By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

One extraordinary day

Architect Sam Webb gives his account of one extraordinary day

I was sitting in the kitchen when the phone rang: 'Hello? It's Les.Are you watching CNN?'

'Don't be silly, Les, this is Chartham.' 'A plane has just struck the World Trade Center.'

It was a couple of minutes after 2pm and just gone nine in the morning in New York. We continued to talk. 'What can it be? Is it an accident? Oh my God! Another plane has crashed into the second tower.'

We still continued to talk. It seemed like the work of terrorists.

Then came FBI reports of other planes hijacked, eight in total.And then a report that one had crashed on the Pentagon. Les rang off. I switched on the TV and the phone rang again on 1571.

'Hello. I want to speak to Sam Webb. This is BBC Radio Scotland.

We would like to speak to you to about the World Trade Center.' So I rang, telling the woman at the other end that I did not want to be interviewed.

'Why can't everyone get out? Are the designers to blame? Shouldn't buildings be designed to resist planes flying into them?'

Patiently, I tried to explain that there would be about 10-20,000 people in the buildings. There was no safe way to evacuate them in a fire and the building had withstood the huge impact of the plane. Then she said: 'Well, it's OK. We don't want to interview you. We've found someone else.'

I said: 'Fine.Who is it?' 'Marco Goldschmied, 'she replied. 'Marco works with Richard Rogers.'

I watched the pictures on TV and phoned Les. At one point a huge cloud of yellow dust appeared, engulfing the Wall Street area. 'Les, I think I can only see one of the towers.

Has it fallen down?' Then a banner headline appeared: 'One of the Towers has collapsed.' I rang off, unable to take in what I was seeing.

The phone rang again: 'Hello, it's the BBC. We'd like to interview you.

The situation has changed.' It seemed the understatement of the century.They were still in their blame mode. 'Why has it collapsed? Is the designer to blame?' I asked her if she understood what she was seeing.

'Look, we're going on air with you.' As I heard my name being announced the second tower fell, live, in closeup, on prime-time TV. People ran for their lives.

They started asking the usual questions. 'Nothing has ever happened like this before. This is unique, ' I said. In the background I could hear the controller: 'Cut! We're going over to Yasser Arafat live.' It was surreal. Could this be happening? Was I dreaming? In the background, I could hear the tremulous, emotional voice of Arafat.

Then they came back: 'Why have these buildings collapsed?' I tried to explain the tremendous heat from a plane fully loaded with aviation fuel, how the plane would have taken out the structure on many floors, how the steel would start to buckle in temperatures of 1,500infinityC and that it was the fire that caused them to fall down. 'Thank you Mr Webb.' It was over. I continued to watch, unable to take my eyes from the screen, switching channels from BBC to ITV to Channel 4.

I tried to think how it would be judged. I went back in my mind to other events I had seen that might compare in magnitude. It was another September day. Another bathed in warm autumn sunshine, 61 years ago. Planes came then and another huge pall of smoke rose high above London as I stood and watched. It was Saturday,7 September 1940 and the start of the Blitz, and I was standing on the doorstep looking at the sky over London. I was three.

And then I thought. Early FBI reports said there were eight hijacked planes. What happened to the other four? What else have we not been told?

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters