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The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper [Hardcover]

Kate Ascher
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
List Price: CDN$ 40.50
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Book Description

Nov. 15 2011 1594203032 978-1594203039

From the author of The Works: Anatomy of a City comes a gorgeous graphic tour through the inner workings of skyscrapers.

The skyscraper is perhaps the most recognizable icon of the modern urban landscape. Providing offices, homes, restaurants, and shopping to thousands of inhabitants, modern skyscrapers function as small cities- with infrastructure not unlike that hidden beneath our streets. Clean water is provided to floors thousands of feet in the sky; elevators move people swiftly and safely throughout the building; and telecom networks allow virtual meetings with people on other continents. How are these services-considered essential, but largely taken for granted- possible in such a complex structure? What does it really take to sustain human life at such enormous heights?

Exploring the interconnected systems that make life livable in the sky is the task of Kate Ascher's stunningly illustrated The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper. Ascher examines skyscrapers from around the world to learn how these incredible structures operate. Just how do skyscrapers sway in the wind, and why exactly is that a good idea? How can a modern elevator be as fast as an airplane? Why are skyscrapers in Asia safer than those in the United States? Have new safeguards been designed to protect skyscrapers from terrorism?

What happens when the power goes out in a building so tall? Why are all modern skyscrapers seemingly made of glass, and how can that be safe? How do skyscrapers age, and how can they be maintained over decades of habitation? No detail is too small, no difficulty too big to escape Ascher's encyclopedic eye.

Along the way, The Heights introduces the reader to every type of person involved in designing, building, and maintaining a skyscraper: the designers who calculate how weight and weather will affect their structures, the workers who dig the foundations and raise the lightning rods, the crews who clean the windows and maintain the air ducts, and the firefighters-whose special equipment allows blazes to be fought at unprecedented heights.

More than a technical survey, Ascher's work is a triumphant ode to the most monumental aspect of modern civilization. Saturated with vivid illustrations and unforgettable anecdotes, The Heights is the ultimate guide to the way things work in the skyscraper.


Frequently Bought Together

The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper + The Works: Anatomy of a City + The Way to Go: Moving by Sea, Land, and Air
Price For All Three: CDN$ 67.80

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Product Description

About the Author

Kate Ascher received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in government from the London School of Economics and her B.A. in political science from Brown University. Ascher worked at Vornado Realty Trust in New York City before taking up her current position managing Happold Consulting's U.S. practice, and she serves on the faculty of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book Feb. 10 2014
By te
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The information in the book is useful and was helpful for my school projects. I would recommend this book to students.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
93 of 114 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretty but has technical errors Nov. 21 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had no idea what to expect when I ordered this book. I am interested in architecture and structural design, and this book promised to cover both. It is a nice format with each 1 or 2 page spread being a separate article on a topic. The illustrations are very well done, but reading the text I found some really bad technical errors.

For example Page 52 "Steel":

"The production of steel involves melting of iron ore and the addition of other elements, often called alloys. The mix of these alloys determines not only the hardness of the steel but other properties as well. For example the addition of chromium leaves a hard oxide on the surface of the steel, giving us what we know as "stainless steel"."

The only thing correct in this quote is the first phrase. "The production of steel involves melting of iron ore and the addition of other elements,"... Everything beyond that first comma is just plain wrong.

An alloy is a homogenous mixture of two or more metals or metallic elements or of metals and non metaloid elements. Steel itself is an alloy of mostly iron and carbon, the addition of chromium and molybdenum creates a higher stregnth steel alloy, not stainless steel which is an alloy of chromium, nickle and iron. The "hard oxide on the surface" is simply nonsense.

Had the passage above been written thus it would be more correct:

The production of steel involves the melting of iron and the addition of carbon to the metal. Alloys are created by the addition of other elements such as chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, to give different properties such as hardness and yield strength. For instance the addition of at least 11% chromium gives us what we call "stainless steel".

Another example is the section on the production of float glass, which while explaining problems with other methods of plate glass production, never bothers to explain the float glass process itself. (Making float glass is remarkable and involves floating a ribbon of molten glass on a pool of liquified metal) The illustrations do little more than show a lot of hot areas resulting in a ribbon of plate glass, and do not show the pool of liquified metal.

These multiple errors bring into question the research and veracity of everything presented in the book. The lack of a bibliography indicates this is mostly an art book. Not a well researched work. The author has great credentials but it would seem is technically illiterate. The book as an okay overview of the history of skyscrapers and has wonderful illustrations showing the evolution of their form, but as you get into the text you will find the pretty pictures are the only thing of real substance.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Purchase for Architecture and Infrastructure Geeks Nov. 23 2011
By Marco Antonio Abarca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most of us have go in and out of tall buildings on a regular basis. These buildings are so well made, we rarely think about the complex systems that come together in order to build and maintain them. In "The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper", Kate Ascher takes us on a layman's tour of these complicated structures.

Ascher begins by telling us about the history of Skyscrapers and the design issues architects and engineers need to address before building them. Such important issues as zoning and the underlying ecomomic issues that drive construction are also covered. Although these details are important, what really makes "The Heights" such a pleasure to read is when Ascher starts detailing the steps required to raise a Skyscraper. Detailed illustrations accompany her descriptions of such interesting things as the installion of glass curtain walls and the pumping of concrete to building tops. Granted, elevator design and the functioning of air handling units is not everybody's cup of tea. But if you are the type of geek who thinks mechanical floors and high-rise fire protection systems are interesting, this is your book.

