The world's love of skyscrapers is so great that architectural book publishers never will stop thinking of ways to create new books about them--as evidenced by this clever, colorful, and fun Filofax-shaped interactive number. It takes vertical shots of 27 of the world's most famous tall buildings; scales them all equally; cuts them into bottom, middle, and top; and, then, through the magic of a loose-leaf ring binder, allows you to flip around their various three parts to see, say, what New York's 1913 Woolworth Building--Cass Gilbert's legendary faux-Gothic "cathedral of commerce"--would look like with the base of its neighbor from a few blocks away, Emery Roth and Sons' 1972-3 World Trade Center (schizophrenic, to say the least)... or how Skidmore Owings & Merrill's 1969 Hancock Center in Chicago would look if it were topped off by the richly patterned minaret-like crowns of Cesar Pelli's twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (a perfect geometric fit, actually (if not a stylistic stumper), thanks to the Hancock's ever-tapering shaft). The funny thing is that so many of the towers of the past few years look like Deco by LEGO, with their stepped-back stories and sexy chevron-like styling. Take, for example, Murphy Jahn's 1990 Messeturm in Frankfurt; or SOM's fabulous "space-age pagoda," the 1998 Jin Mao Building in Shanghai--these actually line up very nicely with the Chrysler and the Empire State, while that midcentury-modern chock-a-block batch in the middle of the book (Seagram, Sears, and Pei's Boston Hancock are among the usual suspects) truly don't jibe with the "phabulous phalli" of either today or the pre-WWII era.
Thanks to those brainy folks at Princeton Architectural Press, each 'scraper comes with some annotation that ranges from the very sharp (they astutely call the hastily erected and artfully set-back Empire State "a spectacular surrender of architecture to economic forces and zoning restrictions") to the academically overcooked (the small, 18-inch windows of the WTC's twin towers "minimize the occupants' acrophobia," we are gratefully informed, "thereby inscribing the notion of vertigo into the buildings themselves"). It's also hard to get a clear view of any one building whole, as the three parts of each wobble on their rings--suggesting rather chillingly what the edifices might look like moments after cracking into three pieces under the force of an earthquake--but, no matter, as you probably have seen coherent versions of all of these longtime and recent classics elsewhere. And the book is so much fun to play with that it's the perfect gift both for kids--whom it might turn into architects--and architects--whom, to the benefit of their careers, it might turn back into kids. --Timothy Murphy