WTC's faulty design: the real scandal
The World Trade Center towers had substandard construction: the real scandal of the collapses
The construction standards scandal is not a limited hang out. It is a true scandal regardless of the veracity (or lack thereof) of the demolition theories.
Comment on the WTC collapse paper by Professor Steven E. Jones, which examines the possibility that deliberate explosions brought down WTC 1, WTC2 and WTC7:
The most unexpected aspect of the collapses were that they occurred at all, and that they occurred so suddenly and completely. This supports the speculation that controlled explosions were the cause. Against this wishful speculation, however, is that modern high-rise design, expecially for investment-grade buildings like the WTC complex, aims at borderline safety measures to maximize profits of those who construct such structures.
Nothing about the collapses is more believable than that they demonstrate how ill-regulated is design and construction of high-rise buildings. The resistance by the real estate industry to increased regulation for greater safety is to be expected. It will benefit the industry for tales to be spun about any cause of the collapses other than that the buildings were not constructed for the optimum safety of occupants.
Not that glamorous, dangerous high-rises are as flim-flamish as automobiles, airliners and, the leader of seducem-fleecem deceptions, national security, the least regulated and most profitable industry in the world, ever cloaked by corruptive secrecy.
UNDERNEWS SPECIAL REPORT
Dec 15, 2003
From the Progressive Review
Edited by Sam Smith
Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW SPECIAL REPORT
The World Trade Center's Dirty Secret
[The first story below, column one in Sunday's Times, involves a matter the Review has been following since the month after the attack on the WTC. Even this report, however, does not suggest the depth of the scandal - the probability that most of the deaths at the WTC were not due to the crash of the planes but to the grossly negligent construction of the buildings in violation of fire standards dating back as far as 60 years. Involved are not merely design flaws, as one might gather from the Times article, but the deliberate circumventing of city fire codes by having the World Trade Center exempted from them. To get some sense of the seriousness of the matter, compare the understated Times report with the criminal charges filed in the recent Rhode Island music hall fire or with last century's Shirtwaist Triangle fire. We have also included earlier accounts to give a better picture of this largely suppressed story]
JAMES GLANZ, NY TIMES - Hundreds of buildings nationwide with fireproofing
similar to that used in the World Trade Center could be far more prone
to structural damage during major fires than previously thought, according
to preliminary calculations by federal investigators.
The investigators are studying the precise causes of the World Trade Center collapse. Their work includes calculations of how heat moves through steel building components with small gaps or imperfections in fireproofing insulation. Their inquiry, which is still in its early stages, shows that during a fire such flaws can act as sluice gates for heat, allowing it to enter the steel, where it becomes trapped, weakening the structure.
Countless buildings put up since the 1960's have used the same type of lightweight, fluffy, spray-on fireproofing to protect their steel. Photographic evidence of the trade center suggests that this material, which is easily damaged, had gaps and possibly larger missing sections. Experts say similar problems are also found in ordinary high-rises. . .
"When we entered into this investigation, there clearly was a concern with explaining why buildings that looked like they would stand forever came down," said Richard G. Gann, a senior research scientist at the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. That is where this $16 million investigation into the sequence of structural failures that led to the collapse of the World Trade Center - buildings that looked as if they would stand forever - is being conducted. . .
Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built the trade center, have claimed in the past that no matter how well the steel was protected, the planes probably knocked off much of the fireproofing where they struck. Other experts have disputed that contention, saying that poorly applied and maintained fireproofing could have played a role in the collapses.
Only the cores of the twin towers, which held the elevators and escape stairwells, were built like traditional high-rises, with clusters of relatively heavy steel columns and beams linked together in a cagelike matrix. Beyond that, the 110 floors in each tower contained roughly an acre of open space each, uncluttered by vertical support columns. . .
Spray-on fireproofing replaced the use of heavier materials, like terra-cotta blocks, after World War II, and became extremely common in the 1960's, when the World Trade Center went up. The fireproofing used on the trade center trusses was a mixture of mineral fibers and cement-like materials called binders.