Keep in mind "The Heights" was written for the general public. If you find tall buildings to be inherently interesting but do not have a background in architecture, engineering or any of the trade crafts, this is the book for you. Due to the inherent complexity of these structures, I am sure that specialists will have bones to pick with Ascher's descriptions. Nevertheless, I challange these critics to find a better single volume on skyscraper construction for the general public. In the final analysis, "The Heights" is well written, beautifully illustrated and a real pleasure to read. Highly recommended.
37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amateurish Dec 2 2011
By jimmyblueyes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's a little disconcerting when the first page of a book is a Disclaimer from the publisher, stating that it is not responsible for the factual inaccuracies within. Yet that's exactly what you'll see here, along with a separate credit for the "researcher" so that the author doesn't get blamed either.

I'd blame the author anyway. The underlying concept for this book is terrific, explaining the many components that go into modern construction, why they are needed and how they interact. But too often, the author goes off on tangents that are apparently needed to fill each page with pulp simply to accommodate the graphics. By the end, author Kate Ascher is telling us what urban activist "Jane Jacobs would think." How does she know?! Jane Jacobs has been dead for years. This dubious journalism has no place in a book where facts should be paramount to accompany the graphics. Instead, there is far too much filler. Better to have less text (therefore a lower price?) than to fill the book with typing that only diminishes the impact of the information contained within. Ms. Ascher needed a tougher editor; her text does not leave anyone begging for more.

In its favor, this book has wonderful graphics.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good for a junior high construction enthusiast Jan. 20 2012
By Dave Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As many of the reviews of this book have stated, The Heights is a very nicely designed and illustrated book; however, the lack of depth on almost every topic leaves even an interested reader wanting more. Essentially, each 2-page spread is dedicated to one topic, with text covering perhaps 30-40% of the pages; the remainder is comprised of captioned illustrations and occasionally a photo. Because of this, it feels a bit like reading an issue of People magazine, where even a seemingly important topic only merits a handful of paragraphs. I heard Ascher on NPR and thought, erroneously, that this would be an interesting history of skyscrapers and a thorough explanation of the many elements of which they are comprised. Instead, what we get (on p. 86-7, for example) is 16 illustrations, each with a 1- or 2-sentence description, of the various workers who assemble a skyscraper. While I don't want to deny the importance of the hooker-on ("[who] prepares beams and columns for crane lifting by finding the exact center of each piece of steel. He or she sets the pace of the gang"), that information is also not at all interesting, compelling, or particularly insightful. We all know skyscrapers are assembled piece by piece by a whole army of professionals--I was hoping this book would give me some actual insights rather than the most mundane of details.

While the history section of the book was interesting, and filled closer to 50% of each of its 8 pages with text, after that a quick skim would allow the reader to jump to those topics that are less well known and/or of particular interest (mass dampers to counterbalance wind loads, for example). Since it would be easy to skip large sections, or to merely read the captions to the illustrations, the book could essentially be read in a single sitting. In that sense, the (lack of) depth, the many illustrations, and the clearly labeled topic of each 2-page spread would make this a good bathroom book, or maybe a book on the shelf at a vacation house--you'd be able to put it down at any point and wouldn't need to pick up where you left off, just page through it until the rain stops, the kids are back from the beach/lake, or until everyone wakes up for the day.

Given that Ascher is on the faculty of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, I would've expected a more thorough and academic book. Though maybe that's what an actual student of the construction/building/architecture field would have provided--I'm curious how Ascher's degrees in government and political science qualify her to write a book on such a potentially fascinating topic: perhaps she should have focused on the economic and political factors that affect skyscraper construction rather than "Fire Prevention and Response" (p. 144-5)--wow, sprinklers, fire extinguishers, and high-pressure pumper trucks ALL play a role?!? Who would've thought. (But a more in-depth approach would've probably required her to do the actual research for the book, instead of Rob Vroman, who's credited on the title page. Given that the book is almost exclusively straight data, I'm not sure what Ascher contributed beyond some basic rewriting of Vroman's research.) Since this "data-dump" approach is indicative of the intellectual/reading level of the book, I'd fully recommend it for a middle school or junior high student who has left behind dinosaurs and locomotives and has become fascinated with buildings and their construction. But they'd likely get just as much out of some television series from A&E or The History Channel.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book about a Fascinating Topic Nov. 30 2011
By Laura's Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Heights is a coffee table sized book that is packed full of information about the history, design, construction, maintenance, and future of the skyscraper. It is full of great pictures and graphics. I thought the graphics were particularly well done and a wonderful way for a person to really understand what is going on in the text of the book. From showing how test boring is performed by a geotechnical engineer to how a wind tunnel works, the graphics were fantastic. The graphics are so amazing that my two sons (5 & 3) are also intrigued with this book. They like to flip through and have us read to them about the graphics that particularly intrigue them such as fire safety and construction of the skyscraper. My favorite graphic was actually at the beginning of the book which showed the steady progression of the height of skyscrapers over the past 150 years.

Beyond the excellent graphics, Ascher has a gift of being able to take quite complex topics and write them in a way that is accurate, but easily relatable to anyone.

As an engineer, I was very pleased to see that Ms. Asher pointed out that the design and construction of a skyscraper is very much a team effort. Too often architects end up with all of the glory, while the engineers are left in the shade.

Overall, The Heights was an excellent book about a fascinating topic. The graphics and explanations of the design, construction, and workings of the modern marvel of the skyscrapers are perfect. The Heights is not only technically accurate, but written in a way that anyone with an interest can understand from my three-year old son to his structural engineer father.
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