Tall stories

24th March 2000 at 00:00
ADVENTURES IN ARCHITECTURE SERIES: JOE AND THE SKYSCRAPER. By Dietrich Neumann. WHERE WE LIVE. By Achim Bode, Michael Frey and Andreas Linke. Prestel pound;9.95 each.

New York's Manhattan skyline has become an increasingly powerful icon for the progress of Western civilisation. We take its soaring architecture for granted as the concentrated thrust of its skyscrapers is mirrored in cities around the world.

But in the early decades people marvelled as its buildings rose heavenwards, miracles of engineering or Towers of Babel, whichever way you looked at it, to salute a ravening capitalism.

How were they made and what of the people who built them? Joe and the Skyscraper (pictured) is a wonderful retelling of the creation of the Empire State Building between 929 and 1931 through the story of Joe Carbonelli, a 16-year-old "water boy" whose job was to carry drinking water up to the workers who developed a remarkable head for heights.

This is an elegant book, which vividly conveys the drama of this particular piece of history.

Where We Live is similarly alive with fascinating nuggets of architectural narrative and the wonders of the built environment. On a whistle-stop tour of indigenous habitations - in caves, up trees, on stilts - clever parallels are drawn with the architecture of our modern cities, showing how architects have ingeniously combined anthropological observation with art and engineering.

This highly informative series turns architecture into an adventure with enormous child-appeal.

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