What did and did not cause collapse of World Trade Center twin towers in New York?

Zdeněk P. Bažant, Jia Liang Le, Frank R. Greening, David B. Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Previous analysis of progressive collapse showed that gravity alone suffices to explain the overall collapse of the World Trade Center Towers. However, it remains to be determined whether the recent allegations of controlled demolition have any scientific merit. The present analysis proves that they do not. The video record available for the first few seconds of collapse is shown to agree with the motion history calculated from the differential equation of progressive collapse but, despite uncertain values of some parameters, it is totally out of range of the free fall hypothesis, on which these allegations rest. It is shown that the observed size range (0.01-0.1 mm) of the dust particles of pulverized concrete is consistent with the theory of comminution caused by impact, and that less than 10% of the total gravitational energy, converted to kinetic energy, sufficed to produce this dust (whereas, more than 150 t of TNT per tower would have to be installed, into many small holes drilled into concrete, to produce the same pulverization). The air ejected from the building by gravitational collapse must have attained, near the ground, the speed of almost 500 miles per hour (or 223 m/s, or 803 km/h) on average, and fluctuations must have reached the speed of sound. This explains the loud booms and wide spreading of pulverized concrete and other fragments, and shows that the lower margin of the dust cloud could not have coincided with the crushing front. The resisting upward forces due to pulverization and to ejection of air, dust, and solid fragments, neglected in previous studies, are indeed found to be negligible during the first few seconds of collapse but not insignificant near the end of crush-down. The calculated crush-down duration is found to match a logical interpretation of seismic record, while the free fall duration grossly disagrees with this record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)892-906
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Engineering Mechanics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2008


  • Buildings
  • Collapse
  • High-rise
  • New York
  • New York City
  • Structural dynamics
  • Terrorism
  • Towers


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