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Final Report

CITICORP CENTER, NYC


Date: 12/05/2016
Submitted by: Amar S Khandve
Course Title: CM 502 Construction Engineering II

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
In 1977 a new building named Citigroup Center was built by Citigroup in the heart of New York City. This building was then the ninth
tallest building in the world. It was clearly identifiable, with 59 stories and a sharp forty-five degree angle tip at the top. However, it
was base of the building that made it special. The skyscraper rested on four, nine story tall, legs. Furthermore, they were located in the
center of each side, instead of at the corners, which is traditionally what we see.
The designer who took most of the credit for design, LeMessurier, then presented his idea which received positive feedback. They
constructed it and all was fine until he received a phone call from an architecture student, which made him realize the fault in building
which may potentially topple building by quartering wind. Quartering winds, as opposed to perpendicular winds, strike the building on
the corners instead on the faces. Normally, buildings are stronger with regards to quartering winds. However, the unique base of the
building did indeed render it susceptible. LeMessurier did further research and determined that, under worst possible conditions, a storm
common once every 16 years could blow over the building.
With Hurricane Ella on the way, LeMessurier went to work to come up with a solution. He kept it a secret until he had the solution.
Once ready, he enlisted the help of the NYPD and RED Cross. They prepared evacuation plans, and went to work to repair the building.
Within no time, the building was safe and the quartering winds were accounted for. It was only until 1995, however that this story was
made public.

INTRODUCTION:
The Citicorp Center is an office tower in New York City, located at 53rd Street between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue in
midtown Manhattan. The building is currently owned by Boston Properties, and in 2009, was renamed 601 Lexington Avenue. It was
built in 1977 to house the headquarters of Citibank. The building is one of the most distinctive and imposing in New York's skyline,
thanks to a 45° angled top and a unique stilt-style base. It was designed by architect Hugh Stubbins and structural engineer William
LeMessurier. It is 915 feet tall, one of the ten tallest skyscrapers in New York, and has 59 floors with 1.3 million square feet of office
space. Due to a design oversight and changes during construction, the building as initially completed was structurally unsound.

SCOPE:
This report focuses on the SOTA used during designing and construction of the building, failures in structure and heuristics used to
overcome those failures. The design of the Citicorp Center provides an excellent case study to analyze the competing demands placed
on design professionals and to examine how business, legal and ethical responsibilities must be carefully considered and balanced.

HISTORY:
In the early 1960s, Citicorp’s headquarters, located at 399 Park Avenue in Manhattan, became too small for the company’s ongoing
growth and expansion. At the same time, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, constructed in 1905 and in need of serious repair without the
funds to do so, began to consider selling its valuable property on the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 54th Street. As fate
would have it, the church was located across the street from the bank’s existing offices.
From the beginning, the Citigroup Center was an engineering challenge. Citicorp spent five years and approximately $40 million to
purchase all but one portion of the entire block. When planning for the skyscraper began in the early 1970s, the northwest corner of the
proposed building site was occupied by St. Peter's Lutheran Church which was founded in 1862. In 1905, the church moved to the
location of 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. The financial institution began planning to erect a new building on the church’s block.

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The church allowed Citicorp to demolish the old church and build the skyscraper under one condition: a new church would have to be
built on the same corner, with no connection to the Citicorp building and no columns passing through it, because the church wanted to
remain on the site of the new development, near one of the intersections. Architects wondered at the time if this demand was too much
and would make the proposal unfeasible.

