DATE August 20, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Doug and Stacey Loizeaux discuss their family's
demolition business and various buildings they have imploded
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Unidentified Group of People: (In unison) Ten, nine, eight, seven, six,
five, four, three, two, one...
Mr. DOUG LOIZEAUX (Controlled Demolition Incorporated): Fire.
(Soundbite of explosion; crowd cheering)
GROSS: That was the sound of a high-rise building being demolished. Leading
the countdown was Doug Loizeaux, who is joining us with his niece, Stacey
Loizeaux. They are two of the world's leading experts in the implosion of
buildings. Their company, Controlled Demolition Incorporated, has brought
down about 7,000 structures, including housing projects, Vegas hotels, the US
Steel Plant in Youngstown, Ohio, missile silos, mammoth gas tanks and the
remains of the bombed federal building in Oklahoma City.
In the Guinness Book of Records, controlled demolition has several entries,
including the tallest structure felled: that was the J.L. Hudson department
store building in Detroit; the largest structure by volume ever felled: that
was The Kingdome in Seattle; and the tallest manmade structure demolished:
that was the Annapolis Radio Tower in Greenbury Point.
The Loizeauxs have demolished several obsolete high-rise housing projects. I
asked them to describe the process of taking down one of them.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: OK, firstly you must take a look at the structure itself and
see if there are any structural plans available. You must look at the project
site to see what adjacent exposures are around; that is any other buildings or
utilities that have to remain. Then you examine the structure and determine
exactly what the key structural supports are, whether it be structural steel
columns, reinforced concrete columns, whether it's sheer wall, etc. Then you
look at the area that you can fell the structure in, and you design the
demolition work from that standpoint.
However, it's more multifaceted than that. I mean, you're not only looking at
bringing a building down; you're looking at the impact to the surrounding
community. So you have to make a determination of what is in the area, how it
will affect schools in the area, hospitals, adjacent properties, etc.
GROSS: For anyone who has not seen a building come down or, you know, not
seen it in real life or on video, could you just describe what it looks like
when you bring down a high-rise?
Ms. STACEY LOIZEAUX (Controlled Demolition Incorporated): I think the
poignant thing about the visual aspect of what we do is that watching a
structure come down, or literally melt before your eyes, frequently is very
startling to people, which is why I think we continue to have spectators come
to each and every shot, getting up at, you know, the crack of dawn basically
to come see our work, is that it's unsettling. It's unsettling to see a
manmade structure, something that you've been taught to trust since your very
early years, literally melting before your eyes. It's very fluid and a very
graceful--it almost appears to be slow motion a lot of times.
GROSS: Yes, it does appear to be slow motion. Why is that? You know, you
basically see the building coming down. It doesn't explode out. It doesn't
explode up. It just falls straight down, and it appears to fall in slow
motion. Why the slow motion?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Well, one thing that you have to realize is--and you hit in on
the head, we are not blowing up a structure. Anything vertical to the horizon
wants to fall due to gravity's effect on it. And we just use explosives as a
catalyst to start that progressive collapse. So as you knock out the vertical
supporting column, all columns of a structure, all of the potential energy is
there waiting, you know, to become kinetic energy. And it's just, again,
something that took two years to build may meet its demise in a matter of 10
or 15 seconds.
GROSS: So why does it look like it's falling in slow motion?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Well, as the structure's failing, Terry, basically there's a
lot of energy, as Doug just stated, that is being consumed or used, and
actually released all at the same time. The building--it's not as if--I love
to use this analogy. We're not picking up this building and dropping it,
creating a tremendous amount of vibration. It's like picking up a five-gallon
bucket of sand and dropping it and make a loud bang. But what we're doing is
rather pouring the sand out onto the ground. This building is coming down in
tiny, tiny little pieces at all different increments in time. So basically
the structure, as it's failing, is absorbing its own energy, so it's slowing
itself down. You know, if we took that one piece of concrete, held it out in
open air and dropped it, it would move a lot quicker because there'd be
nothing slowing it down on its way. That's where you get the melting, or the
GROSS: So what's slowing it down exactly?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: The pieces of building that are moving in front of it are
slowing it down. You understand? It's cushioning itself as it's failing.
GROSS: I see. Now instead of just, like, blowing up the whole building, what
you're doing, the way I understand it, is blowing out one support at a time
almost. You know, you have, like--What?--small pieces of explosives attached
to all of the, like, structural parts of the building, all the columns holding
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Yes, on the columns...
GROSS: ...eaves holding it up?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: The columns holding it up. And basically what you're doing is
you have small, strategically placed explosive charges throughout the
structure. And you're knocking out the supporting members of the structure
sequentially so you can utilize the weight and the construction of the
building, really, to pull itself down.
