The Citicorp Center (now known as the Citigroup Center) is one of the most recognizable features of the New York City skyline. The distinctive 45° angled top rises 915 feet into the air. The base of the building—arguably even more distinct—sits 114 feet in the air, supported by an unusual placement of four giant columns centered, not on the building’s corners, but rather on each of its sides. These columns, or stilts, make the 59-story tower appear as if it is gracefully levitating above Lexington Avenue and were anything but ordinary when they were first designed to support the then seventh tallest building in the world.
The story of Citicorp Center’s structural engineer, William LeMessurier,
is instructive to those in the design industry. His innovative use and placement of those giant columns created a design marvel, but those very elements could have been the basis for a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Capitalizing on good fortune, the disastrous end of LeMessurier’s career was avoided and, instead, his stature in the design professional community rose to new heights. His story demonstrates the need for proper communication, delegation and supervision during the design and construction process and emphasizes the importance of balancing professional and legal responsibilities with ethical obligations.
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