Impossible HeightsSkyscrapers, Flight, and the Master Builder

Impossible HeightsSkyscrapers, Flight, and the Master Builder

Adnan Morshed

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816673186

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press


Impossible Heights examines a distinct American cultural consciousness that came into focus during the interwar years, with the excitement about airplanes and skyscrapers, as well as their anticipated roles in the creation of an ideal “world of tomorrow.” The book explores how this “aesthetics of ascension” contributed to a broader transformation of the architect as a master builder, whose idealistic perspective from above ushered in a modernist impulse to ameliorate the spatial and social problems of an allegedly chaotic world. Recasting the architect as a heroic aviator or an ascending figure, the book suggests that the aesthetics of ascension intersected with popular “superman” discourses of the interwar period. The book focuses on the work of three eminent figures in American design and architecture: Hugh Ferriss’s The Metropolis of Tomorrow, the drawings and writings of Buckminster Fuller, and Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Historians have studied the cultural influences of the airplane and skyscraper. Yet, Impossible Heights is the first comprehensive study of the superhero mentality that emerged from the cultural valorization of heights, enabled by airplanes and skyscrapers.