Book Review: Unbuilding

Rating: ★★★★☆

What would happen if a crazy multibillionare in the Middle East decided to buy the Empire State Building and transport it across the ocean?  Macaulay presents this scenario with a meticulously researched deconstruction with detailed illustrations of the building’s internal structural features, showing over the course of two years what it would take to dismantle this monument of American architecture.  In so doing, he helps the reader appreciate how significant an architectural achievement it is while also helping the reader understand how great buildings like this are made.

The concept of taking the building apart to show off its construction is a novel one, and Macaulay not only makes the reading worthwhile through his careful research, but also with humor.  Tongue-in-cheek, he describes the local protests at the building’s sale, and the appeasement of New York’s residents by transforming the site into a park with the spire installed at its center.  Ironically, after years of deconstruction, he chooses to have the building lost at sea en route to its destination.  This plot twist is undoubtedly an acknowledgement of the Empire State Building’s place in the American consciousness as a cultural icon, whose ownership cannot change hands.

This book, like all of Macaulay’s architecture books, focuses primarily on the physical details of the building, so it will appeal best to readers who experience life through the details.  This is an outstanding choice to prepare for a trip to New York, as part of an architecture or history study, or just for entertaining reading.  Because most of the information comes through the exquisitely detailed drawings, it’s a better read-alone than read-aloud.

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Publication Information: Macaulay, David. Unbuilding. Houghton Mifflin. 1980. ISBN: 0395294576.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 08-12, Books Children Love
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Posted on October 15, 2009

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