GROSS: And that's why sometimes the building seems to collapse horizontally
in a sense that first the part on the left collapses, and in a slow rhythmic
way it moves from left to right, collapsing on top of itself.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Right, depending on the structure itself. And previously, I
mentioned that you have to take into consideration the adjacent structures
around it to remain. Depending on the construction of the building, you can
really get a building to dance by, you know, knocking out certain columns
first and then utilizing the construction of the building. Example, if you're
standing up and I want you to fall to the right-hand side, I knock out your
right leg first and you would tilt that way. Basically, that's what we're
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Doug and Stacey Loizeaux of
Controlled Demolition Incorporated. And this is a company that does
implosions. They bring down buildings, high-rises, Vegas resort casinos, the
Alfred Murrah Federal Building after it needed to be taken down after the
Your work has sometimes been compared to performance art because it's just so
spectacular to watch. And I think the greatest example of that was The Dunes,
the hotel in Las Vegas, which you brought down, but in a quite spectacular
way. You had fireworks. You had fire coming out of the windows. Why don't
you describe the kind of show that you put on when bringing down The Dunes?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Actually, Terry, that was a very interesting project for me.
I was 22 years old at the time. And my father, Mark, Doug's brother, has
always firmly believed in trial by fire, I think, or throwing us into the deep
end to see if we could swim. And so he put me on that project as project
manager at a fairly tender age in what I would call a pool of sharks. I was
pretty much dealing with, in terms of adjacent property owners, instead of,
you know, residents, I was dealing with boards of attorneys that owned Caesars
and Bally's and, you know, the Flamingo Hilton. It was quite a political
hornets' nest, to put it mildly. And on top of that, my client was Steve
Wynn, who may quite possibly be the most demanding in terms of quality and
performance on the face of the Earth.
And Steve and I actually got to be buddies, which was a good thing. We used
to go to a lot of dinners. And he told me that he wanted to create a program,
create a show--an extravaganza, if you will--that could not be duplicated,
could not be topped. So he and I sat long and hard and thought about how we
could create a visual effect while also achieving the ultimate goal of putting
the building on the ground that would not be soon forgotten by anyone who saw
it. So after much deliberation, we decided to import some friends of mine
from Hollywood who are special effects gurus. And working with them, we
implemented and orchestrated a 40-second pyrotechnics sequence that led up to
the implosion of the building. But prior to that pyrotechnics sequence, we
had the Grucci family out of New York put on a six-minute finale fireworks
So all in all, we ended up with about eight minutes of incredible visual
effects going off, including the six minutes of fireworks, 40 seconds of what
we call a white brilliant strobe diaphragm bomb(ph) going off inside the
building. We used 256 gallons of aviation fuel, blowing out each window on
every other floor of the building to create sort of a "Towering Inferno" look.
And truthfully, far and away the most spectacular thing I've ever worked on,
and I don't think it has been topped, and I'm not certain that it will be.
GROSS: Well, I watched it on video, and I was thinking as the flames started
blowing out the windows, what if the whole thing catches fire and the fire
spreads? Isn't this dangerous?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Well, by the time we get to a building, Terry, it's been what
we call soft-stripped. That means that all the combustible materials have
been removed. More often than not, this is done not because of a fire hazard,
but because when the client who is ultimately removing the debris, instead of
having to segregate it once it's on the ground and separate the concrete from
the wood from the carpet from the drywall, they take it out ahead of time. It
makes their job a lot easier in the end. So by the time we get the building,
typically it's all all concrete. Concrete doesn't like to burn.
The only thing we had to worry about with The Dunes is it did have a built-up
roof on it. So we did have to be very careful about fire on the roof. And we
actually did have a very small smolder after the show, which was quickly put
out by the fire department. But there wasn't much to burn inside the
GROSS: Were you nervous before pushing the button?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Actually, I fortunately was not on the button. Steve Wynn
was, and I was over off to the side running a camera. And I will admit that I
was quite anxious. I don't think `nervous' is the right word because there
were no worries in terms of the project going successfully. I was just, after
having spent, you know, over a month of my life devoted to the project,
knowing that it was going to be over in less than a couple of minutes was--I
don't know. It was exciting, you know. I was very anxious. I was ready for
it to be over.
GROSS: My guests are Stacey and Doug Loizeaux. Their family's company,
Controlled Demolition, specializes in bringing down large structures. We'll
talk more after our break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Stacey and Doug Loizeaux, and
they're with Controlled Demolition Incorporated. The company was founded by
Doug's father, Stacey's grandfather, and this is one of the best-known
companies in the world for imploding buildings, for bringing buildings down
when they're no longer being used.
Now in contrast to the spectacle, to the performance of bringing down The
Dunes in Vegas, you brought down the federal building in Oklahoma City after
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Right.
GROSS: ...when the building was so unsteady that you had to bring it down.
