Meet the 59 story skyscraper, (Citigroup Center building), the seventh-tallest building in the world (at the time).
The building had a unique challenge because it had to be built around a church that could not be moved or destroyed, (St. Peter’s Lutheran Church). So Citicorp built around and above the church, using a new design.
The building sits on stilts, suspended over St. Peter’s church, with chevron bracing structure rows to help stabilize it. This made the building lighter than normal so it would sway in the wind. A 400-ton tuned mass damper was also added to help control swaying in strong winds.
In June 1978, Princeton University engineering student Diane Hartley wrote her undergraduate thesis, “Implications of a Major Office Complex: Scientific, Social and Symbolic Implications” on The Citicorp Center. Per her calculations, Ms. Hartley believed that it was not sufficient to withstand strong quartering winds. She warned as many people as she could reach from the build team but they told her she was wrong.
Later, others began checking her numbers and found that she was right, a strong storm could cause the building to fall over. It was also then realized that a blackout could render the tuned mass damper inoperable. Without the tuned mass damper a smaller storm could also cause the building to fall over.
The kill area was about 6 blocks long.
Secret emergency repairs were started while people were still working in the building and surrounding buildings. The work was done in secret at night and no one was told why. An army of people deployed with different tasks were all in on it but only a handful of people knew the truth.
All of this happened even as Hurricane Ella was racing up the eastern seaboard. The potential loss of life was over 200,000 unsuspecting people, many with families.
At the time the New York City newspapers were all on strike.
The engineering student Diane Hartley was never given credit or paid for discovering, alerting and preventing a mass casualty disaster. Even when it leaked they couldn’t admit a woman discovered the flaw so they said it was an “unknown man”.
Meanwhile the people who built the mistake were praised for coming forth to fix it.