The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis
A story of professional ethics and moral responsibility was publicized in an article appearing in the May 29th, 1995 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The article entitled “The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis” focuses on the ethical and moral obligations of individuals and companies involved in the construction of a skyscraper in downtown New York during 1977.
In the early 1970’s, Citibank Corporation had begun to undertake the planning for a new corporate headquarters that would symbolize the strength and longevity of the company. In the planning phase of the construction, an engineering consulting firm headed by a Mr. William LeMessurier was employed to develop a design for the building. LeMessurier was a highly respected civil engineer with a talent for new and innovative designs. He was also a respected professor at Harvard University in the civil engineering field.
The design of the new Citibank offices was unique in that it had to be built on a plot of land with an existing Church structure. The Church agreed to grant “air rights” to Citibank, if Citibank would rebuild the Church in its current location. Citibank agreed, and LeMessurier was challenged with the task
The 59-story skyscraper would be suspended above the Church and would represent an engineering challenge that remains unprecedented even by today"tms standards. The ethical challenge in this situation is to take personal ownership in decisions that are made by corporate or other "outside" decision-makers. As the design progressed, LeMessurier"tms design utilized welded joints between all of the structural members of the building in order to protect the strength of the structure. Moral Issues and Ethical TheorySeveral moral issues are brought to the surface during this potential disaster. In this particular case, LeMessurier had completed his job designing the building and specifying the appropriate welded joints. The construction company should be held to the same moral standard as LeMessurier. However, morally, once he had knowledge of a possible design problem, there was an obligation to divulge its existence. The results of LeMessurier"tms quartering wind calculations resulted in projections of a 160 percent increase in the load placed on the structural members of the building. Additionally, both moral and legal obligations to divulge and resolve the problem fell with the construction company and Citibank Corporation. The building"tms occupants and the people in the surrounding neighborhoods would have paid a significant price had there been any disaster caused by the decision made by the construction company. But the expense to the other Stakeholders could have possibly been incalculable. Had LeMessurier chose to shift the responsibility to the construction company and believe that it was not his problem, the consequences of his inaction could have been severe, and subsequently immoral.