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Lessons Learned

a. Questioning One’s Own Decisions

sketch of the tower
Diane Hartley, the Princeton engineering student, certainly deserves much credit for starting the incredible chain of events that may ultimately have saved thousands of lives. But her discovery would have never made a difference if it was not for LeMessurier’s willingness to consider what others questioned. LeMessurier listened to the thoughts of an unknown college engineering student and intellectual curiosity and inquisitive nature prevented him from completely disregarding the student’s inquiry. Instead LeMessurier considered the message from the student and questioned his own firm’s design in an objective and thorough fashion.

LeMessurier’s acts highlight the importance associated with constantly questioning and re-examining past decisions in light of new information or ideas. Design professionals must be open to other ideas, perspectives and criticisms while avoiding a “stubborn attachment to existing beliefs.”[63]

b. Review of Changes to the Design

When a change from the original construction documents is contemplated, the decision to allow such a change must include the key persons involved in the design of the system. That should include the principal in charge, the lead designer, the project manager and the junior level person involved on the day-to-day work. LeMessurier’s acts would not have been necessary if the substitution of bolted connections for welded connections had not been approved in the shop drawing process. The review process of accepting a substitution, or approving shop drawings, does not always receive the attention it warrants. This was especially true for the Citicorp Project where a local engineering firm had shop drawing review responsibilities and arguably, those that should have reviewed the submissions never laid eyes on them.

c. Perception

Regardless of how one views LeMessurier’s particular actions, his personal attention to the issues coupled with the swiftness and definitiveness of his acts seemingly transformed a potentially divisive situation into one where he received the support of the client, governmental agencies and the contractors. Even if some of LeMessurier’s acts arguably strayed from his ethical obligations, there seems to be equally plausible reasons to justify such conduct. Of critical importance, LeMessurier’s acts and statements to Stubbins, Citicorp and the City officials, by all accounts, were perceived to be honest and professional. LeMessurier presented a problem, but, perhaps more importantly, he presented a detailed solution that everyone believed in. In the man’s worst hour, LeMessurier’s acts inspired those around him to come to his aid and support him. He was perceived by those involved as acting admirably and stepping forward to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public. Ultimately, it was the way the LeMessurier was perceived by Citicorp that saved him and his firm from the loss of his client, potential bankruptcy and a costly litigation. Ultimately, LeMessurier’s ability to persuade Citicorp and the City Officials to stand behind him allowed LeMessurier to fulfill his ethical obligations and correct a mistake to avoid a potentially disastrous and deadly result.

Conclusion

In the words of William LeMessurier to his students at Harvard:

You have a social obligation. In return for getting a license and being regarded with respect, you’re supposed to be self-sacrificing and look beyond the interests of yourself and your client to society as a whole. And the most wonderful part of my story is that when I did it, nothing bad happened.[64]

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