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Natsios Young Architects

30 October 2001: Add news report on need for independent investigation.

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28 October 2001

WTC Design Failure


What is now happening in New York City, State, with help of the federal government, a stupefying cover-up of culpability for the unsafe condition of the WTC towers which was well known in the design professions and among municipal, state and national officials. And WTC was hardly the only unsafe building in the United States, not only high-rises but the full range of building types.

What is happening in New York City parallels what is happening at the national level to divert attention inexcusable failure to anticipate the WTC disaster by federal officials, the military and intelligence agencies. Aggressive impelementation of plans to attack the disaster using the same people and policies which failed to prevent it is only possible by diverting public attention with orchestrated grief, ceremonial commiseration, undue praise of inept leaders -- the techniques all too often used to exculpate failure of those in highest positions of public trust.

Architects and structural engineers of New York City, in all the major cities, bear a special burden of failure in the case of WTC for no experienced practising professional is unaware of the forces that lead to the construction of unsafe buildings, and design professionals are charged by law and ethics with the responsibility to not shift blame to others who are not licensed, and in particular not to blame public officials and building owners.

Licensing law is clear, and the New York State Education Department repeatedly affirms it with periodic statements, that the buck for building safety stops with licensed designed professionals, in private practice and in positions with government. That's the deal, you hold the license in public trust, and if you fail that trust, you pay the price of betrayal. No exculpation is justifiable, not for design professionals, not for government officials in charge of public safety, the New York City Fire Department, the Building Department, the Port Authority, the New York State Education Department which supervises licensed professionals, and similar parties throughout the nation and overseas.

No licensed designed professional in New York City, no public official responsible for public safety deserves to participate in the correction of failure in public trust until it is demonstrated that that trust is deserved in the face of the WTC disaster. And that trust should not be given any time soon.

The building professionals, officials of New York City and building owners, like national governmental, military and intelligence officials who hold public trust, should not divert attention from culpability for failure by rushing to implement the same policies by the same people who failed the public trust.

What is not recognized in New York City's rush to rebuild after the WTC disaster is that the architectural and engineering professions in New York City and State are not to be trusted due to the collapse of the WTC towers.

Design professionals are licensed by the state to assure that buildings they work on are safe, and more generally, with building officials, bear responsibility for building safety. Building codes and compliance with them are under the jurisdiction of professional societies who sit on committees to keep codes current, testify in court as expert witnesses about disasters, and enjoy the benefits of professional licensure but only so long as they fulfill the public trust.

What is needed it to pause, take a deep breath, contain grief, get angry and stay angry at those who failed, and do not trust them for the foreseeable future. Their plans for rebuilding, city, state and federal, even international, are not to be believed, no more than their rush to judge, arrest, detain, bomb and assassinate others to avoid being judged.

New York City, like most of the world's cities, is composed of vast neighborhoods of wasteland and official neglect; icons like WTC were intended to camouflage this reality, in their design and construction, in their flouting of building safety codes as slumlords do everywhere, and in their martyrdom -- as Paul Goldberger, architecture critic of The New Yorker, grotesquely proclaims. No grief is expressed for New York City's continuing disaster away from the bright lights and posh enclaves of privilege, no more than grief is celebrated of the wretched regions of the United States and other nations.

Praise for the cultural value of densely populated cities is promotional fluff to offset the wretched quality of life of most urban inhabitants, customarily promulgated by news media which thrive on real estate and financial advertising, and to be sure the building design professionals, attorneys, financers, insurance, builders, investors and craft trades who dominate construction regulations and regulatory bodies.

WTC and the Pentagon and the terrorism warnings are being used to excuse official neglect by professionals and officials, and by apologists and critics who are complicit with the failure. They are thriving on the crisis, giddy with importance, baring their best they think, while showing their worst.

Some years ago a New York State Moreland Act Commission investigated public authorities such as the Port Authority, aimed in particular at the Urban Development Corporation* (its successor, the Empire State Development Corporation, remains the most powerful construction agency in the state due to its unique powers to override local zoning and building codes and to market economic development bonds). It is time for a similar investigation of the building and real estate industry of the city and state, but best would be an international body to examine the export of US building and real estate industry practices around the globe to determine what those forces have unleashed on the homeland of the US and other nations.

-- John Young

* Eleanor L. Brillaint, The Urban Development Corporation: Private Interests and Public Authority, Lexington Books, 1975. ISBN 0-669-98301-2. This volume traces the rise of the quasi-public authority from the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s to the Urban Developent Authority in the 1960s and the use of these agencies to bypass governmental control and public accountability. New York State has had some 50 of these authorities, many set up as local subsidiaries of UDC, and later the Empire State Development Authority, to take advantage of extraordinary powers to develop private projects without compliance with zoning and building codes, the best known example the World Trade Center. Brilliant recounts the widespread abuse of these authorities and subsequent downfall of many like their UDC parent, and tragically, the Port Authority's WTC, though others continue with impressive successes.

Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2001 05:11:07 -0500
From: D
Subject: wtc independent probe

2 Seek Probe of Collapse


Daily News Chief of Investigations

Two leading fire safety experts from John Jay College are calling for an independent probe of the World Trade Center collapse, saying there are far-reaching lessons to be learned for firefighters and builders of high-rises.

Profs. Charles Jennings and Glenn Corbett of John Jay's fire science department said a comprehensive inquiry is needed to examine all aspects of the disaster, including the Fire Department response, engineering issues, fireproofing concerns and evacuation procedures.

"Anytime you have a line-of-duty death, and certainly in a case like this, it would dishonor the members of the department who died not to do a thorough review to prevent anything like this from happening again," said Jennings, whose college has close ties to the Fire and Police departments. "There is no fact-finding inquiry that's being done independently."

The Fire Department, which lost 343 members, by far the largest single loss of life in the history of the FDNY, has begun interviewing firefighters who were at the scene. Several of the nation's leading engineering and fire-prevention societies are participating in a report being overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will detail how the towers collapsed.

Looking for the Big Picture

That approach is not broad enough, the John Jay experts say. "There needs to be some sort of federal focus on the big picture, on the firefighting, the codes, the engineering aspect of construction," Jennings said.

Corbett, who is also technical editor of Fire Engineering magazine, said the purpose of the inquiry "is not to fix blame but [to see] what can we learn from this."

Deputy Fire Commissioner Frank Gribbon said the department doesn't believe such an inquiry in necessary.

"We are conducting a comprehensive review of our operations," he said. "We don't see the need for an outside review."

But Corbett said, "There are fundamental building and fire safety issues" that need examination. "This cuts to the heart of the way buildings are built and how we evacuate them."

Civilians should be interviewed, said Jennings, because firefighters don't have a complete picture of what happened.

"Some civilians reported hearing creaking and groaning sounds in the building," he said. "Those are very serious warning signs. It makes me think that if we had better information, maybe we would have had a better outcome."

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Fire Prevention Association will contribute to the FEMA report.

Original Publication Date: 10/30/01