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Understanding the greatest buildings of the world



Your world is filled with structures that have stood the test of time. That give character to the cities and landscapes in which they’re located. That are visited by millions of people each year. And that capture our wonder for the marvels of engineering innovation and progress.

But while structures such as the Giza pyramids, Brunelleschi’s dome, and the Brooklyn Bridge are visual spectacles in and of themselves, they are just as important for the way they were designed as for the way they look. These and other structural masterpieces were, first and foremost, novel creations born from the most progressive engineering concepts and tools of their day. They represent uniquely effective solutions to perplexing structural concerns. And they serve as landmark moments in the millennia-long history
of engineering.

Now, experience the engineering genius that makes these works possible with Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity—a marvelous learning experience that takes you around the world and reveals the stories behind the most famous bridges, churches, skyscrapers, towers, and other structures from thousands of years of history. Delivered by award-winning Professor Stephen Ressler of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a civil engineer and a nationally honored leader in engineering education, these 24 lectures take you on a fascinating and richly illustrated tour that deftly blends history and science to create an unforgettable survey of our world’s most remarkable structural masterpieces, one informed by the fundamentals of structural engineering and their underlying scientific principles.

Discover the Fundamental Characteristics of Great Structures

Great structures are

testaments to the power of scientific principles at the heart of engineering and physics;

windows into the ways that great civilizations have enhanced their quality of life through innovation;

solutions to concerns about everyday life, including transportation and work space; and

magnificent works of art in themselves.

To explore the world’s greatest structures is to discover secrets hidden from casual observation. To grasp the basic engineering principles that make constructing these grand works possible. And to better appreciate the way their characteristics appear in the ordinary structures all around you.

So what are the qualities that make a particular structure so great? In Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures, Professor Ressler selects a wealth of impressive examples based on the ways they exemplify not just aesthetic form and function but—more importantly—structure, the system of load-carrying elements that allow a particular building, bridge, or tower to work.

Examine the Science of Structure

You spend the first few lectures delving into the scientific principles that govern six basic types of structural elements; the building blocks that compose nearly all of the world’s structures, from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. Among the elements you’ll learn to understand are

arches, a central feature of ancient Roman architecture that carries load entirely in compression and requires vertical and horizontal reactions to carry load;

columns, which carry load primarily in compression and which have been integral components of great structures from antiquity to the present day; and

cables, which carry load entirely in tension and change their shape in response to applied loads.

In each instance, you explore the scientific principles behind these elements, often with the aid of physical demonstrations and detailed computer models that allow you to see the science in action. You’ll also see how these elements often work together in vast structural systems that support a range of buildings, bridges, and towers from around the world.

Embark on a Whirlwind Tour of Great Structures

Once you’ve mastered how these and other elements work, you embark on a whirlwind tour of more than 150 great structures that takes you from the deserts of ancient Egypt to the skyscraper race of early 20th-century New York to the inventiveness of postmodern architecture. You’ll learn new insights into some of civilization’s most impressive buildings, bridges, and towers.

Parthenon: No structure exemplifies the ancient Greek love of geometry better than this temple. While known for its perfect proportions and architectural refinements, the Parthenon is actually a rather unsophisticated structural design—especially in its use of interior colonnades to support the roof.

Eiffel Tower: One of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower is composed of iron bars arranged in interconnected triangles called trusses. This framework was used for three reasons: trusses are strong, stiff, and light; they can reach great heights with many small elements; and they allow for versatility of form.

Brooklyn Bridge: The four main cables of this landmark suspension bridge are central to its ability to span the East River in New York City. Each of these cables is built up from over 5,000 steel wires individually pulled across the river by a unique mechanical device called a traveler.

But what makes Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures so comprehensive is that it also considers structures that, while perhaps less familiar or more recently built, are just as important to fully grasping the intricacy of structural engineering. These include

the Salginatobel Bridge in Switzerland, a revolutionary three-hinged concrete arch;

the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building; and

the Houston Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium.

Throughout these lectures, Professor Ressler draws intriguing connections between buildings and structures separated by thousands of miles and years. For example, you’ll discover that the Houston Astrodome features the same intricate steel framework as an iron dome designed in 1802 for the Paris Grain Market. In making comparisons such as these, you’ll learn as much from the differences as from the similarities.

Learn from Educational Expertise and Dynamic 3-D Models

A Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Professor Ressler is a structural engineering expert and a consummate guide into the basics of engineering mechanics. His work and his dedication to engineering education have won him numerous national awards, including the ASCE Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award—the organization’s highest honor. He brings this same award-winning knowledge and dedication to every lecture of Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures.

In addition, the lectures feature many physical models that Professor Ressler uses to make engineering concepts more accessible. Couple this with the stunning 3-D animations that re-create and allow you to take apart individual pieces of great structures, and you have an engaging learning experience that will change the way you think about the buildings around you.

With this masterful course, the next time you come across an amazing structure—whether you’re traveling to another city or flipping through a magazine—you’ll be able to confidently explain just how on Earth they did that.