucrural defect and how he thought it could be fixed. LeMessurier says, “I'd al- ready conceived that you could build a little plywood house around each of the connections that were critical, and a welder could work inside it without damaging the tenants’ space. You might have to take up the carpet, take down the Sheetrock, and work at night, but all this could be done. But the real message I conveyed to him was 'I need your help—-at once.’ " When Reed asked how much the re— pairs would cost, LeMessurier offered an esrimate ofa million dollars. At the end of the meeting, which lasted half an hour, Reed thanked the two men courteously, though noncommittally, and told them to go back to their of- fice and await further instructions. They did so, but after waiting for more than an hour they decided to go out to lunch. As they were finishing their meal, a sec- retary from LeMessurier's office called to say that John Reed would be in the office in ten minutes with Walter Wriston. In the late nineteen—seventies, when Citicorp began its expansion into global banking, Wriston was one of the most influential bankers in the country. A tall man of piercing intelligence, he was not known for effusiveness in the best of cir- cumstances, and LeMessurier expected none now, what with Citicorp Center— and his own career—literally hanging in the balance. But the bank’s chairman was genuinely proud of the building, and he offered his full support in getting it fixed. ‘Wriston was fantastic," LeMessurier says. “He said, '1 guess my job is to handle the public relations of this, so I’ll have to start drafting a press release.’ ” But he didn't have anything to write on, so someone handed him a yellow pad. That made him laugh. According to LeMessurier, " 'All wars,' Wriston said, 'are won by generals writing on yellow pads.’ " In fact, Wriston simply took nores; the press release would not go out for six days. But his laughter put the others at ease. Citicorp's general was on their side. ITHIN hours of Wriston's visit, LeMessurier’s office arranged for emergency generators for the tower’s tuned mass damper. The bank issued beepers to LeMessun'er and his key engi- neers, assuring them that Reed and other top managers could be reached by phone . at any hour of the clay or night. Citi— corp also assigned two vice—presidents, Henry DeFord III and Robert Dexter, to manage the repairs; both had overseen the building’s construction and knew it well. The next morning, Thursday, Au- gust 3rd, LeMessurier, Robertson, and four of LeMessurier's associates met with DeFord and Dexter in a conference room on the thirtieth floor of Citicorp Center. (The decision to hold the initial meeting near the structure’s weakest point was purely coincidental.) LeMessurier outlined his plan to fix the wind braces by welding two-inch-thick steel plates over each of more than two hundred bolted joints. The plan was tentatively approved, pending actual examination of a typical joint, but putting it into effect depended on the availability of a con- tractor and on an adequate supply of steel plate. Since Bethlehem Steel had dropped out of the business of fabricat- ing and erecting skyscraper structures, Robertson suggested Karl Koch Erect- ing, a New Jersey—based firm that had put up the World Trade Center. “I called them," Robertson says, I‘and got, rill/ell, we're a little busy right now,’ and 1 said, 'Hey, you don't understand what we're talking about here.’ ” A few hours later, two Koch engineers joined the meeting. LeMessurier and Robert. THE NEW YORKEIK, MAY 2‘), I995 poration, the Minneapolis firm that had manufactured the tuned mass damper. MTS was asked to provide full-time technical support—in effect, around— the-clock nurses—to keep its machine in perfect health. The company flew one of its technicians to New York that night. Four days later, in a letter of agreement, MTS asked Citicorp to provide a long list of materials and spare parts, which included three buckets, a grease gun, rags, cleaning solvent, and “1 Radio with weather band." The other contract engaged a Cali— fornia firm, also recommended by Robertson, to fit the building with a number of instruments called strain gauges—pieces of tape with zigzag wires running through them. The gauges would be affixed to individual Structural members, and electrical impulses from them would be funnelled to an impro- vised communications center in Robert- son's office, eight blocks away, at 230 Park Avenue; like a patient in intensive care, the tower would have every shiver and twitch monitored. But this required new telephone lines, and the phone com— pany refused to budge on its leisurely in— stallation schedule. When Robertson voiced his frustration about this during a late-night meeting in Walter Wriston’s office, Wriston picked up the phone on his desk and called his friend Charles Brown, the president and chief operat- ing officer of A.T. 8LT. The new lines went in the next morning. A different problem—solving ap- proach was taken by Robertson during another nighttime meeting in Citicorp’s executive suite. Wriston wanted copies of some documents that Robertson had shown him, but all the secretaries had gone home—the only people on the floor were Wriston, Robertson, and son took them to an unoccupied floor of John Reed—and every copying machine the building, and there workmen tore apart enough Sheetrock to expose a di- agonal connection. Comparing the orig- inal drawings of the joints with the nuts- and—bolts reality before their eyes, the en- gineers concluded that LeMessurier’s