Here’s a crazy story: In 1977, the 59-story Citicorp building opened in midtown as the 7th tallest building in the world. But unknown at the time was a potentially devastating design flaw that could have brought the whole building crashing down with just a gust of wind.
Citicorp had acquired the site with the promise to provide space for a new church on its northwest corner. To accommodate the church, the entire structure was placed on four huge 9-story “stilts.” Typically, these columns are designed on the corners of a building, but due to the location of the church, the columns were instead placed mid-facade.
It wasn’t until a late-night phone call from a curious grad student did the building’s design engineer realize he had failed to properly account for the effect of “quartering winds” and the whole structure was susceptible to collapsing during a tropical storm. Worse still, he discovered that the building’s joints had been bolted instead of the welded, the result of a cost cutting move, further weakening the entire design.
In early August, 1978, with hurricane season fast approaching, Citicorp and New York City officials made the decision to reinforce these joints by wrapping them in 2-inch steel plate “band-aids.” The work was done at night and in secret after the office workers left each day.
A month into the repair effort, Hurricane Ella formed off the coast of Cape Hatteras causing some initial alarm but fortunately the storm quickly turned and headed out to sea. Work continued until the repairs were finally completed in October 1978 but the thousands of local residents and office workers, both in and around the building, were never told about the potential danger.
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