Why bring it down with an implosion? Why not another alternative?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Well, that was a very interesting project. We were called out
by GSA, General Services Administration, who owns the federal buildings. And
this structure was extremely damaged. And we sat down and did an analysis of
the building itself. And, you know, there are only a couple of ways to bring
a structure down. One is to debuild it, take it down by hand just the way it
was built. Another way is to mechanically demolish it where you take a crane
and a headache ball or a big excavator with an attachment and pull on the
building and crush it up. The third way is to bring it down with explosives.
Now one of the problems with taking it down conventionally is the building was
unsound, and there was a concern that if they started working on one side of
the building, it was so damaged that it could start a progressive collapse and
bring more people into harm's way, i.e., the demolition workers, etc. It was
determined that explosives was probably the safest way to bring it down.
But that really posed a problem, Terry, in that people thought it would
traumatize the victims' families even more. I mean, here they lost loved ones
through an explosion, and to bring a building down the same way they thought
would just compound that. But you know, the decision was made that it was a
lot safer and a lot faster. And it was--once we finished the project, I think
it was looked upon as a catharsis because it was just taken care off so
quickly, and the rebuilding and the healing could begin.
GROSS: Was the building safe enough for your crew to go in?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: It was safe enough for our crew to go in. You rely on the
structural integrity of a building to pull itself down. Due to the blast, a
lot of the structural integrity was gone, so we had to do reconstruction of
the building to augment its structural integrity so we could pull it down away
from adjacent properties. There was a parking garage touching the building
right on the back that they wanted to try to safe. We put a lot of shoring in
the building to keep floors from collapsing, etc.
GROSS: Did either of you go inside the federal building?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Yeah. I was there for about a month. Our first job was
to--it was really in three parts. Our first project was to go in and--and to
salvage a lot of things, i.e., you know, critical documents. You had FBI
offices. You had ATF offices. They didn't want the building demolished and
have a lot of paperwork flying around, you know, downtown Oklahoma City. We
also had to go in and get some personal effects off the desks, which was
Our next phase--while the decision was being made on what methodology to bring
the building down, was to go in and we salvaged a lot of the granite interior
of the building and portions of the structure that were not damaged. And a
lot of this was subsequently used in the memorial. The third phase was going
back in and preparing it for demolition.
GROSS: What did it look like inside?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Just an absolute mess, like a bomb went off. It was--there
was a lot of shoring that was put up, as I previously mentioned, so the search
and rescue teams could get in and operate. It was just horrible, to tell you
One thing that was troublesome and interesting about the project is they had
not recovered all the bodies out of the building when we had to do our
demolition. They had excavated a lot of the debris. And we, along with
structural engineers, determined that the debris pile was holding up a portion
of the building, and to excavate it any more would really, you know, put
people in harm's way. So we met with the families of the victims who were
still in the pile of debris. We painted the debris pile orange and covered it
with a fabric and dropped the structure on top of that. So when they took the
debris away and found--you know, saw the fabric and saw the orange-colored
debris, they would know to start sifting through by hand to get any remains.
GROSS: Did they find the remains?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Yes. Yeah, they did.
GROSS: Yeah, that must have been very creepy to bring down a building on top
of the remains of three bodies that everybody knew was there.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Right. But we've done it before. You know, I worked in
Mexico City in the '80s after the big earthquake there for the government.
And there were bodies in those buildings. And then we worked after disasters,
construction failures, etc. So it's just part of the business, I guess.
GROSS: I imagine making sure that an imploding building isn't damaging the
buildings around it is one of the biggest concerns that you have, you know,
outside of protecting human life. How close have other buildings been to
buildings that you've brought down? What's the closest you've had to work
Mr. LOIZEAUX: We've taken down buildings touching other buildings to remain.
Usually, you need enough room--if you take a building and, as Stacey was
saying before, you know, with her analogy of the bucket of sand--if you drop a
structure, the debris goes--it seeks its natural angle of repose. You have a
one-to-one slope of the debris. So you really need enough area to accept the
resultant material that you're generating from this.
So it really depends on the type of structure that you're taking down. It
depends on, you know, the construction on what type of areas that you need.
But you know, with the litigious society in which we live and a concern for
adjacent properties, there's always an independent, third-party engineering
company that goes in and does pre- and post-blast inspections of buildings.
You also put seismographs out to measure any ground vibration or air blast
generated by blasting to prove that, you know, you didn't do any damage.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: On that same note, Terry, the truth of the matter is, as Doug
mentioned, in our litigious society, people are optimistic by nature. And
we've had cases where, you know, folks three and four miles away from our
demolition site claim that we broke their window or, you know, shifted their
foundation. You know, there are frivolous claims, so we really have to go to
great lengths to protect ourselves.
GROSS: You've both been in a lot of abandoned buildings over the years. What
are some of the strangest things you've found inside before imploding the
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Corpses.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: No. Well, actually, yes.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: There was a job in Puerto Rico we did where--when our project
manager went down to initially review the site, he was walking through with
our client and they found a gentleman who had been executed gangland style.
