New Book Explores Politics of Construction in New York City

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Teri Nagel
College of Architecture
Contact Teri Nagel

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, it is in New York 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 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 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 is an assistant professor of architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the different ways in which architecture, politics, culture and power intersect to form the built landscape. Within this broad field of inquiry, he is currently engaged in two major projects. In addition to Skyscraper, Flowers is conducting a major research project involving the intersection of race and space in the discipline and practice of architecture. His research and teaching on this topic explores how architects, as a social group, as a labor market and as arbiters of distinction, have embraced or resisted integration in the 20th century and today.