Engineering Ground Zero - NOVA Premiere on 9/7/2011

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Engineering Ground Zero - NOVA Premiere on 9/7/2011

Postby Kevin » Wed Sep 07, 2011 1:59 pm

A revised version of this review is now an article at ArchWeek, including additional NOVA images...

The PBS NOVA series premiered a powerful show on Wednesday evening, 9/7/2011, on reconstruction at the site of the World Trade Center disaster.

"Engineering Ground Zero" is now available for streaming at the PBS web site:

The show will also be rebroadcast by many public television stations across the United States (check local listings).

Photo: Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

I had a chance to view a pre-distribution edit of the show, and it's well worth watching for just about anyone interested in architecture, construction, and/or the process of rebuilding from the World Trade Center disaster.

Of course the show is aimed at the overall NOVA audience, who are taken to be technically interested, but not assumed to be knowledgable. Seasoned professionals may not learn much from seeing a concrete slump test, recycled steel rolling, and glass manufacturing.

Even among professionals, however, not many of us get to see those things every day. The compact, intensified story of some of the key materials and methods for building 1 WTC and the 9/11 Memorial is exciting.

Similarly, techniques used for making a technical story personal, like interviewing truck divers and construction workers, serve to ground the story effectively and to hint at the huge underlying social scope of a big construction project.

On the other hand, the hagiography of the lone designer - especially David Childs, whose work tends to inspire me toward a critical response - while in some ways is an understandable simplification - in the end for me fails to convey how the work of architecture and construction really gets done.

In an episode with "engineering" in its title, it is a little disappointing not to get to meet the actual engineers. In fact, it's left rather unclear who the primary engineers are for the various projects covered, let alone other vital specialists for this work, like the blast consultants - just for instance.

There's little or nothing in the episode about the political processes around design selection, the fate of the Daniel Liebeskind master plan (though it does have make an unremarked cameo appearance in model form), or other dimensions of socio-economic controversy around the projects.

What the episode does show, however, is shown evocatively. In a cultural context in which media coverage of a building often fails to even mention the building's designers - compared to the building's owner, for instance - perhaps glorification of a couple of individuals is a step in a positive direction.

"Engineering Ground Zero" is a good building story. It would be worth seeing for AEC professionals, even if only because, as a prominent media event, it will contribute significantly to framing public perceptions of large scale design and building.

Photo: WGBH Educational Foundation

There is that. And indeed, there is much, much more. It's a national story of truly historic proportions, where deep pain and tragedy are turned into powerful fuels for moving forward with a tremendous multibillion dollar reinvestment. As a design professional, I suggest that you simply enjoy the ride - even if you do know that much more than NOVA can tell, this time around. ... -zero.html
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