NOVA producer Larry Klein, who won a Peabody Award for his NOVA production Building Big, completes a six-month partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers in order to bring NOVA viewers behind the scenes in the investigation into "Why The Towers Fell." In the following essay, Mr. Klein reveals his personal feelings on this project.
Looking back over the months it has taken to produce "Why The Towers Fell,"
my most vivid memories come from the first day of shooting. After weeks of
tense negotiations and bureaucratic road blocks, we were finally allowed to
film the government-funded investigative team studying the precise reasons
for the collapse of the Towers. The investigation had been ongoing for about
a month since the attack, and we were losing valuable time if we were truly
meant to track the team´s progress and discoveries. With clearances finally
in hand, we left on a beautiful clear day to film at Ground Zero and at a
scrap yard in New Jersey. The scrap yard is where the steel from Ground Zero
is taken and then cut into two-to-three foot blocks for shipping to
"re-smelters" overseas. When I asked what this meant, I was told that one
day soon, the World Trade Center would come back to America, only this time,
we would be driving in it or sipping a soda from it or screwing it into a
wall. Recycled World Trade Center metal. Wow! The knowledge was somehow
arresting, as if all this mangled steel now piled into mini-mountains next to
the Hudson was actually the bones of the deceased being picked over by
More disturbing, there was no visual relationship between these huge metal
mounds and the once famous New York skyline landmark that had made so many
cameo appearances in movies, television programs and print ads; nothing that
would let a casual observer know what the scrap mounds had been and what had
happened to them. Later that day, we went to Ground Zero and I was again
struck by the extraordinary anonymity of it all. There was not a discernable
piece of furniture anywhere. No computers or books or anything that would
identify this massive wreckage field as having once been several million
square feet of office space. There was only steel of various lengths and
thickness twisted into bizarre, pretzel-like shapes and an interlacing
gray-brown matter enveloping everything. I didn´t need anyone to tell me
that that gray-brown matter was the contents and insides of the World Trade
Center vaporized by the collapse.
The difficulty with finding any reliable information in all this mess seemed
daunting. Yet watching the American Society of Civil Engineers investigative
team scour the debris fields that day, gathering samples or measuring and
photographing steel fragments, was impressive. These forensic engineers were
looking for pieces of steel from areas of the buildings where the planes had
hit. When I asked how on earth they could know where a piece of steel
actually resided in two 110 story buildings that were now just countless tons
of rubble, I was shown numbers etched on the surface of a beam. The builders
of the Twin Towers had marked every piece of steel as to its floor and exact
location in the buildings. Like good crime detectives, these engineers came
to the scene knowing what to look for, and over the next several months they
found all the evidence they needed.
The NOVA documentary I helped produce will be the first official public presentation of
the results of this unprecedented disaster study. The 22-member study team
from the American Society of Civil Engineers was commissioned by FEMA
(Federal Emergency Management Agency) to perform the investigation, and the
fully written report, called a Building Performance Study, will be made
available to the public on May 1.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.