New field guide to skyscrapers a useful look at humanity’s largest and strangest architectural marvels

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to imagine even Superman could leap over the tall buildings that have pierced the skyline in recent years.  The current tallest building is a staggering 2,717 feet (828 m) tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  If its 57 elevators and 124-floor elevator aren’t high enough for you, just wait for the next skyscraper to eclipse it in 2021, the 3,281-foot high Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which when finished will in part mimic the look of the fictional Stark Tower/Avengers building in the New York City of the Marvel movies.  From the 2,800 hundred-year-old Great Pyramids of Egypt to today’s contest to be Manhattan’s tallest structure, Edward Denison and Nick Beech′s How to Read Skyscrapers is a handy pocket-sized field guide to accompany you on your travels or serve as a reference to understand the history of humanity’s desire to build ever taller structures.

Not only does How to Read Skyscrapers provide a chronological overview of the construction processes and features behind the history of tall building design, it is a quick course in the progress of architectural science and technology.  Along the way readers will encounter flying buttresses and domes, arches, facades, and columns, lobbies and pedestals, iron framing, prefabricated modular design, elevators, sprinkler systems, boiler and ventilation systems, electricity, zoning barriers, decorative features, building material improvements, innovative lighting, air travel docking systems, marketing and competitive (ego) building and symbolism, all toward the concept of creating the building as city unto itself–and the innovation annotations are all tied to the buildings these new features were first introduced.

For much of the book two cities championed dramatic heights, first Chicago followed later by New York City, making this guide a useful tool for sight-seeing in these cities.  One section highlights American growth and early building history, another section details the global proliferation of tall buildings, followed by a survey of the tallest U.S. buildings, and a tour of the most striking, strangely designed giant structures around the world.

For the most part each building gets its own two-page spread, including height, architects, completion date, unique uses and design traits, architectural improvements, a photograph or other image of the building and line drawings of highlighted features.

From the now-destroyed Crystal Palace of London, to the now demolished Singer Building of Chicago, New York’s Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, the unoccupied 1990s Ryugyong Hotel of North Korea, the Malaysian Petronas Towers, and Brazil’s Martinelli Building, to Abu Dhabi’s beautiful Al Bahr Towers, and Panama’s spiraling F&F Tower, to the gorgeous Marina Bay Sands of Singapore and the world’s tallest clock at the Makkah Royal in Mecca, readers will encounter all sorts of improbable monumental feats.

Look for Universe Publishing/Rizzoli New York’s latest guide to art and design, How to Read Skyscrapers, available now at your local bookstore, or order it here at Amazon.  It’s the latest in Rizzoli’s “How to Read” series, which also includes Denison’s How to Read Bridges, and other authors’ books How to Read Buildings, How to Read Houses, How to Read Churches, and How to Read Modern Buildings, all of which would provide a good solid starter library for any student of design and architecture.

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