DESIGN:
In the early 1970s, Citibank retained Hugh Stubbins to be the architect of the new building. Stubbins had started his firm roughly 20
years earlier and was experienced in designing high-rise projects. In fact, it was during the construction of Stubbins’ first high-rise
building—the State Street Bank Building in Boston—where his retention of, and relationship with, structural engineer William
LeMessurier began. In a Greek restaurant close to his firm’s offices in Cambridge, LeMessurier pondered how to overcome the
restriction of placing one of the columns in the traditional corner location. The proposed solution he sketched on the napkin was a
chevron pattern of structural bracing to transfer loads to columns placed at the mid-span of the building’s exterior walls. Structural
engineer William LeMessurier set the 59-story tower on four massive columns, 114 feet (35 meters) high, positioned at the center of
each side, rather than at the corners. LeMessurier’s idea permitted each corner of the building to cantilever 72 feet (22 meters, which
allowed Stubbins to delicately nestle the new church building into the northwest corner of the property while maintaining the use of the
entire lot for Citicorp. To accomplish this, LeMessurier employed a system of stacked load-bearing braces, in the form of inverted
chevrons. Each chevron would redirect the massive loads to their center, then downward into the ground through the uniquely positioned
columns.
Although the 160-foot angled top was originally conceived to face west and provide for residential penthouse setbacks, the City refused
to grant a permit for residential use.9 As a result, the configuration was re-oriented to the south to maximize the potential for generating
solar power. Unfortunately, due to the lack of technological advancement of solar collectors at that time, the solar plan was abandoned.
However, the unique angular top had become a signature of the design, and it was retained as housing for most of the mechanical
equipment.
The Citicorp Center, completed in 1977, reportedly cost an estimated $195 million. At approximately 25,000 tons, the steel
superstructure is considerably lighter than other skyscrapers of similar size. Due to the relatively light weight, building sway was a
serious concern that LeMessurier addressed in the design phase. At the cost of $1.5 million, a “tuned mass damper” was installed in the
angled top, the first of its kind implemented in the United States. This 400-ton block of concrete, which floats on a film of oil, is computer
controlled to absorb the energy of the swaying structure and to reduce the building’s wind-induced movement by as much as 50%.10
At the time it was designed and installed, no one could have foreseen just how valuable the tuned mass damper might prove to be.

INNOVATIONS:
LeMessurier repositioned the columns so that they were located at half-way points under the exterior walls. The Citicorp building was
raised up on 9-story stilts, with a 72 feet cantilever over the new church. The base columns were made robust to handle the shear loads
caused by wind forces and to provide a more aesthetically pleasing proportion; the columns were much larger than structurally
necessary.It occurred to LeMessurier to make efficient use of these columns and run them up the length of the building therefore using
them as a direct load path to the building's foundation. To direct the forces to the columns LeMessurier designed diagonal braces that
carried the member forces to the center of each exterior wall; where the main column was located. Another issue had to be addressed
by the engineer; for a building of its height Citicorp was relatively lightweight making it more dynamically excitable. Several methods
were considered to address the excessive deflections that would be caused by wind forces; they included increasing the stiffness of the
building and semi-isolating the building from the ground by anchoring it on flexible moorings, but were deemed unfeasible. Le
Messurier felt that the best option was to use a Tuned-Mass-Damper (TMD), a tuned-counterweight of 400 tons. This made the
Citicorp building the first building to have mechanical aid as part of its structural design.
A STUDENT’S INQUIRY:
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.
While examining the structural engineering of the project in the preparation of her thesis, Ms. Hartley spoke to a junior engineer at
LeMessurier’s firm and requested the structure’s plans and engineering calculations. She received the documents, and did her own
calculations – which indicated that quartering winds produced significantly higher stresses than those produced by winds hitting just
one face of the building. This structural behavior was different from a conventional building with columns placed at the four corners,

