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The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper

 The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper

Having designed a handful of skyscrapers in my career, I was excited to review this book in hopes that it would meet the need within the skyscraper design community for an authoritative reference on the typology similar to The Architect’s Studio Companion: Rules of Thumb for Preliminary Design or Heino Engel’s Structure Systems, both of which are books that sit at my desk as invaluable aides that I use throughout the design process. In The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, Kate Ascher attempts to create “the ultimate guide to the way skyscrapers work”, however instead of creating an essential reference text Ascher’s book serves as an introductory primer to the design problem of the skyscraper.

What I Hate About This Book

One of the big misses in this book is the lack of quick reference tables and charts that would quickly enable students or architects to quickly make assumptions that will aide them in early conceptual design stages. For instance, a simple chart could illustrate the number of elevators per occupant load, or a diagram similar to the many in The Architect’s Studio Companion that illustrates the size of the core as compared to the overall footprint of the building. It is this extra level of information that prevents this book from becoming a staple to every architect’s library.

Another weakness of the book is that the structure of the content is not functional. Although the Introduction and Future sections nicely introduce the history of the skyscraper and speculate upon its future development, it is the middle of the book that falls flat. For instance the chapter on Structure is far to brief, and many of the major ideas blur together in organization and graphics. One of the best chapters is on Elevators, the information is thoroughly covered and clearly organized in a logical manner and leaves me wanting every chapter to be produced with the same clarity.

What I Love About This Book
This book is a perfect primer for any architectural design student looking to gain a greater understanding of the major issues associated with the design problem of the skyscraper. There are some beautiful illustrations within the book that simply describe the complex issues associated with skyscraper design, although some of these graphics are a little “cartoony”, all of the images can be clearly understood, and no other book that I have found describes the inner workings of a skyscraper so completely.

Another aspect of the book that I found fascinating are the random tidbits of information that Ascher sprinkles throughout the book. On page 126 a beautiful diagram of the broadcast towers that rest atop the Sears Tower illustrates the multiple functions of the iconic structure, or the diagram of the Taipei 101′s tuned mass damper and how this important structural device becomes a design feature found on page 60. Unfortunately these random stories are not integrated well and disrupt the organization of the book.

 The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper

Who is this book for?
Ascher addresses a major issue that plagues many design studios across the United States that focus on the design of a specific building program or typology, and that is that many of these design studios lack a definitive resource that defines the extents of the design problem and associated best practices. University professors that teach skyscraper design studio will find this to be a required text for introducing the design problem of the skyscraper, and there is no doubt that this text will become an integral part to their syllabus.

Although Ascher extensively outlines the design problem of the skyscraper, The Heights lacks the depth required to become an essential reference (as noted above) for the seasoned skyscraper designer. This book is for young architects or anyone interested in discovering more about what makes a skyscraper work.

Hopefully, The Heights is the first of a series of books that fills an obvious void in the literature needed by academia, and Ascher continues her series with titles such as The Stadium, The Hospital, and The Airport.