Preface

The engineer, inspired by the law of economy and governed by mathematical calculation, puts us in accord with universal law. He achieves harmony. The architect, by his arrangement, of forms, realizes an order which is pure creation of his spirit. By the relationships which he creates he awakes profound echoes in us, he gives us the measure of an order which we feel to be in accordance with that of our world. Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture (1923)

This book offers an overview of the architectural and engineering works that represent major steps, as well as significant innovations, in the creation of the built environment. Its scope is wide in both time and space, presenting achievements from prehistory until the present, including work in progress, in all the inhabited continents—one entry even describes a building in outer space.

Not all these feats were performed by trained architects or engineers, or by others acting in any professional capacity. We have concluded that some of the more awesome accomplishments and exciting responses to what seemed to be insurmountable challenges have been the work of communities that many people might regard as underdeveloped. That leads us to the observation that the greatest achievements have depended, not on the sophistication of a culture’s technology, but on the social imperatives that stimulated people to push the available technology to its limits. In the ancient and preliterate world, corporate will, brilliant social organization, and shared commitment to a spiritual ideal were as powerful influences upon the creation of the great works of humankind as any of the inventions of the Industrial Age.

Therefore, the reader will find in these pages many references to feats that were in effect social products. It is generally true of the ancient and medieval worlds that architects and engineers stood deep in the shadow of their patrons, although a few individuals like Hippodamos, Iktinus, and Mnesikles are identifiable. But the patrons are usually better known: for example, Perikles, Hadrian, and Charlemagne. The closer we come to the present, the more often particular personalities stand out; architects and engineers are identifiable, and some are even famous. The watershed seems to have been the fifteenth-century Italian movement known as the Renaissance, defined 400 years later by the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt as “an affirmation of the individual, who emerged from the anonymous crowd of the Middle Ages.”

Had we restricted ourselves to the major steps forward—new structural systems and new building materials—this would be a slim volume indeed. They have been few and far between. Throughout