________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 2 . . . .September 15, 2006


Skyscrapers: Uncovering Technology.

Chris Oxlade.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2006.
52 pp., cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 1-55407-136-4.

Subject Heading:
Skyscrapers-Design and construction-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4



The Chrysler Building features extraordinary Art Deco decoration. Gargoyles on a motor theme, such as winged radiator caps and hubcaps, decorate the corners of the setbacks. On the 61st floor there are eight steel eagle heads. They are huge copies of the hood ornaments from Chrysler cars. The building tapers to a four-sided spire decorated with stainless steel arches. In the lobby, marble, onyx and amber murals show scenes from the Chrysler factory.


Though tall buildings—cathedrals, pyramids and medieval castles—have been popular throughout history, skyscrapers have dominated the skylines of major cities for just over 100 years. Skyscrapers had their beginnings in Chicago in the 1800s, following an 1871 devastating fire which destroyed one-third of the city because of the common use of wooden buildings and walkways. When land prices skyrocketed, it became advantageous to build taller buildings. The inventions of steel framing and the Otis elevator made it possible to build upward. Architects of what is known as the “Chicago school” designed many of the world’s first skyscrapers. In this informative book, readers will learn about the various periods in skyscraper history—Functional, Eclectic and Art Deco, to name a few—and will look at numerous examples of buildings fitting each category. With each decade came innovations that influenced both the design and the structure of these buildings. For instance, advanced technology and computer programs which can analyze the forces of strong winds, lightning strikes, earthquakes, and extremes of temperature on the frames, along with a need for more environmentally friendly buildings that use less energy for heating, cooling and lighting, have resulted in the increasingly unusual shapes of skyscrapers. Other topics covered in the book include the daily happenings in a skyscraper which is likened to a self-contained town, housing offices, malls, hotels and restaurants; the proliferation of new, super tall skyscrapers in East Asia, made necessary due to its unprecedented economic growth; the ways in which a skyscraper’s design can reflect the owner’s wealth and success or the country’s culture; and a double-page spread devoted to the World Trade Center, the events of 9/11 and the competition winners for commemorating the site. There is also mention of growing opposition, in some cities, to the erecting of more skyscrapers, which, if built, would destroy the city’s skyline or block a view to a famous landmark. Finally, the book ends with a discussion of skyscrapers of the future and the challenges their architects face.

     The text, even when explaining technical concepts, is easy to comprehend and sustains the reader’s interest. Fantastic illustrations, floor plans, cross-sections, diagrams and photographs provide additional information and show readers the design elements of each period in skyscraper history, from the earliest functional “boxes” to the embellished modern-day towers with their highly unusual shapes. As well, there are four overlays included in the book: the first shows both the exterior and interior of the Chrysler Building in New York, followed by a comparison of New York’s skyline in 1876 to that of 2006; the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, whose supporting frame is visible from the outside (this building is particularly unique because of its pre-fab construction), and, finally, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, built to show the country’s growing commercial success and to reflect its Islamic traditions. A table of contents and an index are provided.

      An excellent book, well worthy of purchase.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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