Pre-College Programs
Summer@Brown Courses

« Return to Course Catalog

Skyscrapers! The Secret Lives of the World's Tallest Buildings

One Section Available to Choose From:

Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 13, 2015 - July 17, 20151M-F 3:15-6:05POpenSarah Rovang10556

Course Description

Ascending a staggering half mile into the sky, the Burj Khalifa represents the culmination of a story that began in 1896 with the ten-story Wainwright Building; the world's first skyscraper. What happened in the intervening century is the story of this class, which traces the forgotten histories of the world's tallest structures. The glistening pinnacle of the Chrysler Building; King Kong climbing the Empire State Building, the twin specters of the Petronas Towers: the images are familiar but the stories behind these iconic buildings remained shrouded in myth and misconception.

What began as a uniquely American building type has become a global phenomenon. Investigating why the skyscraper has proved such a captivating and controversial building type from the early twentieth century to the present, this is an ideal course for students who are fascinated by architecture, engineering, and history.

About half of our time will be devoted to exploring the design aspects of skyscrapers; we will sketch and model skyscrapers to investigate what materials, building techniques, and technology allow them to stand. The other half will be used to explore how skyscrapers have been represented in popular culture. Films, literature, and art provide us with exciting insights into how attitudes towards skyscrapers have changed over the years. From icons of glamour and technological accomplishment to symbols of greed and corruption, skyscrapers have played numerous roles in the twentieth century.

This course will introduce you to the basics of architectural design, structural engineering, and historical analysis. By the end of this course, you'll understand the social, technological, stylistic, and even climatic aspects of designing and constructing tall buildings. We will strive to unravel the mysteries of who builds skyscrapers and why, as well as how these buildings have sparked such a unique and enduring fascination in the American imagination.

A basic working familiarity with American history is recommended for this course.