Machinery and Diplomacy at Ground Zero
On the morning of September 11, having heard that a plane had hit World Trade Center 1, New York City engineer Mike Burton called Regional Scaffold. His first concern was simply protecting people on the ground: "At that point," he says, "I thought all I needed was some scaffolding and netting, and some sidewalk bridging."
For Burtonas for all the engineers, construction workers and firefighters who helped clear the World Trade Center's wreckagethe challenge that emerged was previously unimaginable. America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero is the story of that challenge: how the largest demolition and recovery project in U.S. history unfolded in the shadow of an enormous tragedy.
Some of the conflicts in America Rebuilds are tests of ingenuity. For example, when the Hudson River threatens to burst through a retaining wall, engineers and construction workers scramble to prevent a massive flood. And when the eight-story ruins of a building need to be torn down, demolition experts figure out a way to do it without using dynamite so that workers won't have to enter the damaged structures.
Other conflicts require solutions that are primarily diplomatic rather than mechanical. We see this when the search for bodies risks undermining a section of rubble and causing a dangerous collapse: the firemen don't want to stop searching, but the construction workers need them to hold off. And a plan to rebuild World Trade Center 7 (one of the smaller buildings at the edge of the complex) changes dramatically to accommodate the needs of the neighborhood. Throughout the film, we see community members, bereaved relatives, and real estate developers engaged in highly emotional exchanges as they attempt to resolve opposing views about what should replace the Twin Towers.
The producers of America Rebuilds had greater access to Ground Zero than any other filmmakers. What they saw, and what they show us, is how a group of very different personalities worked together to transform an unfathomable mountain of smoking debris into a clean and orderly construction site, months ahead of schedule. In documenting that achievement, and the first steps toward reconstruction, America Rebuilds offers a compelling portrait of inventiveness and resolve.