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World Trade Center: Magnificent Ambition

J.M. Syken

Course Outline

In this course, we will examine the background and events leading up to the design, construction and completion of the World Trade Center in New York City. To fully understand and appreciate the complex, including the twin towers, we’ll examine the social, economic, political, technical etc. events/requirements that would ultimately create the “city within a city.”

Furthermore, we will examine in-depth and detail the engineering and architecture involved in designing the WTC, in particular the substructure and “tube” design of the towers. As well, we’ll focus on the construction methods, materials and systems utilized. Also, we will examine the calamities of 1993 and, in particular, September 11th, 2001, the latter event having destroyed the complex. Lastly we’ll review the renewal of the WTC site and its future prospects.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for architects, engineers, contractors and other design/construction professionals.

Benefit to Attendees

The attendee/s will gain an intimate knowledge and insight into the creation of one of the world’s greatest architectural and engineering achievements: The World Trade Center

Course Introduction

In the post-WWII era, several factors came together to create the World Trade Center. Most significant was the decline of both the Port of New York as well as lower Manhattan’s Financial District. In an era of technology-driven urban renewal, why not take an area of prime real estate in lower Manhattan and transform it from 19th century tenements and mom and pop radio stores into a gleaming center of international trade featuring architecture in keeping with international corporate modernity. To David and Nelson Rockefeller and other like minded political and financial titans, it made a lot of sense, but not to the people displaced who would not go quietly. Go though they did and with the backing of a powerful bi-state agency – The Port of New York Authority, whose reputation for engineering excellence and their ability to raise vast amounts of capital to support such a project, it seemed the WTC couldn’t fail. In the end, the WTC cost several times its original estimate and did not turn a profit until 1981. Likewise, it never attracted the kind of tenants it was created for: those involved in international trade. Many of the dire warnings that fell on deaf ears at the time of its conception (i.e. glutting the NYC market with too much office space) would be realized. As well, the buildings had serious design flaws that would ultimately cost people their lives on that faithful day in September.

Course Content

The following links contain the reference materials and lecture handouts for this webinar:

World Trade Center (Video)
World Trade Center Construction Footage (Video)
World Trade Center: Magnificent Ambition (printable handout in PDF, 11 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)
World Trade Center: Magnificent Ambition (non-printable slideshow for screen-viewing only, 15 MB, see Note A below for downloading instruction)

Note A: Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right-clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader from your computer.

Because this course is offered as a "live" course, you are required to attend the webinar at the scheduled time and date. Please check the Webinar Schedule under course description on our website for currently scheduled meeting date and time. We will send you an invitation to the webinar through email approximately 24 hours before the webinar (confirmation of the receipt of the invitation is required). The certificate of completion will not be issued unless you attend the webinar and pass a quiz. Thank you for your cooperation.

Course Summary

Napoleon Bonaparte once famously proclaimed: “A man is only as great as the monuments he leaves behind.” Like Napoleon, who was both admired and detested in his time, the creation and ultimate fate of the World Trade Center would cast a dark shadow on the history of the world. From a technological point of view, the WTC would set standards for super-tall buildings still in use today (i.e. elevator service). Even with consideration taken in the design of the towers for the impact of a 707 jet crashing into the tower/s, the fuel-fire that ensued was never considered. On any given day, the force of the wind pushing against the buildings was much more potent than the force of the planes that impacted both towers on 9/11. Wind was considered the major technical problem to be overcome, with the two towers acting as giant sails exposed to the powerful winds of New York’s harbor. Even though the “tube” design of load-bearing exterior walls absorbed the wind loads readily and freed 50% more rentable space than a conventional office tower’s “cage” design, movement on the higher floors was noticeable and people could/would get motion sickness. On especially windy days, the outer elevator shafts could not be used due to excessive movement and the effect of the wind was akin to organ pipes being played throughout the tower/s. In the end though, the WTC would be fondly remembered as one of the great achievements of humankind in the latter portion of the 20th century. Napoleon would, no doubt, agree.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites:



Before you attend the webinar, you need to print the quiz questions from your browser for your study during the webinar. At the end of the webinar, you need to complete the quiz and submit your answers to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.