There is an art to demolition, as Jeff Byles shows in Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition (Reviews, Oct. 17). Here Byles talks about its artists and their "performances."
Demolition has always been a family business, from the Volk brothers to the Loiseaux. Stacey Loiseaux is one of the few women to make a mark in this trade.
Stacey was actually profiled in Cosmopolitan as a "blasting babe." She's a role model, a really inspiring character. She tried to resist going into the family business, but finally she realized that she couldn't picture herself doing anything else, so she embraced it. This is a business where less than 5% are women. She says it's a pretty hostile environment to be a young woman in, but she just bucked up and proved that she could do it.
Tearing down New York City's Penn Station in the 1960s was a big turning point for the demolition trade.
Pennsylvania Station was the sacrificial lamb for the preservation movement. No one had dreamed that they would ever see it destroyed, certainly not in their lifetimes. So when it was suddenly gone, it was a massive shock to the urban consciousness. It brought architects to the barricades, and they started the modern preservation movement. For the first time, wreckers became this force to be reckoned with. I think the worst moment was when the press came to the site, and the foreman said, "It's just another job." That was a huge blow to the wrecking trade.
September 11 was an opportunity to reappraise the whole phenomenon of "unbuilding." People hadn't ever seen it before on that scale, and some are suspicious because the towers fell so "tidily." They wonder if it was an inside job.
When I watched the towers fall on 9/11, I was sure it was an inside job. But very quickly I changed my mind, after a few days of reading the news and thinking it through. Today I don't put any stock in the idea that it was a conspiracy. Even Mark Loiseaux, who watched them fall on television—the moment he saw the planes hit, he could see exactly how they would fall the way they did.
How will Hurricane Katrina's ravages affect the wrecking trade?
With so much destruction, some politicians are really champing at the bit. They're talking about bulldozing 50,000 homes, which would be a demolition on a huge scale. So the preservation community kicked into gear and got the message out that these neighborhoods could be nursed back to life. It will be a test case on a massive scale for the preservation industry.