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See Inside September 2011

Castles in the Air

The attacks of 9/11 supposedly ended the age of the skyscraper. A decade on we're building more than ever



IWAN BAAN

On that cool blue morning 10 years ago when everything changed, Les Robertson was half a world away, hosting a dinner at a Hong Kong restaurant. The rattling of cell phones left on the table—“a detestable habit”—was the first indication that something had struck one of the Twin Towers. Robertson, the revered engineer responsible for their structural design, was at first unconcerned.

“I just assumed that a helicopter had run into the Trade Center,” he said recently, speaking from his 47th-floor office, which looks out over Ground Zero. Such an event, unfortunate as it might have been, was well within the tolerances for which the towers were designed. A few minutes later, however, when those cell phones started buzzing once more with news of a second crash, he realized it was “quite another thing again” and excused himself to watch the unfolding events from a hotel room.

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