15 Years Later: On The Physics Of High-­Rise Building Collapses

September 1st, 2016 Posted in

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 9.59.45 AMA new article by Steven Jones, Robert Korol, Anthony Szamboti and Ted Walter has just been published in the August edition of Europhysics News

In August 2002, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched what would become a six-year investigation of the three building failures that occurred on September 11, 2001 (9/11): the well-known collapses of the World Trade Center (WTC) Twin Towers that morning and the lesser-known collapse late that afternoon of the 47-story World Trade Center Building 7, which was not struck by an airplane. NIST conducted its investigation based on the stated premise that the “WTC Towers and WTC 7 [were] the only known cases of total structural collapse in high-rise buildings where fires played a significant role.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 10.30.07 AMIndeed, neither before nor since 9/11 have fires caused the total collapse of a steel-framed high-rise, nor has any other natural event, with the exception of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which toppled a 21-story office building. Otherwise, the only phenomenon capable of collapsing such buildings completely has been by way of a procedure known as controlled demolition, whereby explosives or other devices are used to bring down a structure intentionally.

Although NIST finally concluded, after several years of investigation, that all three collapses on 9/11 were due primarily to fires, fifteen years after the event, a growing number of architects, engineers, and scientists are unconvinced by that explanation.
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