He'd been hung, had his throat cut and was shot.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: When we first started our business--or Mark and I first got
into the business, most of the buildings that we took down were the grand dame
hotels in cities, you know, that were built in the '20s and this and that.
And whenever you were working on a project, you'd have people who would come
up and they'd want the room key because that's where they spent their
honeymoon 50 years ago.
We were working in Australia one time and we were taking down a building that
was a residence for nuns. And the mother superior came out and said, `You
know, we're really happy to have this building taken down this way.' And I
said, `Why's that?' She said, `Well, it's better to have the structure bow
out gracefully, so to say, then be hacked upon.'
GROSS: Have you ever had to evacuate homeless people who were squatting in
buildings that you were about to bring down?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Well, by the time we actually get to the day of the implosion,
we've already had 24-hour security on the site, and it's very unlikely that
anyone could get inside the building. We have had occasions where
somebody--not a homeless person, but more often than not, some young kid who's
been out partying all night and decided to try and get past security, get in
the building. And they succeed occasionally. But as far as homeless goes, a
lot of times if there are squatters that are inside an abandoned structure,
they're removed long before we get on site.
GROSS: Have you found a lot of wildlife in the abandoned buildings: rats,
mice, squirrels, bats, cats, dogs?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Well, I mean, again, we don't really come upon that that much
because usually before we get to a project, there's been a lot of demolition
work. They've removed the asbestos out of these old structures. As far as
rats and rodents are concerned, you know, there's no food there for them and,
also, they have to bait all the buildings ahead of time by code. You know,
once in a while there's a concern that--I know when we've taken down some
large towers or tanks--concerns about falcons being there, etc.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: They've relocated them before.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Yes.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: They've had outside handlers come in and relocate, you know,
peregrine falcons and things like that.
GROSS: Doug and Stacey Loizeaux will be back in the second half of the show.
Their family's company is called Control Demolition Incorporated.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Now I'm flying high, but I've got a feelin'
I'm fallin', fallin' for nobody else but you. (Scatting)
Mama, you caught my eye, I got a feelin' I'm fallin'. Show me the ring, and
I'll jump right through. (Scatting)
I used to travel, single though we chance, mingle though we...
GROSS: Coming up, more on imploding buildings. Doug and Stacey Loizeaux talk
about the special effects they've done for Hollywood films.
And we'll remember South African newspaper editor and anti-apartheid activist
Donald Woods. He died yesterday. We'll listen back to a 1987 interview.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Doug and Stacey
Loizeaux. Their family's company, Controlled Demolition, Incorporated, is
internationally known for its work bringing down high-rise hotels and housing
projects, missile silos, gas tanks and bridges. Doug's father, who founded
the company, coined the term implosion to describe his approach to demolishing
Some of your implosions have been filmed for movies, like "Lethal Weapon 3"
and "Enemy of the State." What happened? Did you talk with the film
directors about what building you were going to bring down and ask them if
they wanted it for the movie? I mean, how did you get together with the film
director on that?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Well, for instance, on the Orlando City Hall project, which
was filmed for "Lethal Weapon 3," that was a job that was already under
contract. Warner Bros. had contacted us and said that they were interested
in filming a demolition sequence for a film, and we said--we thought about the
different projects we had on the board and which was the best candidate, and
selected that project and negotiated from there.
In other instances, however, for instance, on "Enemy of the State," they
called us first and said, `We need a building that fits this description,' and
it was the warehouse, Gene Hackman's warehouse that he had rigged to
self-destruct in one of the later sequences in the film. And we perform--we
have a sister company that's run by myself and my siblings called the Loizeaux
Group LLC(ph), and we do just such services, a location search. We broker the
public relations for Controlled Demolition and handle the film archive and the
still archives, so this was right up our alley, so we literally started making
phone calls and found a structure that visually suited the production
company's needs for the film.
GROSS: And you just blew it up for the film?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Yup. This is a structure, it was five stories tall, very
squatty, as we would say it. And it was not a candidate for implosion. This
is something, typically, that would be conventionally demolished. In fact, in
can also--it was not cost-effective at all from an implosion standpoint
because of the amount of preparation it took to get the building to even move
20 feet, because it was so short already. You know, `the bigger they are, the
harder they fall' carries a lot of truth in our industry. And this building
was very small, required a lot of preparation to get it to move dramatically,
so this building never would have been wrecked had it not been for a film
involvement, but via implosion.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: And another case was "Demolition Man," the movie with Sandra
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Stallone.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: ...Stallone and Wesley Snipes. And Warner Bros. came to us,
and they had a building in Los Angeles. It was a Department of Public Works
building. And, you know, they showed us the story board and said, `OK, this
is the effect that we want. We want the whole front of the building to look
like it's bombed out.' So we went in there with crews and jackhammered
severance lines through the building and put shoring up, so when we blasted a
portion of this--I think it was only a four-story building--it came down, and
it looked like a bombed out structure. So, you know, we can deal with the
studios in, you know, a multitude of ways.