SAN JOSE BUSINESS JOURNAL, OCTOBER 2001: The two towers of the World
Trade Center may have collapsed because the planes which crashed into
them this morning scraped away protective coatings on steel beams allowing
incredibly intense fires to soften supporting beams, according to a San
Jose State University professor who has worked on buildings of similar
size. While not drawing a conclusion as to the cause of the collapse,
a Stanford University professor has estimated the intensity of the fires,
likening them to the explosion of an atomic bomb. "The planes hitting
the sides of the buildings probably did not do that much structural damage,"
says Kurt McMullin, professor of civil engineering at San Jose State.
"The impact of the jets probably knocked a lot of fireproofing off [the steel girders]," he says. "Losing the glass windows allowed the fire to travel to several floors. It just led to a complete collapse of the steel frame which then dropped all the floors above. "We design buildings to withstand high intensity fires for a limited time," he says. "[But] once steel becomes hot it becomes soft and it loses its strength." The buildings, engineered to withstand the force of a hurricane, should have been able to withstand the impact of the planes, he says.
JOSEPH J. REBANDO, RETIRED BATTALION CHIEF IN LETTER TO NY DAILY NEWS
All new high rise buildings in NYC should be constructed under the 1938 building code, requiring all structural steel to be insulated by several inches of concrete and plaster. All components must be able to withstand fire and heat at elevated temperatures for four hours. This would provide ample time for evacuation and mitigate the total collapse of the structure.
BILL MANNING, FIRE ENGINEERING MAGAZINE - Did they
throw away the locked doors from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? Did they
throw away the gas can used at the Happyland Social Club Fire? Did they
cast aside the pressure-regulating valves at the Meridian Plaza Fire?
Of course not. But essentially, that's what they're doing at the World
For more than three months, structural steel from the World Trade Center has been and continues to be cut up and sold for scrap. Crucial evidence that could answer many questions about high-rise building design practices and performance under fire conditions is on the slow boat to China, perhaps never to be seen again in America until you buy your next car. . .
I have combed through our national standard for fire investigation, NFPA 921, but nowhere in it does one find an exemption allowing the destruction of evidence for buildings over 10 stories tall. Hoping beyond hope, I have called experts to ask if the towers were the only high-rise buildings in America of lightweight, center-core construction. No such luck. I made other calls asking if these were the only buildings in America with light-density, sprayed-on fireproofing. Again, no luck - they were two of thousands that fit the description. . .
Fire Engineering has good reason to believe that the "official investigation" blessed by FEMA and run by the American Society of Civil Engineers is a half-baked farce that may already have been commandeered by political forces whose primary interests, to put it mildly, lie far afield of full disclosure. . .
As things now stand and if they continue in such fashion, the investigation
into the World Trade Center fire and collapse will amount to paper- and
computer-generated hypotheticals. However, respected members of the fire
protection engineering community are beginning to raise red flags, and
a resonating theory has emerged: The structural damage from the
planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough
to bring down the towers. Rather, theory has it, the subsequent contents
fires attacking the questionably fireproofed lightweight trusses and load-bearing
columns directly caused the collapses in an alarmingly short time. . .
The builders and owners of the World Trade Center property, the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, a governmental agency that operates in an accountability vacuum beyond the reach of local fire and building codes, has denied charges that the buildings' fire protection or construction components were substandard but has refused to cooperate with requests for documentation supporting its contentions . . . Clearly, there are burning questions that need answers. Based on the incident's magnitude alone, a full-throttle, fully resourced, forensic investigation is imperative. More important, from a moral standpoint, for the safety of present and future generations who live and work in tall buildings-and for firefighters, always first in and last out-the lessons about the buildings' design and behavior in this extraordinary event must be learned and applied in the real world. To treat the September 11 incident any differently would be the height of stupidity and ignorance. The destruction and removal of evidence must stop immediately. The federal government must scrap the current setup and commission a fully resourced blue ribbon panel to conduct a clean and thorough investigation of the fire and collapse, leaving no stones unturned.
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - Largely ignored by the ordinary media is a key
question about the September 11 disaster: did it have to be that bad?
The answers, however, are being sought by firefighters, engineers and architects. A case in point is Jim Malott, a San Francisco architect who has followed the World Trade Center since it first took shape, chronicling its history in words and photos. Mallot was also an officer aboard U.S.S. Enterprise, where he witnessed more than one fiery jet plane crash.
