Book Review: Sixteen Acres

Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero by Philip Nobel
Metropolitan Books, 2005
Hardcover, 304 pages

Philip Nobel's thorough account of the personal and political struggles to rebuild on the World Trade Center site offers many valuable insights into the sometimes overwhelming festivities that have transpired over the last three years. Being a commercial development with the added pressure of symbolizing a national tragedy is one of the book's approaches to the site. And contemporary architecture's inability to act as a suitable symbol to the public - compared with classical architecture - is an oft-mentioned "fact" throughout the book. Nobel paints a vivid picture of the conflicts among the various parties involved (Governor Pataki, Larry Silverstein, the LMDC, Daniel Libeskind, David Childs, etc), but more interesting are the personal motives driving each party - and impacting the outcome - in a project that will probably have a far-reaching impact beyond its core of New York real estate "values". The popular opinion of rebuilding the Twin Towers does not escape the author, who sympathizes with the well-meaning groups pushing this cause. If the Twin Towers were as beloved before September 11 as they have been since, this might be the obvious solution, but as things stand today an alternative solution is being pushed that will be scrutinized for years to come. And even though developers, politicians, ad hoc groups, and architects are involved in the process, the focus will be on the last, their solutions probably affecting the public's perception of architects and architecture, for better or worse.