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BOOK

REVIEW - Skyscrapers: Structure and Design By Matthew Wells.Laurence King, 2005.192pp. £30

This book is caught between two stools. It is neither a fluffy coffee-table book, nor a hard-hitting polemic. It is not a glossy magazine, nor is it an engineering handbook.

That said, at a time when many books are published on the topic, it is definitely better than most.

The shame is that it could have been a proper thesis. It has all the promise of a full-length book. In one sentence we have the Italian city state, the Ottoman Empire and the development of gun foundries giving rise to bell-casting. The next sentence skirts over the development, design and construction of campaniles. By the next paragraph we are with the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, and Seville Cathedral. It is breathless stuff and, just like the lifts in the CN Tower, I enjoyed the ride but wanted it to slow down.

Every page should be a chapter, every phrase needs more development, each sentence is pregnant with information. This is a real book waiting to get out.

Wells has lots of anecdotes that would benefit from the telling. He is obviously very knowledgeable and has plenty of information to offer - about historical development and social contextualism, as well as buildability, bearing capacities, and weight to height ratios - but we never get past the first floor. For example, Wells cites the 'extraordinary event' at the completion of the Citicorp Tower in New York after the discovery of a flaw that might risk the building's collapse. The subsequent actions of the designer and the engineer, he says, 'makes an essential case study in professionalism for aspiring engineers'. Yes, but what was it? Before he can tell us, he has moved on.

What I did enjoy, though, was the fact that the case studies are mini-articles, rather than the short sycophantic paragraphs of traditional coffee-table monographs.

With just a few exceptions, the images are excellent in quality.

Wells, whose previous 30 Bridges (AJ 13.6.02) suffered a similar problem because its structure also precluded real analysis, should take the bull by the horns, drop the simple churn-'em-out format, and write a proper book. He is well-equipped to do so, and should start with this very topic.

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