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 of designing a structure that would be elevated nine stories above the Church on four structural “stilts”. The 59-story skyscraper would be suspended above the Church and would represent an engineering challenge that remains unprecedented even by today’s standards.
As the design progressed, LeMessurier’s design utilized welded joints between all of the structural members of the building in order to protect the strength of the structure. An innovative diagonal bracing, “tuned mass damper” system, and welded joints would allow the structure to exceed the New York building codes in existence at the time of construction.
The building was completed in 1977 and a year later, another professor questi...