GROSS: Now did the filmmakers want either their actors or stunt men to
appear as if they were running out of the building as it was exploding.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Yes. The answer there is yes.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Mel Gibson and Danny Glover ran out of a building.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Well, in one scene of "Lethal Weapon 3," here is the
interesting part on that show. It's the first time we'd worked with Dick
Donner and Joel Silver, and they didn't trust us. That's OK. We understand
that they've got one shot, you know, and if they didn't get this one shot, it
was, you know, a big waste of money and time for them. So they didn't believe
that we were going to do exactly what we said we were going to do, so they
decided to blow the face of the building out twice ahead of time, and get that
much in the can at least. Then they'd repaint the whole face, put all the
glass back in, you know, so there was no structural demolition charges going
off. It was just balsa wood and candy glass and fire. So after doing this
twice, and they were satisfied that they'd gotten this in the can--and on
those two occasions, they had Mel and Danny actually running from the
structure. They were very close. And that was fine with us, because this is
very light debris. They can't--and, you know, it's not structural demolition
Well, when it came down to the real shot, Joel Silver, being a huge fan of
realism, said, `No, that--I want them in the frame. I don't want this to be
stunt guys.' And we said, `Well, here's what we'll do'--we helped set up a
car in front of the building and put Lexaner(ph), you know, similar to
Plexiglas, on the other side. And they did, during the initial special
effects sequence, run, jump over the roof of the car and hide. But it was a
full three seconds before any demolition charges went off. So the realism was
achieved, but, you know, we are not going to let anyone put themselves in
harm's way, certainly not someone inexperienced. You know, had it been a
stunt person, we would have had more latitude, but, you know, Mel Gibson and
Danny Glover aren't stunt people. They're actors, and we weren't going to let
them do anything that we perceived as dangerous.
GROSS: So did you make sure that they were out of harm's way before actually
pushing the button?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Yes, we had a person physically stationed with them that was
in a position to say stop if they were not in position before the button was
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Stacey and Doug Loizeaux,
and they're with Controlled Demolition, Incorporated, which is an implosion
company. This is a company that brings down large, abandoned buildings from
resort hotels to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The company was
founded by Doug's father, Stacey's grandfather.
Doug, your father died last year...
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Yes. Yeah.
GROSS: ...at the age of 85. He started the company, and I believe he also
had just invented the idea of implosion.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Well, a lot of people look at my father, and he's received
international awards as being the pioneer for, you know, really developing the
use of explosives in urban areas to fell structures. Albeit, I mean, that had
been going on for years after the Second World War, etc. But Dad--and my
mother was very instrumental in that also. They were really involved,
starting in the late '40s, into developing this. Dad was a graduate forester
from University of Georgia and had used explosives in rock blasting, blasting
stumps, blasting other things and was approached one time to take down a
chimney. And, you know, he just sat back and thought. He said, `Well, you
know, it's a cylindrical structure. It's like a tree. All you have to do is
notch it at the base in the direction of fall and let gravity take effect.'
So I think that's where it all began in 1947. I think his first buildings
that he took down were in the early '50s in Washington, DC, right next to the
State Department. And a lot of it, back then, was trial and error. It is...
GROSS: Did he--was there a lot of error?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: No, I don't think there was that much error, but, you know, he
had his share of structures that didn't fall down, you know, and he had to go
back in later.
But again, I said my mother was involved. A lot of what she did was from a
public relations aspect, again, allaying the innate fears that people had
about explosives. You know, some young guy comes in and says, `Yeah, I can
blow up your building, you know, five feet away from another structure.' And
if you've never seen it, we are doubting Thomases. If you've never seen it
done and you don't have a track record, a lot of people won't let that happen.
But Dad really got into it. I think that it really started taking off in the
late '60s, when my brother, Mark, got directly involved with the company. The
first major projects he did were in Atlantic City, when they were trying to
pass the gambling referendum there--those were the big buildings that he took
down--and then with destruction of housing projects. And of course, you know,
we're based in Baltimore, so he did a lot of industrial work in the Rust Belt,
taking down steel mills, etc.
GROSS: What was it like to watch as kids when your father was bringing down
Mr. LOIZEAUX: It was kind of cool, except Mark and I were the only sons, so
we had to be the laborers, but--no, it was interesting. And it was
interesting--I didn't appreciate it then, but in retrospect, you know, just
watching, you know, Dad calculate what he was going to do and--you know, he
was a man of faith--you know, watching him pray for guidance on how to do this
and, you know, learning, keeping very good records of lessons learned on each
project. You know, what we do, is--a lot of people say it's as much an art
form as is an engineering function. And I think that may be true in a lot of
ways. We rely a lot on historical data that's been gleaned over 50 years.