plan was indeed feasible. Koch also hap- pened to have all the necessary steel plate on hand, so Citicorp negoeiated a contract for welding to begin as soon as LeMes- surier’s office could issue new drawings. Two more contracts were drawn up before the end of the following day. One of them went out to MTS Systems Cor- was locked. “I'm an engineer," Robert- son says, "so I kneeled down, ripped the door off one of the machines, and we made our copies. I looked up at them a little apologetically, but, what the hell— fixing the door was a few hundred bucks, and these guys had a hundred—and—sev— enty-five-million—dollar building in trouble across the street." Robertson also assembled an advisory group of weather experts from academia and the government's Brookhaven Na— tional Laboratory, on Long Island, and hired two independent weather forecaSt- ("W'PERILS ,rs to provide wind predictions four '::nes a day. “W'hat worried us more 'E‘an hurricanes, which give you hours 12:. days to anticipate, were unpredict- ahic events." Robertson says. "From time t i time, we've had small tornadoes in “ms area, and there was a worry that a much bigger one would come down and :.=.ke hold." Then Robertson raised an is- sure that LeMessurier had dreaded dis— ;ussing. In a meeting on Friday that in- :iuded LeMessurier, Robertson told c‘iticorp's representatives, DeFord and Dexter. that they needed to plan for evacuating Citicorp Center and a large area around it in the event ofa high- ‘.-:nd alert. DURING the first week of Au- gust. discussions had involved :nly a small circle of company ofv :icials and engineers. But the circle wid— ened on Monday, August 7th, when rinal drawings for the steel plates went will: to Arthur Nusbaum, the veteran project manager ofHRH Construction, which was the original contractor for Citicorp Center, and Nusbaum, in turn, provided them to Koch Erecting. And it would widen again, because work could "IOE go forward, as Robertson reminded the officials, without consulting the city's Department ofBuildings. Citicorp faced .i public-relations debacle unless it came up with a plausible explanation of why :ts brand-new skyscraper needed fixing. That night, DeFord and Dexter, fol— lowing Robertson's advice, met with Mike Reilly, the American Red Cross's director ofdisaster services for the New ‘i'ork metropolitan area. “They laid out the dilemma, and it was clearly an omi— nous event," Reilly recalls. From that first meeting, which was attended by Robertson but not by LeMessurier, and from half a dozen subsequent work— ing sessions with other disaster agen— cies. came plans for joint actiori by the police and the mayor's Office of Emer- gency Management, along with the Red CrOSs. In the event of a wind alert, the police and the mayor's emergency forces would evacuate the building and the surrounding neighborhood, and the Red Cross would mobilize bettveen twelve hundred and two thousand workers to provide food and temporary shelter. "Hal DeFord was the bank's point man for all this," Reilly says. "The anxi— ety was so heavy on him that we U: War, we know them. 1473 like tbem, but we're not crazy about, you know, the other him. " wondered if he was going to make it." On Tuesday morning, August 8th, the public-affairs department of Citi- bank, Citicorp’s chief subsidiary, put out the long-delayed press release. In language as bland as a loan officer’s wardrobe, the three-paragraph docu- ment said unnamed "engineers who de— signed the building" had recommended that "certain of the connections in Citi- corp Center's wind bracing system be strengthened through additional weld- ing." The engineers, the press release added, “have assured us that there is no danger." When DeFord expanded on the handout in interviews, he portrayed the bank as a corporate citizen of exem- plary caution—‘We wear borh belts and suspenders here," he told a reporter for the News—that had decided on the welds as soon as it learned of new data based on dynamic—wind tests con- ducred at the University of Western Ontario. There was some truth in all this. Dur- ing LeMessurier's recent trip to Canada, one of Alan Davenport’s assistants had mentioned to him that probable wind velocities might be slightly higher, on a statistical basis, than predicted in 1973, during the original tests for Citicorp Center. At the time, LelVIes- surier viewed this piece of information as one more nail in the coffin of his career, but later, recognizing it as a blessing in disguise, he passed it on to Citicorp as the possible basis of a cover Story for the press and for tenants in the building. On Tuesday afternoon, at a meeting in Robertson's office, LeMessurier told the whole truth to New York City's Act- ing Building Commissioner and nine other senior city officials. 1For more than an hour, he spoke about the effect of di- agonal winds on the Citicorp tower, about the failure of his own office to per— ceive and communicate the danger, and about the intended repairs. In the discussion that followed, the city officials asked a few technical questions. and Arthur Nusbaum expressed concern over a shortage of certified welders who had passed the city's strucrural—welding test. That would not be a problem, the representatives from the Department of Buildings replied; one ofthe area's most trusted steel inspectors, Neil Moreton, would have the power to test and imme- diately certify any welder that Citicorp's repair project required. Nusbaum recalls, "Once they said that, I knew we were O.K., because there were steamfitter welders all over the place who could do a fantastic job." Before the city officials left, they commended LeMessurier for his cour- age and candor, and expressed a desire to be kept informed as the repair work 52 progressed. Given the urgency of the situation, that was all they could reason— ably do. "It wasn't a case of‘We caught you, you skunk,’ " Nusbaum says. “It srarted with a guy who stood up and said, 'I got a problem, I made the prob- lem, let's fix the problem.’ If you're gonna kill a guy like LeMessurier, why should anybody ever talk?" Meanwhile, Robertson's switchboard was besieged by calls. “Every reporter in town wanted to know how come all' these people were in our office," Robert- son says. Once the meeting ended, the Building Commissioner returned the re- porters' calls and, hewing to Citicorp's line, reassured them that the structural work was only a prudent response to new meteorological data. As a result, press coverage in New York City the next day was as uninfor- mative as the handout: a short piece in the Wall Street journal, which raised no questions about the nature of the new data, and one in the News, which duti- fully quoted DeFord's remark about belts and suspenders. But when LeMes- surier went back to his hotel room, at about 5 PM. on Wednesday, he learned from his wife, who had come down from Cambridge to join him, that a reporter from the Timer had been trying to reach him all afternoon. That worried him greatly, being candid with city officials was one thing, but being interrogated by the Timer was another. Before returning the call, LeMessurier phoned his friend Carl Sapers, the Boston attorney who represented Hugh Srubbins, and mixed himself a Martini. Sapers understood the need for secrecy, but he saw no real choice; talk to them, he said, and do the best you can. Two minutes after six o'clock, LelVlessurier called the Timer switchboard. As he braced himself for an unpleasant conversation, he heard a te— cording. The Timer, along with all the other major papers in the city, had just been shut down by a strike. WELDERS started work almost im- mediately, their torches a daz— zlement in the night sky. The weather was sticky, as it had been since the be- ginning of the month—Newjersey's to- mato crop was rotting from too much raian forecasts called for tempera- tures in the mid—eighties the next day, with no wind; in other words, a perfect 'day for Citicorp Center. Yet tropical storms were already churning the Caribbean. Citicorp pushed for repair work around the clock, but Nusbaum refused to allow welding during office hours, for fear that clouds ofacrid smoke would cause panic among the tenants and set off every smoke de- tector in the building. Instead, he brought in drywall crews and carpenters to work from 5 PM. to 8 RM, putting up ply- wood enclosures around the chevrons and tearing down Sheetrock; welders to weld from 8 PM. until 4 A.M., with the building’s fire-alarm system shut off; and then laborers to clean up the epic mess before the first secretaries arrived. The welders worked seven days a week. Sometimes they worked on unoc- cupied floors; sometimes they invaded lavish offices. But decor, or the lack of it, had no bearing on their priorities, which Were set by LeMessurier. "It was a tense time for the whole month,” he says. "I was constantly calculating which joint to fix next, which level of the build- ing was more critical, and I developed charts and graphs of all the consequences: if you fix this, then the rarity of the storm that will cause any trouble length- ens to that." At Robertson’s office, a steady stream of data poured in from the weather fore- casters and from the building itself; Oc- casionally, the strain-gauge readings jumped, like spikes on an electrocardio- gram, when the technicians from MTS Systems exercised their tuned mass damper to make sure it was working properly. One time, the readings went off the chart, then stopped. This pro- voked more bafliement than fear, since it seemed unlikely that a hurricane rag- ing on Lexington and Fifty-third Street would go othenvise unnoticed at Forty- sixth and Park The cause proved to be straightforward enough: When the in- strumentation experts from California installed their strain gauges, they had neglected to hire union electricians. “Someone heard about it," LeMessurier /// THE NEW YORKER. MAY 2‘). I995 says, “went up there in the middle of the night, and snipped all the wires." For most of August, the weather smiled on Citicorp, or at least held its breath, and the welders made steady progress. LeMessurier felt confident enough to fly 0!? with his wife for a weekend in Maine. As their return flight was coming in for a landing at LaGuar- dia Airport Sunday night, they looked out across the East River and saw a pil- lar of fire on the Manhattan skyline. “The welders were working up and down the building, fixing the joints," LeMessurier recalls. “It was an abso— lutely marvellous thing to see. I said to Dorothy, ‘Isn't this wonderful? Nobody knows what's going on, but we know and we can see it right there in the sky.’ " A great deal of work remained. Rob— ertson was insisting on a complete reéval— uation of the Citicorp tower: notjust the sensitivity of the chevrons to quartering winds but the strength of other skeletal members, the adequacy of braces that kept the supporting columns in plumb, and the rigidity of the building's corru- gated metal-and—concrete floors, which Robertson feared might be compro- mised by trenches carrying electrical connections. His insistence was proper—settling for less would have compromised Rob- ertson's own position. It amounted to a post—construction autopsy by teams of forensic engineers. For LeMessurier, the ree'valuation was harrowing in the ex- treme; every new doubt about his design for Citicorp Center reflected on him. In one instance. Robertson's fears were unwarranted: tests showed that the tower floors were entirely sound—the trenches were not a source of weakness. In another, Robertson, assuming the worst about construction tolerances, de- cided that the columns might be slightly, even though undetectably, out of plumb, and therefore he ordered the installation of supplemental bracing above the four— teenth floor. Shortly before dawn on Friday, Sep— tember lst, weather services canied the news that everyone had been dreading—a major storm, Hurricane Ella, was of Cape Hatteras and heading for New York. At 6:30 A.M., an emergency-planning group convened at the command center in Rob- ertson’s office. "Nobody said, 'We're probably going to press the panic but- ton,' ” LeMessurier recalls. "Nobody c'rrv PERI'LJ dared say that. But everybody was sweat— ing blood." As the storm bore down on the city, the bank's representatives, DeFord and Dexter, asked LeMessurier for a report on the status of repairs. He told them that the most critical joints had already been fixed and that the building, with its tuned mass damper operating, could now withstand a two-hundred—year storm. It didn't have to, however. A few hours later, Hurricane Ella veered from its northwesterly course and began mov- ing out to sea. LeMessurier spent the following night in Manhattan, having cancelled plans to spend the Labor Day weekend with his family in Maine. But the hur- ricane kept moving eastward, and day- break dispelled any lingering thoughts of evacuation. "Saturday was the most beautiful day that the world's ever seen," Leh’lessurier says, "with all the humid- ity drawn away and the skies sunny and crystal clear." Alone in the city, he gave himself a treat he'd been thinking about for years—his first visit to the Cloisters, where he basketl in an ineffable calm. THE weather watch ended on Sep- tember 13th. That same day, Rob- ertson recommended terminating the evacuation plans, too. Welding was completed in October, several weeks be- fore most of the city's newspapers re- sumed publication. No fiirther stories on the subject appeared in the wake of the strike. The building, in fact, was now strong enough to withstand a seven- hundred—year storm even without the damper, which made it one of the safest structures ever built—and rebuilt—by the hand ofrnan. Throughout the summer, Citicorp's top management team had concentrated on facilitating repairs, while keeping the lawyers on the sidelines. That changed on September 13th, when Citicorp served notice on LeMessurier and Hugh Stubbins, whose firm held the primary contract, ofits intention to seek indem- nification for all costs. Their estimate of the costs, according to LeMessurier, amounted to $4.3 million, including management fees. A much higher total was suggested by Arthur Nusbaum, who recalled that his firm, HRH Construc- tion, spent eight million dollars on struc- tural repairs alone. Citicorp has declined to provide its own figure. Whatever the actual cost, Citicorp's effort to recoup it was remarkably free of the punitive impulse that often poisons such negotiations. When the terms of a settlement were first discussed—without lawyers—by LeMessurier, on one side, and DeFord and Dexter, on the other, LeMessurier spoke of two million dol- lars, which was the amount that his li- ability insurer, the Northbrook Insur- ance Company, had agreed to pay. "DeFord and Dexter said, Well, we’ve been deeply wounded here,’ and they tried to play hardball," LeMessurier says. “But they didn't do it with much convic— tion." After a second meeting, which in- cluded a Northbrook lawyer, the bank agreed to hold Stubbins’ firm harmless and to accept the two-million-dollar payment from LeMessurier and his joint-venture partners; no litigation ever ensued. Eight years ago, Citicorp turned the building into a condominium, re- taining the land and the shops but sell- ing all the office space, to Japanese buy- ers, at a handsome profit. The crisis at Citicorp Center was noteworthy in another respect. It pro- duced heroes, but no villains; everyone connected with the repairs behaved in exemplary fashion, from Walter Wris- ton and his Citicorp management team to the officials at the city's Department of Buildings. The most striking example, of course, was set by LeMessurier, who emerged with his reputation not merely unscathed but enhanced. When Robert- son speaks of him, he says, "I have a lot of admiration for Bill, because he was very forthcoming. While we say that all engineers would behave as he did, I carry in my mind some skepticism about that." In the last few years, LeMessurier has been talking about the summer of 1978 to his classes at Harvard. The tale, as he tells 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 be- have. "You have a social obligation," LeMessurier reminds 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 cli- ent to society as a whole. And the most wonderful part of my story is that when I did it nothing bad happened." 0 FREE CATALOGUE ' 1 EDD-STONE-OB The original RIVERSTONESI'“ by Penelope Naylor make great gifts for garden Er. home. "One would serve well as a cornerstone for any of a wide range of individual or collective enterprises." (The New Yarker. 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