Engineering America: John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge

Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP

One of the 19th century’s most brilliant engineers, inventors, and successful manufacturers, John Roebling immigrated to the US from Germany in 1831. He became wealthy and acclaimed for bridge design and construction, and by 1867 had begun work on his masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge.  Richard Haw, author of Engineering America: The Life and Times of John A. Roebling (May 2020), as well as two earlier books on the visual and cultural history of the bridge across time, will place this transcendent marriage of masonry and steel cable into the context of Roebling’s life’s work.

Richard Haw

Richard Haw is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is the author of Engineering America: The Life and Times of John A. Roebling (Oxford University Press, 2020) as well as Art of the Brooklyn Bridge: A Visual History (Routledge, 2012) and The Brooklyn Bridge: A Cultural History (Rutgers University Press, 2008).

Masonry to Steel, 1870s-1890s: How Masonry Construction Transitioned to Steel

Tue, Sep 29, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP Tue, Sep 29, 2020 at 6:00 pm
and Wed, Sep 30 at 6:00 pm

A pair of programs led by New York structural engineer Donald Friedman, author of The Structure of Skyscrapers in America, 1871–1900, and historian of Chicago Thomas Leslie, will revisit the fabled architectural rivalries of America’s largest and most innovative cities. Their talks will keep a tight focus on the key decades of the 1870s, the beginning of the end of “the age of masonry,” and the dawn of mass-production of rolled steel I-beams, which from the mid-1880s offered new economies for construction. Yet the eventual marriage of masonry and metal took time to birth the full steel skeleton, often called “the Chicago frame.”

Leslie and Friedman will explore the ways that traditional bearing walls enlarged window openings to illuminate interior workspaces until the wall became, in effect, a frame, and how hybrid systems of “cage construction” served practical purposes and were slow to disappear in practice. Both emphasize how construction moved toward industrial materials to reduce the cost of skilled labor, especially…

BUSINESS BUILDINGS: Thinking about Corporate vs. Commercial Skyscrapers

Mon, Oct 12, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP Mon, Oct 12 at 6 pm
and Wed, Oct 14 at 6:00 pm

Gail Fenske, Kathryn Holliday, and Carol Willis 

Three scholars of the skyscraper, Gail Fenske, Kathryn Holliday, and Carol Willis will address an opposition that has long characterized the framework for understanding the history of tall buildings – corporate vs. commercial – and ask: “What do those words mean, and how do they apply to skyscraper history?”

Tudor City: Manhattan’s Historic Residential Enclave

Mon, Oct 26, 2020 at 6:30 pm RSVP

In Tudor City: Manhattan’s Historic Residential Enclave, Lawrence R. Samuel recounts the history of Midtown Manhattan’s “urban Eden.” Created by the innovative developer Fred F. French from 1925 to 1929, Tudor City is arguably the world’s first skyscraper apartment complex was and remains an idyllic enclave of neo-Tudor towers, parks, and quiet. Longtime resident Samuels traces the development of the Tudor City neighborhood over the decades to the present day.

Lawrence R. Samuel

 Lawrence R. Samuel is the founder of AmeriCulture, a consultancy based in Miami and New York dedicated to transforming the cultural landscape into business opportunities. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, an MBA in Marketing, and an MA in English. He is the author of numerous books on American history, American culture, and psychology. His most recent books include Love in America: A Cultural History of the Past Century (2019), Happiness in America: A Cultural History (2018), and The American Writer: Literary Life in the United States from the 1920s to the Present (2017).


Wed, Oct 28, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP

A.K. Sandoval-Strausz and Andrew Dolkart

Urban historians A.K. Sandoval-Strausz and Andrew Dolkart examine two lesser-studied types of tall buildings by use: hotels and lofts. Drawing on their detailed studies of these distinctive development types – Sandoval-Strausz in his book Hotel: An American History, and Dolkart in his study of skyscraper lofts in New York’s Garment District – their talks will analyze the design and function of these characteristically urban commercial high-rises and how they relate to the social and economic construction of the industries and populations they accommodate.

Rewriting Skyscraper History: Looking Back from the 21stC

Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP September to November
See all talks »

This semester of webinars will engage an established group of scholars – all specialists in some aspect of skyscraper history who collaborated on earlier programs – to consider broad questions about the early history of the type and question many of the persistent 20th-century narratives, including an emphasis on technological determinism, “firsts,” and rivalries over stylistic expression. 

WEEK 1: NEW YORK & CHICAGO, FROM THE 1870S: Thinking about Tall Buildings and New …

WEEK 2: MASONRY TO STEEL, 1870S-1890S: How and When Masonry Transitioned to Steel

WEEK 3: BUSINESS BUILDINGS: Thinking about Corporate vs. Commercial Skyscrapers



Tall Buildings, Labor, and Capital

Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 6:00 pm RSVP

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

What are the social and political dimensions of industrial innovation and technological change? In the 1880s and ‘90s, Joanna Merwood-Salisbury argues, the skyscraper was the subject of an ideological battle, as both the symbol of capitalism’s triumph and the target of anti-capitalist protest. As metal replaced masonry in tall-building construction, traditional building trades such as bricklayers and carpenters lost power, and new trades, including ironworkers, gained importance. General contractors, architects, and engineers organized into professional groups to manage the complexity of industrialized construction.

The Structure of Skyscrapers in America 1871-1900: Their History and Preservation

Tue, Dec 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm (THIS WINTER)

In this new book, The Structure of Skyscrapers in America, 1871–1900, historian and structural engineer Donald Friedman presents a thorough history of the development of high-rise buildings, not only in New York and Chicago but across the country in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Providing a rich historical context for the emergence of the skyscraper, he details the range of the technical aspects of the construction of this new building type.

Donald Friedman

Donald Friedman, co-founder of Old Structures Engineering, has thirty years of experience as a structural engineer, working on both the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing structures. He has taught at the Pratt Institute, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute School of Architecture, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He is the author of numerous articles for technical publications and five books on construction, renovation, and engineering.