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Eric Darton

Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center

B+

There’s been a run on studies about the World Trade Center itself since the attacks, like Angus Kress Gillespie’s tribute, Twin Towers.

This book details the dealing, scheming, and spinning that preceded construction and provide sketches of all the principals: David Rockefeller, founder of the Downtown?Lower Manhattan Association, who circulated plans for the WTC as early as 1958; David’s brother Nelson, the governor of New York during the organizational phase; Austin Tobin, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public corporation whose involvement in the project was a practical necessity; and the architect Minoru Yamasaki, whose design philosophy extended from a belief in ”beauty through structure and technology.”

Gillespie presents the project, without nuance, as a heroic quest, going so far as to label one bureaucrat’s sales pitch to prospective tenants ”a brave show in the American tradition of ballyhoo.” As it happens, ballyhoo is among this author’s prime preoccupations. Gillespie repeatedly mistakes popular affection for the WTC for evidence of its architectural merit. This adherence to Barnumism pays off exactly once, in the dropping of the delicious factoid that the concept for the complex’s size sprang from the mind of a marketeer: ”In 1960…the public relations expert Lee K. Jaffe wrote a memo to the study group which said in part: ‘Incidentally, if you’re going to build a great project, you should build the world’s tallest building.”’

At its best, ”Twin Towers” is a nuts-and-bolts affair, offering precise accounts of the site’s excavation, the conception of the pioneering elevator system, and the design of the towers’ exoskeletal structure. The author’s side notes on construction prove fascinating. The flip side of this eye for minutiae is a tendency to dwell on the tedious — numbing paragraphs on, say, liquor license hearings. Further, Gillespie has the prose style of an android and a high tolerance for banality. On page 170, we are taught that ”a skyscraper is by definition a tall building. The term suggests that the building will ‘scrape the sky.”’

Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center
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