GROSS: Doug, do you pray before an implosion, like your father did?
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Of course, you do, yes. Yeah, we all do. You know, we're
relying on something that's natural. We're relying on gravity. You know, we
need all the help we can get I guess.
GROSS: And, Stacey, you got to see implosions as a child. What was the
experience like for you?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: You know, that's such a common question, Terry, but the
business, the industry was so well established by the time that I became, you
know, really cognizant of what we did for a living, that it seemed perfectly
normal to me. I never knew anything else. I started working with my--well, I
started traveling when I was an infant, not by choice. But I started working
with my dad when I was, you know, a little, little, little guy, and started
traveling with him at about 15, worked every summer in the office from about
15 on. You know, took a break after school and kind of did my own thing for a
while. And I think that's when it really hit me, `Wait a minute. I'm walking
away from one of the neatest jobs on the planet pretty much.' You know, it's
very few people that can say that they are the best in the world at what they
do. And, you know, it's a privilege and an honor to say I'm related to him.
I just really like to go into work every day. I love spending time with my
family and traveling with them, and I can't imagine a better job.
GROSS: Having destroyed so many building, has it left you with any strong
feelings about architecture and what works and what doesn't? You know, what
are your conclusions about the lessons we should learn about architecture?
Ms. LOIZEAUX: I don't think we very frequently run into structures that we
would say are shoddily constructed. I mean, certainly, they're a handful here
and there, but I mean, most structures have a very unique design. You know
architects are very much artisans, and, you know, you see a lot of their soul
in their work. So I think, because structures are so unique, there's really
no cookie cutter design. I mean, housing projects would be the closest, I
would say, to being sort of a cookie cutter type of construction. And not
that there's anything wrong with it, but it's not designed, you know, to last
100 years. It just wasn't made for it.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Right. That's another thing. I think when the first
high-rises were built in the late 1800s, early 1900s, architects and builders,
viewed these as their monuments that would last forever. And now that we've,
you know, come full circle, especially with the newer structures, you're
seeing that buildings are designed for life expectancy, you know. At one
time, Terry, I thought I'd never take a structure down younger than I was, but
now most of them are younger than we are.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: And--yes. With rising real estate prices, you know, in resort
areas, where the square footage price is so high of land, of course, they want
to tear down something that's shorter and go higher, so they can get the best
bang for their buck, let us say. So you're really seeing the life expectancy
built in, you know, with, like, a 30-year turnaround in buildings, etc.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: I was going to say, I'm only 30, and I've taken down a
building that was younger than I am, so...
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Right. You know, and we're seeing that a lot of the work
we're doing now, Terry, is in the sports venue. I mean, we've taken down a
lot of stadiums recently, Seattle Kingdome, Three Rivers Stadium in
Pittsburgh. We took down Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. And here,
these structures are 30 years old. And a lot of times, they're structurally
sound. In most cases, they're still structurally sound, however, they don't
meet the needs of the owners of where sports are today.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you, both, so much for and talking with us.
Mr. LOIZEAUX: Thanks.
Ms. LOIZEAUX: Thank you.
GROSS: Doug and Stacey Loizeaux's family company, Controlled Demolition,
Incorporated, is located in Maryland.
Coming up, we remember South African newspaper editor and anti-apartheid
activist Donald Woods. He died yesterday. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Rebroadcast of 1987 Donald Woods interview
TERRY GROSS, host:
We're going to remember white South African newspaper editor and
anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods. He died yesterday at the age of 67 of
cancer. He became an enemy of the government in the '70s, taking an
anti-apartheid stand in his paper The Daily Dispatch. Woods was a friend of
Stephen Biko, the leader of the South African Students Organization. This was
an all-black group at the forefront of the black consciousness movement. Biko
died in prison in 1977 from a beating at the hands of South African police.
After Woods led the call for an investigation into Biko's death, Woods was
placed under a five-year banning order. He fled the country and lived in
exile in England. His friendship with Biko was dramatized in the film "Cry
Freedom" with Kevin Klein as Woods and Denzel Washington as Biko. I spoke
with Donald Woods in 1987.
You met Stephen Biko in, I think it was, 1973.
Mr. DONALD WOODS: Yeah, '73.
GROSS: How did you first meet him, and what was he doing at the time?
Mr. WOODS: He was leader of the black consciousness movement, but he was
under a restriction. He had to stay in his house and not talk to more than
one person at a time. And ironically, it was the same restriction I later
got. And, in fact, I used to attack him and his movement in my newspaper,
because I considered them too radical. And I also thought that their response
to apartheid was xenophobic because it was blacks, you know, `To hell with the
whites; the blacks must do this, and even the liberal whites are in the way.'
