There seems to be a conspiracy of giants operating in the world. Millions of tons of metal and stone have been ripped from the earth and transposed into structures whose scale appears to mock the apparent feebleness of man. Glistening towers of glass rise a thousand feet into the air, sinew of steel entangle distant shorelines in their implacable grip, and mountain ranges of concrete harnesses the wild might of rushing rivers. To confront the biggest construction projects of all time – the skyscrapers and bridges and dams of the modern world – is to stand incredulous that they could be anything but the mad work of leviathans. But these immovable objects of monumental infrastructure actually represent the unstoppable force of human will, artifacts of our minds rendered so physically imposing that they merely create illusions of superhuman scale.

For at least five thousand years, we have been building big in efforts to transcend the boundaries of our environment, leverage the forces of nature, and even stake immortal claims on our collective memory. And yet, from the aqueducts of ancient Rome to today’s urban valleys of steel and stone, the colossal architecture accommodating society persists in bewildering the majority of us as to how the hand of humanity could ever grasp the forces of such enormous construction. How did we go from rocks and sticks and mud to the World Trade Center, and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hoover Dam? How did we learn to enslave gravity in our effort to defy it? How do we build the monuments of civilization?

I give you monumental infrastructure, and how it began.


Select Bibliography for Monumental Infrastructure

Bill Addis, Building: 3000 Years of Design Engineering and Construction, Phaidon Press Limited, 2007.

David Macaulay, “Building Big,” PBS Series:

Tom Jackson, Engineering: An Illustrated History from Ancient Craft to Modern Technology, Shelter Harbor Press, 2016.



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