Citicorp case study

The case of William LeMessurier and the emergency repair of the Citicorp Center in New York City has been used by some as an example of ethical behavior by an engineer.   This point of view is described in:

Morganstern, J., The Fifty-Nine-Story Crisis,ASCE Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, Vol. 123, No. 1, Jan. 1997, also in the May 29, 1995, issue of The New Yorker

The abstract of the Morganstern paper states, “What’s an engineer’s worst nightmare?  To realize that the wind-bracing system he designed for a skyscraper like Citicorp Center is flawed – a hurricane season is approaching.  In 1978, William J. LeMessurier, one of the nation’s leading structural engineers, discovered after Citicorp Center was completed and occupied, conceptual errors pertaining to joint weakness, tension, and wind force.  Alarmed by the magnitude of the errors and the danger they presented, LeMessurier acknowledged the flaws, immediately drew up new plans and saw that all of the necessary changes to the braces were put into effect.  LeMessurier’s exemplary behavior – encompassing honesty, courage, adherence to ethics, and social responsibility – during the ordeal remains a testimony to the ideal meaning of the word, ‘professional.’ ”

The story is told much the same way at:

Eugene Kremer takes a different view in his paper “(Re)examining the Citicorp Case: Ethical Paragon or Chimera” which may be found online at

Kremer makes the following points, among others:

  • The Citicorp Tower should have been checked for quartering winds because building codes require consideration of the most severe loading case.
  • The decision to change welded joints to bolted joints was an important change that should have been considered more carefully.
  • LeMessurier had a duty to publicize the problem with the building.

Some photos of the Citicorp Center, courtesy of Professor Bob Pitt at the University of Alabama