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where wind perpendicular to one face presents the worst loading case. As she reviewed the structural design, Ms. Hartley believed that
it was not sufficient to withstand the quartering winds. She questioned LeMessurier’s junior engineer about her findings, but was assured
that the building was “more efficient” then her calculations suggested.
Ms. Hartley submitted her thesis, which included both the inconsistency noted in her calculations, and the response from the junior
engineer. She was not the only one to question the calculations. Her professor, David Billington, also questioned this inconsistency in
his comments on Ms. Hartley’s thesis. In deference to the reputation and expertise of LeMessurier’s firm, MS. Hartley, an undergraduate
student, accepted the response from the engineering firm.
Years later, LeMessurier recounted that when he was first informed about the student’s inquiry, he thought that the story would provide
an interesting classroom lecture for his structural engineering class at Harvard University. Others say that LeMessurier’ sown dismissal
of the significance of the quartering winds design condition encouraged him to revisit the issue. According to Robert McNamara,
LeMessurier’s partner at the time, LeMessurier had in fact considered the quartering winds during the design phase, but determined that
the quartering winds did not produce as much stress on the building as the perpendicular winds. The result was that the impact of the
quartering winds was not closely analyzed since they were not thought to be the controlling design condition.
THE APPROVED SUBSTITUTION:
Structural engineer William LeMessurier's original design for the "chevron" load braces used welded joints. LeMessurier’s specifications
required welded joints to the chevron braces instead of high-strength bolted joints – the welded joints were by comparison much more
labor intensive and expensive. The bidder explained to LeMessurier that if bolted joints could not be substituted for welded joints, his
firm might not be interested in moving forward. At the time, the bolted connections appeared to have adequate capacity, so his staff
approved the change order. The original welded-joint design had ample strength to withstand the load from straight-on wind, with
enough safety margin to withstand the higher loads from quartering wind; however, the load from a 70 miles per hour hurricane force
quartering wind would exceed the strength of the bolted-joint chevrons. The bolts could shear and the building could collapse. The
structural analysis error (incorrect critical wind direction assumption) coupled with the weaker bolted connections in the diagonal
members meant that the diagonal members were overloaded by a design wind from a quartering direction. Wind tunnel tests with models
of Citigroup Center revealed that the wind speed required to bring down the building occurred on average once in 55 years. Under worst
possible conditions, a storm common once every 16 years could blow over the building.

THE REMEDIAL WORK:


LeMessurier reportedly agonized over how to deal with the problem. If the issues were made known to the public, he risked ruining his
professional reputation. He approached the architect (Hugh Stubbins) first, and then Citicorp. He advised them to take swift remedial
action. Ultimately, he persuaded Citicorp to repair the building without informing the public. LeMessurier explained his proposed
design, which included welding two inch thick by six feet long gusset plates to more than 200 bolted connections. Citicorp approved
the proposed design provided that the necessary materials and labor could be secured immediately.
For the next three months, construction crews working at night welded 2" steel plates over each of the skyscraper's 200 bolted joints.
They worked during the night, after each work day, almost unknown to the general public. They placed strain gauges on several structural
members so that the team could monitor the stresses imposed on the members. Finally, weather experts and forecasters were retained to
provide weather and wind predictions four times each day. Six weeks into the work, a major storm (Hurricane Ella) was off Cape
Hatteras and heading for New York. With New York City hours away from emergency evacuation, the reinforcement was only half-
finished. Ella eventually turned eastward and veered out to sea, buying enough time for workers to permanently correct the problem. As
a precaution, Citicorp did work out emergency evacuation plans with local officials for the immediate neighborhood.
Because nothing happened as a result of the engineering gaffe, the danger was kept hidden from the public for almost 20 years. It was
publicized in a lengthy article in The New Yorker in 1995.

Reference:
https://failures.wikispaces.com/Citicorp+Center
http://people.duke.edu/~hpgavin/cee421/citicorp1.htm
http://www.theaiatrust.com/whitepapers/ethics/study.php
http://csengineermag.com/article/citicorps-suspended-columns-engineering-ethics-on-display-or-not/
http://www.academia.edu/17050579/Citicorp_Case_Study
http://www.skillsyouneed.com/write/report-writing.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citigroup_Center
http://www.bobybarra.com/blog/2015/10/16/remarkable-engineering-almost-a-disaster-citicorp-tower-nyc
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609257/The-New-York-disaster-never-happened-How-one-phone-call-architecture-student-
saved-915ft-Citigroup-skyscraper-crashing-Manhattan-hurricane.html
http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/structural-integrity/
https://www.damninteresting.com/a-potentially-disastrous-design-error/
http://www.lemessurier.com/citigroup_center

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