Skyscraper: The Politics and Power of Building New York City in the Twentieth Century

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Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2010

Nowhere in the world is there a greater concentration of significant skyscrapers than in New York City. And though this iconographic American building style has roots in Chicago, New York is where it has grown into such a powerful reflection of American commerce and culture.

In Skyscraper: The Politics and Power of Building New York City in the Twentieth Century, Benjamin Flowers explores the role of culture and ideology in shaping the construction of skyscrapers and the way wealth and power have operated to reshape the urban landscape. Flowers narrates this modern tale by closely examining the creation and reception of three significant sites: the Empire State Building, the Seagram Building, and the World Trade Center. He demonstrates how architects and their clients employed a diverse range of modernist styles to engage with and influence broader cultural themes in American society: immigration, the Cold War, and the rise of American global capitalism.

Skyscraper explores the various wider meanings associated with this architectural form as well as contemporary reactions to it across the critical spectrum. Employing a broad array of archival sources, such as corporate records, architects' papers, newspaper ads, and political cartoons, Flowers examines the personal, political, cultural, and economic agendas that motivate architects and their clients to build ever higher. He depicts the American saga of commerce, wealth, and power in the twentieth century through their most visible symbol, the skyscraper.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Examining the life and times of New York City's most iconic buildings, . . . Flowers reveals not only how the city's skyscrapers are inextricably tied to the city's economic booms and busts, planning, and day-to-day functioning but also how the skyscraper 'is a material expression' of social conditions and personal relationships."—Publishers Weekly

In this both sweeping and specific book, Benjamin Flowers describes the Empire State Building, the Seagram Building, and the World Trade Center towers, explaining why developers undertook them and how personal ambitions influenced their designs. . . .Flowers sheds intriguing light on three important skyscrapers here. In the process, he humanizes these endeavors, while situating them in a historical context, raising issues for further discussion, and providing a useful model for studies of other buildings."—Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Flowers offers a book with value on many levels. . . . [Skyscraper] presents a strong justification for, and demonstration of, a difficult but powerful way of examining buildings. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

Publishers Weekly
Examining the life and times of New York City's most iconic buildings, Georgia Tech architecture instructor Flowers reveals not only how the city's skyscrapers are inextricably tied to the city's economic booms and busts, planning and day-to-day functioning, but also how the skyscraper "is a material expression" of social conditions and personal relationships, "of the course chartered by capital" through urban tribes. Chapter three, "Capital Nightmares," paints a gritty picture of the bleak 1930s, as well as the opportunism and corruption it bred. In matters of analysis, however, Flowers can reach: comparing the Seagram Building with the Lever House across the street, he questions Seagram's need for similarly clean lines, and finds that, short of a reflection of "already-extant corporate identities (e.g., cleanliness and soap, as is the case with Lever House)... We are left with the conclusion that it was the opportunity to use a design that elided the past and could simultaneously serve to garner cultural capital and respectability." Still, Flowers's broader conclusion, that companies rely on their buildings to promote cultural capital as well as financial, is solid, and makes this an interesting volume for those who like their architecture in proper social and economic perspective. 51 illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812241846
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 642,014
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Flowers teaches architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Narratives of the Built Environment: Architecture, Ideology, and Skyscrapers

1 Building, Money, and Power
2 Setback Skyscrapers and American Architectural Development
3 Capital Nightmares
4 The Politics of American Architecture in the 1930s

5 Architecture Culture into the 1950s
6 Clients and Architect
7 Gangland's Grip on Business
8 Modern Architecture and Corporate America in the 1950s

9 Regeneration Through Violence
10 The Rhetoric and Reality of Urban Renewal
11 Cathedrals of Commerce: Minoru Yamasaki, Skyscraper Design, and the Rise of Postmodernism

Conclusion: Into the Future


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