As architectural critic for the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger has followed plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center site since early 2002. It is what he calls the most challenging urban-design problem of the 21st century. Goldberger provides the fascinating backstory of the design process in the engrossing Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York.
The WTC project, already surrounded by the conflicting forces of political power, money, and architecture and planning, was made even more difficult, he says, by the still-fresh memory of the attacks and the cultural significance of the destroyed towers. But Minoru Yamasaki's towers weren't always so beloved, explains Goldberger, commenting on our changing relationship to architecture and how structures once hated think Eiffel Tower eventually become accepted parts of the landscape. Given the towers' ascendance to landmark status, it is perhaps easy to understand why some people felt they should be rebuilt.
To others, who felt that building anything on the site amounted to sacrilege, restoring the towers was tantamount to pretending September 11 never happened. The challenge facing architects and the powers that be The Port Authority, developer Larry Silverstein, mayors Giuliani and later Bloomberg, Governor Pataki, etc. was that of balancing a fitting memorial with the replacement of a significant amount of commercial real estate while working it all into a neighborhood plan for lower Manhattan. Goldberger not only goes behind the scenes of the planning process, he provides mini-profiles of people like Daniel Libeskind, David Childs, Rafael Vi–oly, Santiago Calatrava and Maya Lin and describes their work in terms accessible to the lay reader. He chronicles the give-and-take that led to the selection of Libeskind's overall plan, the modifications by Silverstein-associated architect Childs and the incorporation of Michael Arad's Reflecting Absence memorial.
Up From Zero provides a clear, evenhanded exploration of the attempt to present a powerful statement of resilience and remembrance through aesthetics. Pulitzer Prize winner Goldberg also sets the stage for the continuing drama associated with the WTC site: just weeks after the Freedom Tower groundbreaking this summer, master plan architect Libeskind sued Silverstein for unpaid fees.