In the November/December 2001 issue of Designer/Builder, Mallot gives a deeply disturbing interview to Kingsley Hammet who writes: "Prior to the advent of the World Trade Center towers, high-rise buildings shared two vital characteristics. They were supported by a grid of steel columns, generally spaced about thirty feet apart, and each interior column was encased in a tough cladding of concrete to create a fireproof skin designed to withstand a four-hour inferno. (The four-hour fire rating is the code rule for the columns and major beams in any large building.) As designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, New York's Twin Towers incorporated neither of these traditional features. And as far as Malott is concerned, it was the failure of their substitutes - not the initial crash, not the exploding jet fuel, and not the subsequent fire alone -that lead to their collapse and the enormous loss of life . . . "
As Malott watched the tragedy unfold, he surmised that the sequence of events went something like this. when the planes slammed into the exterior of the buildings, the fuselages and engines broke through a number of the outside columns while the wings disintegrated as though being forced through a cheese grater. The bodies of the planes crashed
across the unobstructed floors, smashed into the central cores of the buildings, and blew the sheetrock off the supporting columns and from around the stairwells, completely destroying the elevator shaft wails. Thus, in the first seconds, the four-hour-rated fireproofing was stripped from the steel core structures and with it went all hope that the buildings could survive a fire. "After an hour of this inferno, the now-naked steel columns of the central core at the impact floors were heated to about 1,600 degrees, which is the point at which steel loses almost all of its structural strength. The relatively skimpy floor system, with hung sheetrock, small-diameter steel bar joists, and the thin layer of concrete, offered little barrier to the raging flames despite having been rated as fire-resistant for four hours. Three floors may have collapsed within the impact area, further tearing fireproofing away from the core columns.
Once the first couple of core columns began to buckle, Malott speculates, they threw all of their load not onto a neighboring ring of strong columns protected with fireproofing (which in this design did not exist), but onto the adjacent columns in the exposed core, which were similarly denuded of fireproofing by the initial impact and also were failing under the intense heat. 'The outside of the building did not fail. It did not get hot enough,' Malott says. 'It was the core that failed.'
"It's time now to go back and rethink the entire concept of the high-rise structural system, Malott says. Buildings such as the World Trade Center towers cannot be built to minimum code specifications And architects must now truly consider the impact of a fully loaded aircraft or other impact/explosion/fire combination striking another tower. Future high-rise buildings must be designed with a redundant system of interior support columns so no failure of any critical part - be it the core, the skin, or the floor -leads to the catastrophic collapse of the entire building . . .
"Ever since the World Trade Center became the global icon of capitalism, most high-rise buildings in America have followed its lead and wrapped their steel columns in some combination of mineral wool and gypsum board rather than concrete, leaving them susceptible to potentially devastating pancake failure not in four hours, for which they are theoretically fire rated, but in less than an hour . . . "It's interesting to note that while the enormous bomb that exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in 1993 killed six people, injured almost 1,000, caused a massive fuel fire, and collapsed two garage floors, it did relatively little structural damage to the tower because the basement columns were encased in concrete . . .
"A building of this scale, in Malott's opinion, should never have been built in this way. The best proof is what happened to the 102-story Empire State Building when rammed by a B-25 in 1945. The plane, loaded with gasoline, hit between the seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth floors. The resultant fire burned for twenty-four hours and gutted five stories of the building. But the accident did not cause any catastrophic collapse of the structure because the tower had been built around a grid of interior columns and everyone had been clad in concrete."
[DESIGNER BUILDER 2405 MacLovia Lane, Santa Fe, NM 87505]
[The story below, so far as we know, was the first time the corporate
media has let its audience know that the collapse of the World Trade Center
towers might have been due to improper construction rather than to the
impact the planes. . . But while the Shirtwaist Triangle fire early in
the last century (which killed 150 people) produced major building reforms,
the whole tendency since September 11 has been to ignore the culpability
of those responsible for the towers' construction.]
CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY WASHINGTON POST JUNE 2002 - Fireproofing failures -- rather the impact of the plane crashes -- probably caused the World Trade Center towers to quickly collapse, architects and engineers told a federal panel. "The insulation is going to turn out to be the root cause," said James G. Quintiere, a professor at University of Maryland's Fire Protection Engineering Department who analyzed the fireproofing in the two towers. Neither tower, he found, had fireproofing thick enough to withstand the fire's blast furnace intensity for two hours, which is considered the minimum needed for those on the upper floors to escape the towers.
