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Citicorp tower structural engineer confesses

When New York's Citicorp tower was completed in 1977, it was the seventh tallest building in the world. Many structural engineers hailed the tower for its technical elegance and singular grace. The tower was notable for its sleek aluminum sides and provocative slash-topped design. The structural engineer who designed the steel superstructure was William J. LeMessurier, who not long after the building was completed was elected into the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest honor his profession bestows. But according to Joe Morgenstern in New Yorker magazine, one year after the building opened, LeMessurier came to a frightening realization. The Citicorp tower was flawed. Without LeMessurier's approval, during construction the joints in the steel superstructure had been bolted, which is a common and acceptable practice but does not make for as strong a joint as welding does. What made that a critical problem, though, was that in LeMessurier's calculations he had not taken into account the extra force of a nonperpendicular wind.

He now calculated that the joint most vulnerable to such winds was on the thirteenth floor. If that joint gave way, the whole building would come tumbling down. He talked with meteorologists and found that a wind strong enough to buckle that crucial joint came every sixteen years in New York.

LeMessurier weighed his options. If he blew the whistle on himself, he faced law suits, probable bankruptcy, and professional disgrace. He gave a fleeting thought to suicide but dismissed that as the coward's way out. He could keep silent and hope for the best. But lives were at stake.

So he did what he had to do. He informed all concerned. City and corporate leaders faced the problem in a professional manner, and plans were drawn to strengthen the joints by welding steel plates to them. Contingency plans were made to ensure people's safety during the work, and the welding began in August of 1978.

After the work was completed three months later, the building was strong enough to withstand a storm of the severity that hits New York only once every seven hundred years. In fact it was now one of the safest structures ever built.

The repairs cost millions of dollars. Nevertheless LeMessurier's career and reputation were not destroyed but enhanced. One engineer commended LeMessurier for being a man who had the courage to say, "I got a problem; I made the problem; let's fix the problem."

You may come to a point where you realize your life is like that flawed building. Although by all appearances you are strong and successful and together, you know you have points of weakness that make you vulnerable to collapse. What do you do?

You come clean, get help, and get fixed.

Contemporary Illustrations For Preachers, Teachers, & Writers
Editor Craig Brian Larson, Baker Books, p. 278-279.


We can confess our sins to him and God's love will not diminish

Early in 1993 British police accused two ten-year-old boys of the brutal murder of two-year-old James Bulger. The two boys pleaded innocence. The young defendants responded to police questioning with noticeable inconsistency. The climax came when the parents of one of the boys assured him that they would always love him. Confronted with irrefutable evidence linking him with the crime and the assurance of his parents' love, the boy confessed in a soft voice, "I killed James." The miracle of God's love is that he knows how evil we are, yet he loves us. We can confess our worst sins to him, confident that his love will not diminish.

Leadership