by Donald A. McKay; Harper & Row; 150 pages.
This is an engrossing book of the howit-works variety—one of those semireference volumes that visually cut things apart to show how they fit together. Combining crisp text blocks and the author’s clear and detailed line drawings, it covers the centuries-long construction of the world’s most important metropolis and how the city continues to be built today.
In sketching the historic background, the author pauses at signal events in building history to show and explain what happened: the coming of cast iron, the elevator, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Flatiron Building, the Woolworth Building. Finally he re-creates in some detail the building of the World Trade Center in the 1960s.
Next the book takes a tour of the city’s concealed infrastructure, the bewilderment of mostly underground systems that make modern life run—the subway, the water lines, the electricity network, the steam tunnels, the gas piped in from Texas and Louisiana, the phone lines, the ducts that carry it all, the sewage system, and the ways people get in and out to work on these systems. What follows is the best part of all. Over the course of sixty pages, a generic contemporary skyscraper goes up. Beginning with the demolition of a previous structure and test borings for foundations, and finishing with the bolting on of marble-veneered granite outer wall panels, we are led through—and see, in copious, pleasing drawings—all the busy stages of a complicated modern construction job.
Putting all this into one slim volume is an ambitious task, but the book is the work of a blessedly clear mind as well as years of research. The author’s sharp presentation of detailed and sophisticated information should make the book appeal equally to children—older ones, at least—and adults.