WTC Perimeter
Wall Construction

The buildings' signature architectural design feature was the vertical fenestration, the predominant element of which was a series of closely spaced built-up box columns. At typical floors, a total of 59 of these perimeter columns were present along each of the flat faces of the building. These columns were built up by welding four plates together to form an approximately 14-inch square section, spaced at 3 feet 4 inches on center. Adjacent perimeter columns were interconnected at each floor level by deep spandrel plates, typically 52 inches in depth. In alternate stories, an additional column was present at the center of each of the chamfered building corners. The resulting configuration of closely spaced columns and deep spandrels created a perforated steel bearing-wall frame system that extended continuously around the building perimeter.

Figure 2-3 presents a partial elevation of this exterior wall at typical building floors. Construction of the perimeter-wall frame made extensive use of modular shop prefabrication. In general, each exterior wall module consisted of three columns, three stories tall, interconnected by the spandrel plates, using all-welded construction. Cap plates were provided at the tops and bottoms of each column, to permit bolted connection to the modules above and below. Access holes were provided at the inside face of the columns for attaching high-strength bolted connections. Connection strength varied throughout the building, ranging from four bolts at upper stories to six bolts at lower stories. Near the building base, supplemental welds were also utilized.

Side joints of adjacent modules consisted of high-strength bolted shear connections between the spandrels at mid-span. Except at the base of the structures and at mechanical floors. horizontal splices between modules were staggered in elevation so that not more than one third of the units were spliced in any one story. Where the units were all spliced at a common level, supplemental welds were used to improve the strength of these connections. Figure 2-3 illustrates the construction of typical modules and their interconnection. [WTC Report]

See also: The 9/11 WTC Collapses: An Audio-Video Analysis

What Really Happened