"A two-hour fire resistance is right on the ragged edge,"
Quintiere said. The North Tower, which had 1 1/2-inch-thick fireproofing, fell in 104 minutes, and the South Tower, with its 3/4-inch-thick fireproofing, collapsed in 56 minutes . . . "There needs to be a change in the way buildings are inspected," said Roger G. Morse, an architect who specializes in forensic investigations of building disasters and has studied the World Trade Center. Typically, he said, inspectors examine fireproofing before construction is completed, and the work is often damaged in the final construction. In the case of the World Trade Center, he said, construction workers apparently failed to apply asbestos properly to some beams 30 years ago. He found that asbestos had peeled off the core columns up to the 78th floor. No asbestos was applied above the 78th floor, because federal regulations changed and prohibited its application. Instead, workers on the upper floors applied a non-asbestos fireproofing that was not as fire resistant. With better fireproofing, Morse said, the towers "probably would have held up a little longer." Most experts said the problems are not unique to the World Trade Center, which was regulated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "It could happen anywhere," Morse said. "The situation at the Trade Center wasn't the worst that I've seen." Several experts spoke of a national problem in high-rise buildings. "The fire service has seen a consistent weakening in fire safety," said Vincent Dunn, a retired New York City fire chief and fire safety consultant. He ran through a list of several New York City building fires where spray-on fireproofing did little to prevent the structure's destruction. He described climbing through these buildings after fires and found "nothing left up there but bent, warped, twisted steel. There's no spray-on [fireproofing] left."
HEATING, PIPING, AIR-CONDITIONING ENGINEERING MAGAZINE - Steel loses 30 percent of its strength at 1000 F and 80 percent of its strength at 1400 F. These are temperatures that can be reached within 5 min. on unprotected steel in a standard fire. Steel collapse in a fire is impossible to predict and often occurs instantaneously
DEPUTY CHIEF VINCENT DUNN RET. - After the 767 jet liner crashed into
the world trade center building creating the worst terror attack in history,
a fire burned for 56 minutes inside the World Trade Center building number
two. The top 20 floors of the building collapsed on the 90 floors below.
The entire one hundred and ten-story building collapsed in 8 seconds .
. . After a fire burned inside WTC tower number one for 102 minutes, the
top 30 floors collapsed on the lower 80 floors. And the entire one hundred
and ten stories of this building collapsed in 10 seconds. You can say
the reason they collapsed was they were struck with a 185 ton jet airliner
and the 24,000 gallons of jet fuel caused a fire of 1500 to 2000 degrees
F which weakened the steel and cause the collapse. Or you can take a closer
look at the buildings construction of the WTC buildings. And ask yourself
why did these structures collapse so fast and so completely. The answer
can be found by examining high-rise construction in New York City over
the past 50 years In terms of structural system the twin towers departed
completely from other high-rise buildings. Conventional skyscrapers since
the 19th century have been built with a skeleton of interior supporting
columns that supports the structure. Exterior walls of glass steel or
synthetic material do not carry any load. The twin towers are radically
different in structural design as the exterior wall is used as the load-bearing
wall . . .
The most noticeable change in the modern high-rise construction is a trend to using more steel and shaping lightweight steel into tubes, curves, and angles to increase its load bearing capability. The WTC has tubular steel bearing walls, fluted corrugated steel flooring and bent bar steel truss floor supports. To a modern high rise building designer steel framing is economical and concrete is a costly material . . .
Architects, designers , and builders all know if you remove concrete from a structure you have a building that weights less. So if you create a lighter building you can use columns, girders and beams of smaller dimensions, or better yet you can use the same size steel framing and build a taller structure . . .
If you reduce the structure's mass you can build cheaper and builder higher. Unfortunately unprotected steel warps, melts, sags and collapses when heated to normal fire temperatures about 1100 to 1200 degrees F.
