SKYSCRAPER: The Making of a Building by Karl Sabbagh

SKYSCRAPER: The Making of a Building

Email this review


This ""companion"" to a forthcoming PBS series tracks the intricate design and wrangling process that added a landmark to Manhattan's skyline. In late 1986, William Zeckendorf broke ground on a $550 million office and apartment complex northwest of Times Square. The developer gave himself two years to complete a 45-story office tower and to lure corporations to a neighborhood once dubbed Hell's Kitchen. Sabbagh, the TV series' producer, zeros in on the principals at each stage of constructing the skyscraper, from drafting thousands of blueprints, and dynamiting schist, to manufacturing steel, quarrying granite, firing 1.2 million bricks, and hauling copper sheets to the pyramid roof. But stymied by hesitant reporting, sloppy prose, and paragraph-length quotes (presumably lifted from videotape), the book deflates the drama of a ""fast-track"" construction project where engineers and manufacturers had to work out many problems for the first time and miscalculations could cause catastrophe. Also, the narrative conveys only a murky sense of what the grand, arcaded tower looks like. As it rose, Worldwide Plaza bled millions and heads rolled. In spite of itself, the narrative documents intriguing moments: the frantic redrafting of plans by architects Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill; the costly demand by the first tenant, Ogilvy and Mather (who moved in last spring), to have their own lobby; the wince of chief architect David Childs at the pink of the facade; and the wooing of the Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore on the condition that the developer somehow expunge a homosexual porno theater a block away. Watch for the series, scheduled for spring airing. Most likely, it will have the visual impact and dramatic pace lost in the still-informative book.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking