It’s not often that we get to watch architects battle it out in a public grudge match. Judging by this program about the contested designs for ground zero, it’s not a pretty sight. For a year, Frontline followed Daniel Libeskind—winner of a competition to design the site’s master plan—as he watched his contribution to the project winnowed down to thin air.
Libeskind, who became a kind of design icon himself in his angular eyeglasses and Euro-chic wardrobe, won over many New Yorkers (including Governor Pataki) by knitting his vision for the site into a poetic narrative about America. But property developer Larry Silverstein—unimpressed by Libeskind’s fancy-shmancy ideas—went ahead and hired another architect, David Childs, to build the Freedom Tower. The result was an ugly, ongoing standoff, documented here mostly from Libeskind’s wounded perspective. “They stare you straight in the eye and they lie,” says Libeskind’s wife and partner, Nina, about Childs and co. The cameras catch Libeskind simpering awkwardly at press conferences next to a beaming Childs, while behind the scenes Libeskind is repeatedly being slapped upside the dome.
Although director Kevin Sim devotes most of the screen time to the two archrivals, he also interviews a few victims’ family members, who express dismay that one rich developer—Silverstein—could hijack such a huge and meaningful public project. And then there’s Roland Betts, chairman of the ground zero site committee, who admits sadly, “They’ve behaved like assholes, OK? I wish I’d stayed in there and been a referee . . . basically saying to David Childs, ‘Stop it. Grow up.’ But I didn’t.”