The fire service believes there is a direct relation of fire resistance to mass of structure. The more mass the more fire resistance. The best fire resistive building in America is a concrete structure. The structures that limit and confine fires best, and suffer fewer collapses are reinforced concrete pre WWII buildings such as housing projects and older high rise buildings like the empire state building, The more concrete, the more fire resistance; and the more concrete the less probability of total collapse. The evolution of high-rise construction can be seen, by comparing the Empire State Building to the WTC. My estimate is the ratio of concrete to steel in the Empire State Building is 60/40. The ratio of concrete to steel in the WTC is 40/60. The tallest building in the world, the Petronas Towers, in Kula Lumpur, Malaysia, is more like the concrete to steel ratio of the Empire State Building than concrete to steel ratio of the WTC . . .
A plane that only weighted 10 tons struck the Empire State Building and the high-octane gasoline fire quickly flamed out after 35 minutes. When the firefighters walked up to the 79 floor most of the fire had dissipated. The Empire State Building in my opinion, and most fire chiefs in New York City, is the most fire safe building in America. I believe it would have not collapsed like the WTC towers. I believe the Empire State Building, and for that matter any other skeleton steel building in New York City, would have withstood the impact and fire of the terrorist's jet plane better than the WTC towers. If the jet liners struck any other skeleton steel high rise, the people on the upper floors and where the jet crashed may not have survived; there might have been local floor and exterior wall collapse. However, I believe a skeleton steel frame high rise would not suffer a cascading total pancake collapse of the lower floors in 8 and 10 seconds . . .
Perhaps builders should take a second look at the Empire State Buildings construction. There might be something to learn when they rebuild on ground zero. The empire state building has exterior Indiana limestone exterior wall, 8 inches thick. The floors are also 8 inches thick consisting of one-inch cement over 7 inches of cinder and concrete. All columns, girders and floor beams are solid steel covered with 1 to 2 inches of brick terracotta and concrete. There is virtually no opening in the floors. And there are no air ducts of a HVAC heating cooling and venting system penetrating fire partitions, floor, and ceilings. Each floor has its own HVAC unit. The elevators and utility shafts are masonry enclosed. And for life safety there is a 4-inch brick enclosed so-called "smoke proof stairway". This stairway is designed to allow people to leave a floor without smoke following them and filing up the stairway. This is accomplished because this smoke proof stairway has an intermediate vestibule, which contains a vent shaft. Any smoke that seeps out the occupancy is sucked up a vent shaft . . .
Builders hailed the New York City building code of 1968 as a good performance code. However, some fire chiefs decried it as a law that substituted frills for real construction safety. The asbestos spray on coating of steel trusses used in the WTC towers was considered by Chief of the New York City Fire Department, at the time, John T. O' Hagan to be inferior to concrete encasement of steel . . . The WTC started construction in the 1970s. And the WTC towers built by the Port Authority of New York did not have to comply with the minimum requirements of the new 1968 performance building code.
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD, INTERVIEW WITH FIRE LIEUTENANT GREGORY GARGISO
Our teachings on high-rise structures go like this:
o They are broken down into three major construction groups; lightweight, medium weight and heavyweight and these designations coincide almost directly with groups according to years.
o Almost all the heavyweights were built before 1945, the medium weights from '45 to '68 and the lightweights from '68 to present.
o It's not too far a leap from this to deduce that your heavyweights are your Empire State, your Woolworth Building, your Equitable Insurance Building. 20 to 25 pounds per cubic foot. Limestone faced, heavy steel skeleton encased in concrete or block and tile.
o Your lightweights are 8 to 10 lbs per cubic foot, and include of course the Trade Center, the World Financial Center, the JP Morgan building. The newest high-rises in town, basically.
o The middleweights are a bit more elusive, maybe because this group to me are the least aesthetically pleasing. They are 10 to 20 pounds per cubic foot. The Pan Am Building (or Met Life as it is now), One Bankers Trust Plaza, The UN Building. So guess which one the firefighters like to fight the fires in the most. Well, you guessed it, the heavyweights.
Not because we're hopeless romantics in love with the architecture of the early 20th Century.
Why then? Because they perform under stress. You see, we are interested in results. It's all fine and well that a particular partition is supposed last against a fire X amount of hours in a controlled laboratory test, or that a curtain wall is not supposed to allow fire to pass from one floor of a high-rise to the next. But in the organized chaos of firefighting, the knuckle dragging grunt work, the 100 or more variables thrown into the mix, the controlled yelling to orchestrate men into action against the Red Devil, the race against time, the sheer physical logistics, they don't usually do what they were designed to do
. . .
