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The Politics and Power of Building New York City in the Twentieth Century

Benjamin Flowers

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

Narrated by Ernest G. Sprance

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

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, New York is 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, 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 teaches architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


“Examining the life and times of New York City's most iconic buildings, ... Flowers reveals not only how the city's skyscrapers are inextricably tied to the city's economic booms and busts, planning, and day-to-day functioning but also how the skyscraper 'is a material expression' of social conditions and personal relationships.”

Publishers Weekly

“In this both sweeping and specific book, Benjamin Flowers describes the Empire State Building, the Seagram Building, and the World Trade Center towers, explaining why developers undertook them and how personal ambitions influenced their designs....Flowers sheds intriguing light on three important skyscrapers here. In the process, he humanizes these endeavors, while situating them in a historical context, raising issues for further discussion, and providing a useful model for studies of other buildings.”

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

“Flowers offers a book with value on many levels.... Skyscraper presents a strong justification for, and demonstration of, a difficult but powerful way of examining buildings.... Highly recommended.”


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University Press Audiobooks