So I thought this was racist, and I called it apartheid in reverse. And one
of his associates came into my office and said if I had any sense of fairness,
I would go and see him, because what I was writing was inaccurate. So I went
to see him, and I found that what I had been writing was inaccurate, that
black consciousness wasn't racism. It was an affirmation that blacks had to
acquire the psychological liberation from apartheid and to assume the
leadership of their own liberation, which is entirely legitimate. So from
then on, we became friends.
GROSS: Were there examples that he gave you that made you come around to
that point of view?
Mr. WOODS: No, I think it was just being with him and discussing all these
issues. He had such an impressive intellect, and he, himself, you had to be
with him only about 20 minutes to know there was not a scrap of racism in
him. And, indeed, he had white friends, you know.
GROSS: What kind of things did you write in your column in support of the
work that he was doing?
Mr. WOODS: Basically, trying to explain to other whites in South African why
this was not a threat and, on the contrary, that we had to dismantle apartheid
entirely and actually follow black leadership into a black-dominated republic,
democratic. But obviously, black dominated, because in South Africa, five out
of every six people are black. And if you have a democracy, you're going to
end up with a, you know, black-led government, which is fine.
GROSS: Stephen Biko was arrested for, I guess it was, the fourth time in
1977, and he died after being tortured and beaten. I think the death
resulted directly from brain injuries...
Mr. WOODS: That's right.
GROSS: ...from the beating that he received. The authorities told you what?
Mr. WOODS: Well, they told the country that--they implied that he'd died of
GROSS: Did you believe that?
Mr. WOODS: Not for a minute, no, because his wife and I went, and we had
quite a long search before we were able to see the body. We found it in a
little morgue in King Williamstown. And when we saw his body, we knew,
obviously, which we'd known anyway, that he wouldn't have gone on a hunger
strike. And then, I managed to get hold of, by means I can't ever be too
explicit about, medical evidence, a pathologist report after postmortem. And
this proved that he'd been assaulted and had died of blows to the head. So I
published this and was arrested shortly after.
GROSS: Did he ever tell you that he'd never do anything like go on a hunger
strike in prison?
Mr. WOODS: Yes. We'd once had a discussion, and neither of us thought it
would ever come to pass, but, you know, so many dissidents had died in jails.
And he said, if they ever claim I hanged myself or strangled myself or starved
myself, you are to know it's a lie, and in effect, raise hell, you know.
GROSS: So he expected that something like this might be pulled at some point?
Mr. WOODS: I don't think he did, but he just said, academically, if it ever
should happen. And in fact, I don't think the South African government ever
wanted him killed. What happened with Biko was, they feared him very much,
and they wanted him locked up. But the Port Elizabeth security police were
particularly notorious in their brutality, and they beat him up, and they went
too far. And I know the government got a terrible fright, the members of the
cabinets, because they knew this was big trouble. And, indeed, it was.
They've never really recovered. You know, the name Biko haunts them up until
this day. And I think it will go on doing so.
GROSS: For those reasons, did you think that he would be comparatively safe
in prison, that they wouldn't kill him because of the backlash that...
Mr. WOODS: He and I both thought that was the probability, but that there's
always the possibility of the other.
GROSS: How did you find out about his death?
Mr. WOODS: My secretary told me. I got into the office one morning, and she
said that there'd been a phone call from his family. And I just disbelieved
it. I said, `No, no. Even this government's not that stupid. Must be a
mistake.' Then I found out it was true.
GROSS: What did you do?
Mr. WOODS: I don't know. It was such a mixture of grief and anger, you
know. Well, I immediately went to a number of cities, made speeches of
accusation, published a lot of angry editorials, joined his other friends, who
were demonstrating or, you know, condemning what had happened.
GROSS: Did you think that there would be a greater crackdown on you because
of your outspokenness about his death?
Mr. WOODS: At that time, I wasn't thinking of such a thing. It didn't
matter. You know, when you are really angry, you don't think much of that.
And in particular, I wanted to put the heat on the embassies in America and
Britain and Europe. So what I did was send a lot of stuff to the press. I
sent pictures of his body, and I sent articles out about him and about his
death. And these were used all over the world till the South African
government--in fact, that's why they were pressured into having a kind of
GROSS: How soon did the banning order come after Biko's death?
Mr. WOODS: Well, he died on September the 12th, 1977, and I was banned on
October the 19th.
GROSS: What were you doing when they presented the banning order to you?
Mr. WOODS: I was about to get on a plane in Johannesburg, and three of them
stepped up, and they...
GROSS: Three security officers?
Mr. WOODS: Three security officers. And they asked me to come with them,
and handed me this long list of documents signed by the minister of police,
and that's all the different restrictions, like, `From now on, for five years,
you've got to stay at home. You can't talk to more than one person at a time.