Stairwells protected by concrete and steel instead of sheetrock would have resulted in lower casualities at the WTC. Walls were obliterated and doorjambs jammed as the building settled into its death throes, barring escape for many. What if power remained on and the elevators stayed operational? High-rise buildings in New York built between 1945 and 1968 were required to have a "fire tower," a stair in a shaft open at top and separated from the floor space by a vestibule with two doors at each end. This is a tremendous advantage to fleeing occupants psychologically as well as physically . . .
INTL NETWORK FOR TRADITIONAL BUILDING, ARCHITECTURE & URBANISM
A series of unrelated design assumptions about structure, fire proofing
and escape - some dating from the 1920s - exacerbated the World Trade
Centre collapse, it was claimed. Giving evidence on 6 March to the US
House of Representatives Committee on Science, Dr Arden L. Bement, Jr,
Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the US
Department of Commerce, explained some of the issues which NIST would
examine if commissioned to undertake a National Building and Fire Safety
Investigation. "Current building design practice does not consider fire
as a design condition . . . They do not represent real fire hazards in
modern buildings. They also do not consider the fire performance of
structural connections or of the structural system as a whole, or the
multiple performance demands on fire proofing materials", Bement
explained. Continuing, he argued that progressive collapse had become a
problem in modern structures because of their smaller margin of safety.
Many lacked the reserve capacity to accommodate abnormal loads,
ironically due to increased efficiency in the use of building materials
and refinements in analysis techniques.
New York's fire chief long ago warned against the use of lightweight steel floor trusses and sprayed fire protection (both thought to have been used at the WTC). Many firefighters are said to believe that they are safer fighting fires in traditional early 20th century buildings - which have durable concrete fire protection to steel elements - than in flimsy "semi-combustible" modern tower blocks.
[INTBAU is a British organization under the patronage of the Prince of Wales]
JOHN SEABROOK, NEW YORKER - The second generation of tall buildings,
which includes the Metropolitan Life Building (1909), the Woolworth
Building (1913), and the Empire State Building (1931), are frame
structures, in which a skeleton of welded- or riveted- steel columns and
beams, often encased in concrete, runs through the entire building. This
type of construction makes for an extremely strong structure, but not
such attractive floor space. The interiors are full of heavy,
load-bearing columns and walls, and, as you move toward the center of
these buildings, the more cryptlike they feel. Charlie Thornton, of the
Manhattan-based structural-engineering firm of Thornton-Tomasetti
Engineers, a leading designer of the structures of modern high-rises,
said to me recently, "A building like the Empire State Building is
over-designed and overbuilt. The building didn't need all that support.
Those engineers didn't understand loads the way we understand them-they
used slide rules to work them out, whereas we have computers-and so they
erred on the side of caution." . . .
As the new high-rises sprouted, some New York City firefighters began to point out that the same innovations that make these buildings more economical to erect and more pleasant to inhabit also make them more vulnerable to fire. In 1976, the New York City Fire Commissioner, John O'Hagan, published a book entitled "High Rise Fire and Life Safety," in which he called attention to the serious fire-safety issues in most high-rise buildings constructed since 1970, referring to such buildings as "semi-combustible." Unlike the earlier generation of skyscrapers, which used concrete and masonry to protect the structural steel, many of the newer buildings employed sheetrock and spray-on fire protection. The spray-on protection generally consisted of either a cement-like material that resembles plaster or a mineral-fiber spray, such as the one used to protect the floor joists in the World Trade Center.
O'Hagan pointed out that, even when these spray-ons are properly mixed and applied to the steel (which must be clean), they are much less dense than concrete and can be easily knocked off. The swaying of the cables
in the elevator shafts has been known to dislodge the fire protection from the columns in the cores of these buildings, and the coating used on floor supports is often removed by workers who install the ducts and wiring inside the hollow floor. The questionable performance of the fire protection used in these buildings, combined with the greater expanse of lightweight, unsupported floors, O'Hagan said, created the potential for collapse, of the individual floors and of the entire structure. He also pointed out that the open spaces favored by modern developers allowed fires to spread faster than the compartmentalized spaces of the earlier buildings, and that the synthetic furnishings in modern buildings created more heat and smoke than materials made out of wood and natural fibers.
