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Remembering the audacity of the twin towers

The soaring twin towers of the World Trade Center became an affirmation of the American value of dreaming big. To the engineer who designed them, their loss on 9/11 remains heartbreaking, but he's found the resilience to keep dreaming.

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"However," he adds, "it has taken me my entire professional life to learn that anyone's structural system cannot, will not be perfect. Things will not perform as you expect them to. Things will not be built as you expect them to. The system has to have a level of protection called robustness that allows it to tolerate damage and defect."

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According to Robert Prieto, chairman of the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, "Unless we are prepared to live in an engineered environment that resembles the complex of caves in Afghanistan, we will not design buildings to stop planes."

The loss of the World Trade Center ultimately came down to this: The hatred driving a handful of individuals exceeded the imagination, intelligence, and commitment that had led thousands of men and women to create two remarkable towers.

This is not much solace for the families of the thousands who perished on 9/11, or for Robertson. Many did come to him in the months that followed, looking for some kind of answer, which he knew he could not provide.

He remembers "the first was a young woman, perhaps 13 or 14 years old. Her brother was working on one of the high floors. We met in a park at the foot of Manhattan. The tears came as her body shook. And as we cried together, words were not required."

It may have been through embraces and tears shed with strangers that Robertson, too, partially came to terms with the incomprehensible. A career he thought was over continues to thrive, and Robertson, now an octogenarian, has gone on to design some of the world's tallest skyscrapers. Among them: the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center, completed in 2008, and the Lotte Jamsil Tower in Seoul, currently under construction, which will be 123 stories.

In the 10 years since 9/11, America has been sorely tested by two wars, a severe recession, and staggering debt. And what of its ability to dream as it once did? Time will tell, but perhaps Robertson's own story of resilience offers a clue.

IN PICTURES: 9/11 memorials around the world

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