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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Benjamin Flowers teaches architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Excerpt

The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare
on the brain of the living.

—Karl Marx

Landmarks, including many churches, had fallen to the dictator’s bulldozers. In their
stead rose a forest of uniformly depressing apartment buildings. Beyond them, etched
against the frozen sky, was a steel gray forest of cranes that would have built yet
another layer of these ordered hives that had been Ceaus¸escu’s vision of his gridded,
controlled world. The dictator’s architect had been poised to erase the country’s past
in order to transform it into a single cube of square cement in homage to their boss.

—Andrei Codrescu

In the mid-1980s my family moved to Bulgaria. My father worked for the State Department. At the time it was a hard-line Communist nation; few of the social or political reforms (or schisms) that took place in Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and 1970s took hold in Bulgaria, one of the closest allies of the Soviet Union. All Bulgarian children were required to learn Russian at school, and prominent sites all over the capital Sofia, where we lived, were named in honor of the Soviet Union (the “Hotel Moskva,” “Rousski Boulevard,” and the “Monument of Russian Liberators” still come to mind). Conservative analysts of the Eastern Bloc at that time noted that of all the East European ruling parties, the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) “demonstrated the most consistent loyalty to the Soviet Union.” It was rumored that Todor Zhivkov (who led the Bulgarian Communist Party for more than three decades and was in power longer than any other Soviet-bloc leader) once offered to make Bulgaria a part of the Soviet Union. An epigraph in a guidebook I still have to Sofia’s cultural heritage . . .

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