Video Review: Great Courses: Understanding The World’s Greatest Structures: Science And Innovation From Antiquity To Modernity

Great Courses:  Understanding The World’s Greatest Structures:  Science And Innovation From Antiquity To Modernity, by Professor Stephen Ressler

Make no mistake, this was a very enjoyable course to take, and one that many people would likely get a great deal of value from.  My educational background includes a B.S. in Civil (Structural) Engineering , and so I came to this course with a great deal of familiarity with its contents and with the approach of the writer concerning such issues as loads and free body diagrams and moments and so on.  Likewise, I also found myself very familiar with the buildings and bridges he discussed as well as the way that one can use one’s knowledge of one structure or one type of structures as a way of looking at others of that kind [1].  Those with any kind of interest in or expertise in structural engineering as well as history will likely find a great deal of value here to enjoy.  I know I did.  This is a professor with a dynamic approach, a great deal of enthusiasm for his subject matter, and a humorous self-knowledge about his patterns of behavior like setting up endless simplified models of the structures he refers to, all of which help make this course a bit more than twelve hours well spent.

This particular course is divided into twenty-four lectures of approximately half an hour each that come on 4 dvds.  The first nine lectures of the class are devoted to an introductory discussion of structural analysis.  Here the professor helps students learn to see and understand structure, as well as the science of statics in that forces must be in balance, the internal forces stress, and strength required for structures, and properties of materials from wood to stone to steel.  He also deals with the way that columns build up and have to deal with buckling while beams build across and deal with bending before looking at the power of the triangle within trusses, the power of the parabola when looking at cables and arches, as well as loads and structural systems as a whole.  After this the next fourteen lectures show a variety of notable structures over the course of history, starting with the pyramids of Egypt and the Greek Parthenon and then moving through the glory of Roman arches and faults, the Gothic cathedral, three great domes from Rome to the Renaissance, and how iron and science transformed arch bridges.  The professor continues with two lectures on suspension bridges looking at cables and then wind loads, the great cantilever bridges, and the rise of iron and steel-framed buildings, which then prompts a look at the great skyscraper race.  The professor continues with a look at the versatility of modern concrete, thin shell structures, vast roof systems of iron and steel, and the incredible lightness of tension structures.  The course then closes with a thoughtful discussion of strategies that students can use for understanding any structure.

What someone gets out of this course will depend in large part on their own interests going in, as is often the case.  Those who are interested in the structural system dynamics side will likely find this course to be more qualitative than quantitative in nature.  Those who enjoy looking at the properties of materials will find a great deal of interest here as that is one of the professor’s main interests.  This book is especially useful for those who enjoy looking at the way that structural systems have been used throughout the course of history up to the present day, with an eye towards understanding at least some of what the structures of tomorrow are likely to be like depending on conditions and the cost of materials and labor.  If you are moved at all by the author’s discussion that form follows structure, an often forgotten reality, as well as by some of the amazing buildings and bridges and other structures discussed here, this will be time well spent for you as well.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Video Review: Great Courses: Understanding The World’s Greatest Structures: Science And Innovation From Antiquity To Modernity

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Heavy Timber Structure` | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: To Engineer Is Human | Edge Induced Cohesion

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