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Trade Center architect discusses buildings

(CNN) -- When they were completed in the early 1970s, the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center were the tallest buildings in the world. That designation didn't last long -- Chicago's Sears Tower took the title in 1974, a year after Two World Trade Center was finished -- but the buildings' standing as a New York City landmark, anchors amid the office-tower canyons of Manhattan's financial district, remained unchallenged.

Tuesday, the buildings -- daytime home of more than 50,000 workers -- were destroyed when two hijacked passenger jets were flown into the structures.

CNN's Leon Harris spoke with Aaron Swirsky, part of the architectural team led by World Trade Center chief architect Minoru Yamasaki, on the way the building was designed.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: So many of us had thought for so long that the Twin Towers were invincible. We had heard for so many times over the years that the buildings have been built to withstand an impact from the crash of a plane.

Let's talk right now on the telephone with Aaron Swirsky. He's in Jerusalem. He was one of the original architects of the complex, as I understand it.

Is that the case, Mr. Swirsky?

AARON SWIRSKY, ARCHITECT: I was working with Minoru Yamasaki, who is the architect of the building. But I was one of the workers with him. We were a team of 14 architects, and I was one of the members of the team.

HARRIS: As a member of the team, and having such insight to how this building was constructed, could you believe that a plane could bring these buildings down?

SWIRSKY: No, as a matter of fact, one of the rationales of the structure of the building was that it would be built as a pipe. And that proved itself to work during the explosion of 1993, when a hole was brought into the building, and it survived. But somehow, nobody could foresee anything like (Tuesday's incident).

Also, at that time, the planes were not like these types of planes that we have now. I think the biggest plane was a 100-passenger plane, something like that, and the fuel capacity of those planes was not like they are today.

The criterion was that if a plane hits, it would go right through it. And nobody could foresee something like that. The tower was protected in such a way that the damage would be limited to one story, but it wouldn't travel to the other stories.

HARRIS: The planes that crashed yesterday were much bigger than that. They were 757s.

SWIRSKY: And also the fuel capacity is much more tremendous.

HARRIS: Exactly. That's what I want to ask you about. Which was it that made the biggest difference? Was it the impact felt from the larger plane, or was it the heat generated by the burning and that much fuel.

SWIRSKY: I imagine, when I saw the pictures of the implosion of the building, it looks like the fuel must have leaked right to the core of the building, and from there it was the massive explosion that caused the building to collapse. So it was something completely unforeseen, so far as the design criteria was (concerned).

HARRIS: Let me ask one final question, if I may. Considering what you know about the building -- you say it was constructed like a pipe, these two buildings -- and the manner in which we saw them collapse, does that give you any hope at all that the way it collapsed, there will be more packets inside, at the bottom, where survivors could be found?

SWIRSKY: Well, I sure hope so. We pray that there will be survivors and that this won't happen again. It's a terrible, terrible, incredible tragedy.

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