The disaster that wasn’t (NYC c. 1977)

Is the lead engineer a hero or a villain?

Thomas P Seager, PhD
4 min readJul 22, 2018

The Citicorp Tower is a famous case in engineering ethics that is often celebrated as a positive example, rather than the more notorious case studies of ethical failures. Prof. Michael Loui summarizes the highlights of the case:

  • The design flaw was revealed by Princeton University engineering student Diane Hartley, who was analyzing the structure as part of an assignment in Prof. David Billington’s class.
  • The structural engineer came to realize that the risk of building collapse exceeded all reasonable expectations. He notified the building owner, admitted the error, and worked out an expensive retrofit paid for by his liability insurance and the building owner.
  • The discovery and remedy happened to coincide with a newspaper strike in New York City, which effectively suppressed publicity or investigation of the project (despite the availability of radio and television news…