Courtesy of CTLGroup
Gene Corley (right) probes debris at site of World Trade Center after terror attacks in 2001. Structural engineer led numerous probes of major building failures in a 50-year career.

Prominent structural failure investigator W. Gene Corley, whose career spanned 50 years, died March 1 at age 77, after a battle with cancer.

Corley was perhaps best known for leading teams that studied the collapses of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, bombed on April 19, 1985, and the twin towers of Manhattan's World Trade Center, attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Solving problems with structural engineering materials was his passion," says Jeffrey L. Garrett, president and CEO of CTLGroup, Skokie, Ill., where Corley was senior vice president for more than 25 years. "He had this incredible insightful intuition."

Corley was active in developing building codes and standards, especially in service to the American Concrete Institute. He advocated a multihazard mitigation approach to design, maintaining that building performance could thus be improved on several fronts for little added cost.

Corley also strongly supported separate licensing of structural engineers. "The structural engineer is the only one always responsible for life safety,'' said Corley at a meeting on the topic in 2002. "To provide life safety takes a level of knowledge in structural engineering. It is not enough to know civil engineering.''

As team leader of the American Society of Civil Engineers-Federal Emergency Management Agency World Trade Center study, Corley's skills transcended engineering.

"He understood how to deal with an event important on many levels, including politically," says William Baker, a structural engineer partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a study team member. "He was good at keeping things moving in the right direction."

Corley earned a B.S. in civil engineering in 1958 and a Ph.D. in structural engineering in 1961, both from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Among his many honors, he was named to the National Academy of Engineering in 2000 and was cited by ASCE for lifetime achievement in design in 2006.