You can't be in a room with more than one person at a time. You can't write
anything, not even a diary or a postcard. You can't be quoted in the press.'
It's a whole range of restrictions like that.
GROSS: You started writing a book about Stephen Biko shortly after you were
Mr. WOODS: Yes.
GROSS: How did you hide the manuscript?
Mr. WOODS: I hid it in a record album, an Ed Murrow recording of the speeches
of Winston Churchill. I thought that was appropriate, and it was in among
hundreds of other records, so they would have had a job finding that one.
GROSS: We're listening back to a 1987 interview with Donald Woods. He died
yesterday at the age of 67. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our 1987 interview with white South African
newspaper editor and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods. He fled the
country after he was placed under a banning order in 1977. Woods died
yesterday at the age of 67.
Why did you want to escape and leave South Africa? It was a five-year
Mr. WOODS: The main motive was to--you know, I had promised Steve Biko that
if he got killed, I'd raise as much hell as possible. Also it was my natural
inclination to do that then, because I had such a feeling of--people very
kindly call it courage, but it isn't. It's indignation. You get so
indignant that you feel you've got to do something, and the more you can do,
the better. And I knew that by sitting quietly in my house, I couldn't cause
them any problems, whereas if I could get to New York or London, and there's
no end of prospects of hassling the embassies there.
GROSS: How did you plan out your escape? You probably figured...
Mr. WOODS: Badly.
GROSS: ...you were being monitored, right?
Mr. WOODS: Yes. The plan we cooked up as actually terribly amateurish, and
it's really almost a miracle that it worked, because so many things went
wrong and nearly went wrong, could have gone wrong. But eventually, I got
across into Lesotho. I was disguised as a priest, and my hair was dyed black.
I looked quite different to what I normally look like.
GROSS: What did you do to make yourself look like a priest?
Mr. WOODS: Well, my wife dyed my hair black and through methods, which even
to this day, I wouldn't like to implicate anyone by disclosing, I acquired,
borrowed, a priest's ...(unintelligible). And also, I had a fallback. Let's
just say I initially planned to wade across the Tiller River(ph), which is a
very small river, but...
GROSS: This is the river that separates South Africa from Lesotho?
Mr. WOODS: Separates South Africa from Lesotho.
But you must realize, Lesotho's, like--it's surrounded by South Africa. It's
like an enclave inside, but at least, if you get in there, they look after
you. It's a very brave little black-ruled country. But the river was--they
had four days of rain continuously, and so the river was a raging flood.
There were bits of tree trunk being whipped past, and I had the manuscript of
my Steve Biko book with me, so I certainly couldn't swim across that lot with
this thing. And so I had a fallback plan that was a fake passport. So
eventually, I had to bluff my way through the border guards with this fake
passport, and that worked.
GROSS: What did you tell them?
Mr. WOODS: Well, I just said I had an early Mass to say across in
Kritigan(ph). See, fortunately, and this is the reason we chose this little
remote border post, there was a Catholic mission called St. Theresa's(ph) just
a few miles away, and apparently, priests, quite often, would go through to
say Mass in Kritigan. Lesotho's a very Catholic country. So that covered me
very well, and so I got out.
GROSS: How were you smuggled out of your house?
Mr. WOODS: I lay on the floor of the car, and my wife put a coat over me,
and she backed out right past the security police, so--you know, when they
been watching you for months, they don't sort of look down into the floor of
the car. And that's how she got me beyond the city limits. Then, I
hitchhiked to a point where a friend was arranged to meet me and drive me to
the border. She went back and showed a movie for the kids, and over the
tapped telephone, she gave the impression that I was upstairs asleep. And
then the next morning, they all left by another route. Now they could get out
on ordinary tourist visas you see. So they got out by another route, and then
we all met up in Lesotho. Then we flew out in a tiny plane across South
African territory two and a half hours into Botswana. And before we took off,
we had threats from the South African government that they'd force the plane
down if we tried to fly across. But they were just bluffing. They were
trying to intimidate us.
GROSS: Your goal, once, you know, gaining freedom, was to continue to
publicize what had happened to Stephen Biko and to continue to fight against
apartheid. What were the most effective means you had for doing that living
Mr. WOODS: Oh, terrific opportunities. You can really cost the South
African government literally millions by--you see, every time a program like
this happens, that we're talking on now, the South African embassies and
consulates go into a little minor frenzy, and they say, `How do we counter
this?' And so that ties them up a bit more. Sometimes, in the early stages,
they were suckered into confrontations on television, and they soon stopped
that. Then, you help put pressure on their position at the UN and in the
embassies by publishing through broadcasts or newspaper articles exactly what
they're doing there. And they find it very hard to answer, because these are
GROSS: Donald Woods recorded in 1987. He died of cancer yesterday in
England at the age of 67.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.