WATCH: An Epic Tale of How Secret Teamwork Saved Lives, in 1978

The Disaster That Never Was: Eight weeks of emergency welding in 1978, performed at night and on weekends during a newspaper strike in NYC, saved the new, $175-million Citicorp Tower, a best-kept secret for many years.
Hartley: Curious hero.


Okay, here’s a final holiday treat before you head back to work on Monday. But stop me if you’ve heard this one…

No, on second thought, don’t. It’s such a good story that even if you have heard part of it before, you probably have not heard all of it. After all, the identity of the tale’s first indispensable hero, Diane Hartley, was not even revealed publicly until 2014, and she, herself, had not been aware of her own catalytic role until she happened upon a BBC documentary in 2010. Its subject was the greatest engineering catastrophe that never happened, and the secret, emergency retrofits that were performed in the dead of night, for eight weeks in 1978, to fix a hidden design flaw in –and avert the collapse of– New York City’s new, 59-story, $175-million Citicorp Tower.

  • To accommodate an historic church (right), structural supports at the base were moved from the corners to the center of each side, providing a fulcrum for the vertical chevron bracing. Hartley’s questions caused the structural engineer to revisit his calculations… and then race into action!

Rendering this story even more remarkable is the fact that it is devoid of villains or even lingering ill will. Incredibly, despite two months of overtime repairs and more than $8 million (1978 dollars) in related costs, no lawsuits were filed and no one filed for bankruptcy. Instead, what emerged from this crisis now makes for perfect holiday fare that reminds us of the vital role that architects, engineers, contractors, unions, owners, public officials –and even students– can accomplish when they approach problems without ego and with only a shared desire to find solutions that protect public safety.

Below, in three 10-min. parts, watch All Fall Down, the original documentary that Hartley first saw in 2010. To learn more about her role in setting the corrective events in motion, listen to the award-winning radio segment, Structural Integrity, produced for 99% Invisible, here.