Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Lynn Curlee
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2007   ISBN: 978-0689844898

Man has always been fascinated by the creation of tall structures, and by the race to build something that is taller than anything else in the world. For four thousand five hundred years the Great Pyramid at Giza was the tallest man made object in the world. It took a long time to break the record because it took man many centuries to learn how to build structures that could be both tall and strong. In 1885 the Great Pyramid's record was finally broken when the Washington Monument was completed. This record was broken just four years later when the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris.

To make proper buildings taller certain innovations had to be invented. Steel frame construction was needed to support the buildings. In addition, taller buildings would need a way to get people up to the higher floors. The invention of the elevator solved this problem. The use of electricity and better plumbing, heating, and communications systems were also desirable. In the 1880's these requirements all came together and the Home Insurance Building in Chicago was built. Ten stories tall, this building was considered to be the first true skyscraper. It was a very utilitarian building, being square and solid.

Indeed, as more and more tall buildings began to appear in places like New York City, people began to feel that the skyscrapers were negatively affecting the look and feel of the city. It was therefore decided that architects would thereafter have to build their skyscrapers "in steps, providing setbacks for upper floors and towers, allowing light to reach the streets below."

After a brief hiatus during World War I, new skyscrapers were built to meet these guidelines. They were not boxy any longer and many architects began to compete against one another to create not just the tallest but also the most attractive skyscraper in the world. One of the most stunning of these buildings was the Chrysler Building. Just a year later the Chrysler Building lost its coveted "tallest building" record when the Empire State building was completed. At first the public were not too excited by the look of the Empire State Building but they grew to like it in time.

A great deal changed in the 1950's and 1960's when buildings not only got taller, but began to look very different. Tall blocks that were spare, glass covered, and "modernist" were all the rage. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were classic examples of this "less is more" style.

In the 1980's there was another change. Architects were tired of the look of the modernist buildings. They wanted something more innovative and decorative and the result was some of the most extraordinary buildings that the world has ever seen. These include the sail-like Burj Al Arab Hotel, the Petronas Towers, and the Taipei Financial Center. The creation of these buildings showed the world that skyscrapers were no longer an exclusively American innovation.

This fascinating book will give readers a very clear picture of the history of skyscrapers. One learns not only about how the buildings were built and what they look like, but one also discovers that architectural fashions evolved, and they often reflected what was happening in the world.

Unique vintage style full page illustrations fill this book, showing readers what skyscrapers in the past, in the present, and in the future look like.