O'Hagan's book did nothing to stop semi-combustible buildings from going up-a fireman's predictable lament about safety was not what a city in love with its skyscrapers wanted to hear. It was not until September 11th that the architects and builders of tall buildings began to think seriously about whether the modern methods of constructing high-rises needed to be revised. One indication that older high-rise buildings may be more fire-resistant than the newer high-rise buildings is the performance of the twenty-three-story building at 90 West Street-a Cass Gilbert-designed building, finished in 1907 (Gilbert also designed the Woolworth Building), whose structure was protected by concrete and masonry-compared with the performance of 7 World Trade, an all-steel building, from the nineteen-eighties, that had spray-on fire protection. Both buildings were completely gutted by fires on September 11th, but 90 West Street is still standing, and may eventually be restored. 7 World Trade, which had a gas main beneath it, collapsed after burning for seven hours.
ETHICAL SPECTACLE, FEB 2002 [From an article by three NYC firefighters]
- There are many, many questions to be asked by us about the World Trade Center collapse and its implications on high-rise firefighting across the nation. Some questions are political, many are technical, others are philosophical. Here are a few (in no particular order) to think about:
- Given the typical resources of most fire departments, can we be expected to handle every high-rise fire thrown at us? When was the last time your city manager asked you for a complete list of resources that you need to fight a high-rise fire, including personnel? . . .
- Beware the truss! Frank Brannigan has been admonishing us for years about this topic. It has been reported that the World Trade Center floors were supported by lightweight steel trusses, some in excess of 50 feet long. Need we say more?
- Modern sprayed-on steel "fireproofing" did not perform well at the World Trade Center. Haven't we always been leery about these materials? Why do many firefighters say that they would rather fight a high-rise fire in an old building than in a modern one? . . .
The largest loss of firefighters ever at one incident . . . The second largest loss of life on American soil . . . The first total collapse of a high-rise during a fire in United States history . . . The largest structural collapse in recorded history. Now, with that understanding, you would think we would have the largest fire investigation in world history. You would be wrong. Instead, we have a series of unconnected and uncoordinated superficial inquiries. No comprehensive "Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission." No top-notch National Transportation Safety Board-like response.
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, MARCH 2002 - some serious questions raised by
engineers and architects about the quality of the World Trade Center's
construction. They weren't the only ones surprised to find a plane crash
causing so great a catastrophe. In a videotape of Osama bin Laden
released by the administration late last year, bin Laden - who has a
background in construction - made these remarks:
OBL: (...Inaudible...) We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. (...Inaudible...) due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.
[note: this may - or may not - be an authentic video)
NY TIMES, MAY 2003 - Federal investigators studying the collapse of
the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, say they now believe that the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government agency that built
the towers, never performed the fundamental tests needed to determine
how their innovative structures would perform in a fire. The preliminary
finding, if it holds up, will undermine decades of public assurances by
the Port Authority that the twin towers met or exceeded the requirements
of New York City's building code, and therefore would be structurally
safe in a large fire.
The codes are based on tests of each building component in furnaces that subject the structures, and the fireproofing insulation that protects them, to the harsh conditions of a major fire. Investigators, speaking at a news conference near ground zero, said their findings about the fire tests were an important development in their examination of one theory for why the buildings collapsed when and how they did: that the
huge fires set by burning jet fuel weakened the lightweight floors of the towers, and that the failure of at least several floors in each building set off a chain reaction culminating in the total collapse of the complex.
The investigators have said that it is unclear whether, even if the tests had been done and the buildings been found to have met standards, the lightweight floor structures, called trusses, and the fluffy fireproofing on them could have been expected to withstand the intense fires of Sept. 11. But the absence of the central tests has robbed the investigators of the ability to even say whether the buildings performed as their designers had specified in their original plans and as the city's codes required of other buildings like them.
Yesterday, independent experts as well as relatives of those who died that day said they were dumbstruck or outraged that such prominent buildings - where fires had occurred more than once and that had been the target of a previous terrorist attack in 1993 - could have been first built and then maintained without such a basic test of its safety having been conducted. . .
Marc S. Moller, a lawyer at Kreindler & Kreindler, which has brought a liability lawsuit against the Port Authority in connection with the 9/11 attack, said at least one of his firm's legal theories could be bolstered by the findings: that fireproofing in the towers was defective and so the buildings were not safe. . .