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June 27, 2005

How To Build A Better Skyscraper

I was in the elevator. It was as the first tower was falling. I stepped off and saw what appeared to be a perfectly vertical column of smoke, as if the first tower was engulfed in flames, and you couldn't see it. I had to ask a friend, who was in the room when it fell, what had happened, because I didn't realize the building wasn't there anymore. He looked at me and just put his hand out. A few seconds later the smoke cleared enough for me to see no-building.

I trawled the internet for the next week trying to verify whether the Port Authority's assertion that the Twin Towers could withstand the impact of a 707. I could find none.

Now, we know.
:

The trade center was built by the Port Authority, which is not subject to any building codes. Despite promises by the Port Authority to "meet or exceed" the New York City code, the federal investigation found that the trade center had fewer exit staircases than required and that the Port Authority never tested the fire resistance of the floors. It also found no evidence that a rigorous engineering study supported the authority's repeated public assertion that the towers could stand up to the impact of a fully loaded commercial airliner.

Another event from September 11, 2001: some undereducated newscaster asked a professional structural engineer, on camera, "is there any way to build a building like this so it can repel an airplane?". The answer, of course, is a simple NO. You can build a pile of concrete that a nuclear bomb, or a space-based particle weapon, cannot penetrate, but I'd hardly call it a building. The structural engineer was painfully not ready for the camera's spotlight, because he gave a long geeky answer about how it was "possible" but that it would be too expensive. Technically true, but not the kind of confidence-building comment people were looking for. The reporter was looking for an opening to blame the architect, and the structural engineer, for the collapse.

Now, we know:

That research found no flaw in the design of the towers that was a critical factor in the collapse, Dr. Sunder said.

Posted by chad at June 27, 2005 09:53 AM

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