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Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero Hardcover – December 23, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Almost from the moment the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, Americans, and especially New Yorkers, began to dream of how the site would be rebuilt. As Nobel relates, one recovery worker imagined a series of five buildings arrayed like a hand giving terrorists the finger. More established architects toned down the anger, but it was a given that their plans for a new World Trade Center would contain a message about the old. Nobel, an architectural columnist for Metropolis, guides readers through early redevelopment plans and the design competition that made Daniel Libeskind famous even among people who know nothing of architecture. Nobel also examines the bitter infighting that followed the selection of his proposal. On its own terms, this is a dramatic and compelling story, and Nobel's insights into the competitive nature of top-level architecture are particularly valuable. But his passionate opinions about the deficiencies of most modern architects (no longer able to "make buildings speak... to create symbols for a culture with no common code") can be distracting. A more serious flaw, however, is the lack of illustrations, of Libeskind's design and those of the other finalists. Nobel's prose, even at its most descriptive, can go only so far toward shaping readers' vision of the proposed buildings. 2 maps not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--Kurt Andersen, author of Turn of the Century
Top customer reviews
As one might well imagine, the job of designing a replacement for the WTC was an almost impossible task. There were pressures from so many stakeholders including the families of the victims, the politicians, the various bureaucracies, the tenants as well as from Larry Silverstein, who just six weeks before the attack, had signed a 99 year lease to operate the WTC. Then there was the epic struggle between the competing architects and their visions of what the real estate should look like when all was said and done. I found that Nobel did a pretty fair job in describing the process and introducing the reader to the various players involved in this drama. But I also found that the author frequently seemed to forget that many readers have absolutely no training in design and architecture. While I thought I was getting the gist of what he was trying to convey, I often felt I was missing something in the translation. And that is why illustrations would have been so helpful. Had I been able to turn to refer to drawings of the proposals Nobel was discussing, I feel I could have gotten a great deal more from this book. It is really too bad and for this reason "Sixteen Acres" is not a book that I can enthusiastically recommend.
`'Architecture is the art of compromise.''
One of the top architecture critics , Philip Nobel takes the readers of his book on an amazing trip, deep into the world of `' the outrageous struggle'' among architects, politicians, developers and businessmen responsible for the rebuilding of Ground Zero in order to fill in the void that has been created at those sixteen acres. It has been an enriching and at the same time interesting experience to read it. This non- fictional account of what has been happening behind the scenes at Lower Manhattan among some crucial players in this game like Larry
Silverstein, Port Authority, the LMDC, Governor George Pataki and other politicians or members of families who lost their loved ones in the tragedy, in fact reads like an extraordinary novel. With his in- depth analysis and an incredibly realistic style of writing, his work can be easily understood not only by professionals but those who know nothing about architecture as well. The book artfully blends some historical information about architecture together with real dramatic life events and very often shocking, hair-rising gossip. As Liebeskind puts it, you need compromise in order to design and create new buildings, ones that will `' speak the unspeakable'' and fairly fill in the void, and at the same time satisfy everyone's needs and wishes. Can this actually be achieved in real life? With so many players involved it might turn out to be a pretty difficult task. Who is the winner and who looses? The book written by Nobel is a great eye-opener shedding new lights on this controversial issue of rebuilding Ground Zero.
To put the message across the author decided to divide the book into twelve chapters devoting extra space for prologue and epilogue. Starting with the description on Ground Zero, touches upon some architectural streams in the past. The plot is expanded with every chapter, rising climax in middle chapters speaking of the competition and actual struggle.
At first it seems almost incredible how by chance the star architects like Gehry or Koolhaans just happen to be in New York when the attack happens. Many designers make numerous trips to the site in order to understand, contemplate, explain, search for reasons and answers. Was the void indeed fixable? Or maybe it should remain intact. Questions were piling up. As Giedion puts it buildings are `' human landmarks which men have created as symbols for their ideals , their aims, and for their actions''. The commercial buildings of WTC represented so many ideals, standing symbolic and triumphant in the skyline of the city. `'Buildings bear silent witness to what we do'' Nobel suggests, they are our immortality on the earth and they are our landmarks. Now that they are torn down mankind looses witness to humanity. How can one rebuild those lost landmarks? The meaning is lost, now it was left to architects to find it back.
The competition for the new design was certainly a controversial and time consuming task. The author presents us with an in- depth report of what actually happened, all the intrigues and insurmountable questions being asked by a wide cast of characters involved. Money driven developers together with architects loose themselves in searching for meaning. With every single page flipped over the plot shifts its pace, competition gets more and more dramatic, most of all due to that convoluted bureaucratic processes. Finally at its peak Daniel Liebeskind appears with the answer, and his `' Memory Foundations'' win the contest. This Jewish immigrant from Poland happens to know the answer, which is freedom, democracy and independence. His soaring Freedom Tower is going to reach up till 1,777 feet high in order to make a connection with Declaration of Independence. At the end of his presentation he says: `'Life victorious!''. Soon after that he is chosen to be the master planner for the reconstruction of the site. Time will show that this will not be the end, but an offset for another struggle, this time with the powerful Port Authority and LMDC. Before the developers intrude and start influencing Libeskind` s vision, eventually forcing him to cooperate with David Childs, the milk is spilled and gossip enters the media. The media takes its part in it `' tarring the Liebeskinds as alien- worshipping cloners'' Just how far one can go with the intrigues of the century` s most decisive and charged building project. For some players it seemed that George Pataki was the final decision maker in the game. Many questions still remain unanswered. The author tells the story proper with minute details and indeed is meticulous in recording it. At times it almost reads like a soap opera.
In my opinion, what the book lacks is the images or pictures of the designs mentioned. That would help a lot to envision what was being said at times.
The final chapter of the book deals with another contest, this time for the memorial design, which eventually is won by Arad and his `' Reflecting Absence''. Libeskind` s vision is changed from the original one, money wins again, in the end, like all politics, the final decisions for the site were created by a compromise. Again I will quote the master planner: `'Architecture is the art of compromise''. To reach that is definitely difficult, `'to build Art with a capital A'' (Steve Cuozzo) is as well difficult those days, especially when politics and business gets involved in the process.
by Joanna Pszczola, Poland
As Mr. Nobel says "...architecture remains the most prominent and most culturally engaged of all the arts. It is also the most contingent-an art that is neither high nor low, an art that gets to art only after locking lips with reality: satisfying a client, securing funds and permits and insurance, getting built." This book paints the lip lock in glowing detail. He has the wisdom to recognize that at the end of the day "...when the politicians line up to cut their ribbons, whatever [building] shades the dais that day will be at once stranger and more fitting than anything they had imagined when they set about to govern its birth. In a way it will be perfect."
For young architects and those who think design is about the power of their vision, this eye-opener will help them see that in addition to having their vision, they must also design the process; that is, they must so understand the interests of the various parties that they can target the area of the overlap. In that area, on any particular job, will be the perfect solution.