Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that destroyed both towers, killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, decimated New York City’s first responders, and in many ways changed the world forever. The date September 11 will always conjure up, for those who lived through it, horrible memories — of the sights, the fears, the concerns for loved ones, and above all the concern and sorrow felt for those nearly 3,000 who we did not even know.
This blog article is an inadequate place to try to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on that day, so I will not even try. Rather I would like to celebrate the too brief existence of two buildings – two buildings which hold a significant place in my life.
2 World Trade Center (the south tower) was my professional address from 1980 to 1983 (giving me, a young engineer a few months out of college, one of New York’s most prestigious – and most visible — addresses). I was working for Ebasco Services, and that is really where I learned how to be an engineer. At the time we were doing almost exclusively nuclear power work, but my experiences were extremely varied due to the life stages of the different plants I worked on: retrofit projects on long operating plants at Indian Point (NY) and Millstone (CT), as-building of a newly commissioned plant at St. Lucie (FL), and greenfield projects at WPPSS (WA) and Laguna Verde (Mexico). It seemed like there was always something new and interesting to do.
But learning about the engineering of nuclear power plants didn’t prevent me from also learning something about the engineering of sky scrapers. My desk was on the 80th floor – yes right in the middle of the impact zone 20 years later. I took advantage of what opportunities I had to look out of the windows across New York harbor to the Statue of Liberty. I remember discussing the novelty of the relatively narrow windows with my colleagues – we learned that the windows were narrow due to the fact that the perimeter of the building was made up of closely-spaced tube steel columns. This meant that the perimeter of the building, when structurally tied at intervals with the building’s services core, was used to resist all lateral wind and earthquake loads, plus weight loads from above. An unusual design, but one with benefits: the entire floor, aside from the services core in the center, was wide open and column free.
WTC Construction drawing, showing perimeter tubes,
services core, and open floor space
The World Trade Center had more than just professional memories for me. The day I met my future wife, we went to the Market Bar on the first floor of 1 World Trade Center to mark the occasion. Later, after we were married, we moved up in the world, making it all the way up to the 107th floor to celebrate a promotion in Windows on the World.
The view from up there was amazing, even better than the view from my desk, 27 floors down. Being so high, atop what was basically a cantilever, one would expect that the motion might spoil the appetite, but no. Later I learned that a lot of work had gone into solving just that problem: a special wind tunnel was built which could simulate the effects of New York City wind on a 110 story building, new mathematics were developed to tune that wind tunnel and develop the structural response, and finally motion simulators were built to test what types of accelerations and displacements people could handle without adverse effects. The projected motion was ultimately tamed through a system of viscoelastic shock absorbers; the first time such as system had been used in a building.
After the September 11 tragedy it took 10 years before I was able to face going back and looking at the Ground Zero site. First there was memory of the horror of the attack, but also there was a strong sense that something was missing from my life. It hurts that I can’t proudly point out to people the floor of the legendary building where I worked many years ago, or that my wife and I can’t take our kids to the Market Bar (yes, they have just turned 21) or Windows on the World to relive some family history.
I’m glad that that Freedom Tower has taken the place of the World Trade Center, but it will never replace the original for me. But I am sure there are many other young graduates, starting their careers or starting their families, in and around that building. May they have nothing but good memories of that site forever.
For an interesting discussion of the engineering challenges behind the World Trade Center: https://www.nae.edu/Publications/Bridge/EngineeringandHomelandSecurity/ReflectionsontheWorldTradeCenter.aspx
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3 thoughts on “One Engineer Remembers the World Trade Center”
Hi. My name is Peter and I just wanted to say that all told I had worked into World Trade Center as a subcontractor for a Basco maintaining one of their systems between the 77th and the 93rd floors between 1983 until just after the time that they were sold to Raytheon. I did however go back there and do a job for another company and was there for the last time only 14 months before 9/11. I spent the better part of 10 years old together working for EBASCO. Sadly I wrote a much longer comment in this space before there must have been a glitch in my phone but it took me away from this page and when I returned what was a lengthy history of mine regarding two World Trade Center had disappeared. This is a much shorter version. It’s just as well I probably would have bored you with it. Have a good day sir and thank you for letting me share at least this much.
My father’s first job out of college in 1970 was with Ebasco in an office on Rector Street in NYC. Not long after, they eventually moved into the then-new WTC. They transferred him to Atlanta in 1974, and 2 years we moved again for him to work on the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor in Princeton. Then it was back to WTC (we lived in Pennsylvania at this point), on the 88th floor of the South Tower. I have fond memories of going in to work with him a few times when I was in middle school and high school. Driving over the Delaware River and taking the train in Trenton and then take the PATH to the Trade Center. He and most of his group were transferred to an office in Lyndhurst in 1989. Then a group of them wrote a proposal for the Space Station and Space Shuttle programs and won the contract; we moved to Houston in 1990. But I’ll never, ever forget the World Trade Center. The view from his office was magnificent– the Statue of Liberty was so tiny. 9/11 was one of the most horrific days in our history; I lived in Houston when it happened, and still had many friends who lived in and around Manhattan and New Jersey. It was something I couldn’t explain to my Houston acquaintances. My hometown in PA lost 18 people that day. My father would have been among them had they not moved him to another office. My heart breaks every year for all the lives lost, and for the loss of those magnificent (though originally much-maligned) buildings. I still have a postcard of the Twin Towers he sent me during my first year at college. He put a pen mark on the South Tower and wrote, “If you look closely, you can see me, waving…” I treasure it. I lost him to Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Dementia in November 2021. Thank you for posting this ~
Heather, that’s a lot of memories there. Thanks for reading, and for your comment.