post written by Emma Filbrun
Author: David Macaulay
Major Themes: Skyscrapers, Demolition, Architecture, Empire State Building
Synopsis: This is a picture story of the demolition of the Empire State Building in New York City.
It’s common knowledge that the Empire State Building in New York City was built in 1930-31. Not so well-known, however, is the fact that in 1989 an Arabian prince bought the building to disassemble and rebuild in Riyadh as the headquarters for his family’s oil business. At least, so says David Macaulay in Unbuilding, first published in 1980.
When I was in my early teens, my family discovered Macaulay’s books, and we spent a lot of time with some of them. He has a gift for drawing wonderfully detailed pictures to describe how some of the world’s greatest structures were built—or, as in this case, unbuilt. Each step of the process of demolishing the skyscraper is described, from deciding what parts of it to keep for reerection and building a sidewalk shed and scaffolding to the final step of creating a park on the site. Along the way, we learn a lot about how skyscrapers are built. The final fate of the building is a startling surprise!
Anyone who enjoys architecture will love Unbuilding, and the rest of us enjoy it, too. I have always loved Macaulay’s illustrations.