Tuesday, August 31, 1999

The 'leaning' tower episode

By Sheila Murugasu

THE one incident during construction which gave sleepless nights to everyone interviewed in connection with the building of the Petronas Twin Towers was the "leaning tower" episode.

Back in late 1995, a persistent rumour began making the rounds in Kuala Lumpur's eateries.

It was said that one of the towers was leaning. And with the naked eye, it did look slightly askew.

Fears of it toppling and causing a monumental disaster soon turned the rumour into a news story, giving it a certain legitimacy.

The Kuala Lumpur City Centre management found themselves scrambling to disprove the rumour, with the project management team going into crisis mode.

"It gave us all a real fright," recalls the Petronas chairman. "If it was true and anything happened as a result, it would have been a real disaster, not just for Petronas but for Malaysia."

It was a public relations nightmare which KLCC Berhad's public relations manager remembers vividly. She was inundated on a daily basis with calls from the public, the media and VIPS.

But it wasn't just outsiders that were looking for answers.

"We (the project management team) wanted to know for ourselves if there were any grounds for concern. At the time we were wondering if the construction company for the Tower had been keeping information from us," says the then KLCC's project manager.

Several measures were taken. Consultants, additional surveyors and equipment were flown in to undertake a series of tests. The design of the towers was subjected to a peer review by independent foreign consultants. Hi-tech equipment, such as laser beams, were used, with high precision surveys continuously carried out. Strain gauges were also employed to detect if there were any deviations.

According to KLCC's Chief Operating Officer, no expense was spared to get to the bottom of the story.

All in, a few million ringgit was spent allaying fears; fears that as it later turned out were unfounded.

When all the data came in, the expert conclusion was that the tower was tilting slightly because of the discrepancies in loading, but that the tilt was well within the tolerance level.

And once the structure was complete, the building would balance itself out.

Copyright 1999. Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd. (Co No. 10894-D)
All rights reserved.