Understanding the World's Greatest Structures
Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity Course

The Great Courses

24 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Learning to See and Understand Structure
How are ideas for buildings, bridges, and towers transformed from sketches to concrete reality? What are the three essential qualities that make a structure great? What's the difference between seeing…
Episode 2 The Science of Structure
Explore how two types of external forces: loads (forces applied to structures) and reactions (forces developed at supports, in response to applied loads): act on structures such as Kansas City's…
Episode 3 Internal Forces, Stress, and Strength
Use the Simple Tension Test (pulling on a structural element until it reaches the breaking point) as a gateway to understanding the concepts of internal force, stress, and strength. Then,…
Episode 4 From Wood to Steel
Materials profoundly influence the form, function, and structure of great buildings, bridges, and towers. Using steel (which is superior in terms of strength, ductility, and stiffness) as a benchmark, compare…
Episode 5 Building Up: Columns and Buckling
One of the most potent human aspirations supported by engineering is to build up. Learn how this has been done from antiquity to the present with columns: structural members that…
Episode 6 Building Across: Beams and Bending
Beams, combining tension and compression, are central to the second aspiration supported by engineering: building across long distances. As you survey beams from the primitive lintel over the Lion Gate…
Episode 7 Trusses: The Power of the Triangle
Trusses, the subject of this fascinating episode, are rigid frameworks composed of structural members connected at joints and arranged into networks of triangles. Learn how they work to stabilize and…
Episode 8 Cables and Arches: The Power of the Parabola
In this episode, Professor Ressler introduces you to two final structural elements: cables and arches. The Saint Louis Gateway Arch and the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge are just…
Episode 9 Loads and Structural Systems
Structures are heavily influenced by the loads they're designed to carry. First, take a closer look at the most important loads structures must resist, including traffic loads and earthquake loads.…
Episode 10 Egypt and Greece: Pyramids to the Parthenon
Embark on your tour of different types of structures from around the world and across time. Your first stop: ancient Egypt, and the surprisingly complex engineering of pyramids, including the…
Episode 11 The Glory of Rome in Arches and Vaults
Learn why the arch is the principal structural feature of ancient Rome. Your detailed case studies range from simple bridges such as the Pont St. Martin and triumphal arches such…
Episode 12 The Rise and Fall of the Gothic Cathedral
Gothic cathedrals are lasting testaments to the power of a series of sweeping architectural developments in medieval Europe. After examining the roots of Gothic cathedrals in their Romanesque predecessors, focus…
Episode 13 Three Great Domes: Rome to the Renaissance
Trace the dome's evolution from the 1st century A.D. to the Renaissance. It's a journey reflected in the increasingly sophisticated domes of three great structures: the ancient Roman Pantheon, the…
Episode 14 How Iron and Science Transformed Arch Bridges
Examine the development of arched bridges during and after the Industrial Revolution. See how the revolutionary Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale paved the way for the development of science-based engineering. Also,…
Episode 15 Suspension Bridges: The Battle of the Cable
After learning the science behind suspension bridges, begin your two-episode look at these structural marvels. Here, relive the Battle of the Cable, in which 19th-century engineers struggled over whether to…
Episode 16 Suspension Bridges: The Challenge of Wind
In July 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge dramatically collapsed in a steady 42-mph wind. In this concluding episode on suspension bridges, focus on how the Brooklyn Bridge, the Severn Bridge,…
Episode 17 Great Cantilever Bridges: Tragedy and Triumph
Professor Ressler shows how structural catastrophes produced two bridges that provide a wonderful opportunity to see and understand structure: Scotland's Firth of Forth Bridge and Canada's second Quebec Bridge. You'll…
Episode 18 The Rise of Iron- and Steel-Framed Buildings
How did iron and steel revolutionize building design? Find out in this trip back to late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe and America, where iron-framed structures: such as sheds at…
Episode 19 The Great Skyscraper Race
The human aspiration to build upward reaches its climax with the skyscraper. Learn the story behind America's great skyscraper race and the increasingly sophisticated buildings it produced. Among the structural…
Episode 20 The Beauty and Versatility of Modern Concrete
Concrete, the world's most commonly used construction material, has been used in buildings that are anything but common. See concrete's versatility at work in an incredible range of structures, including…
Episode 21 Amazing Thin Shells: Strength from Curvature
Thin shells are unique structural elements that use curvature: cylindrical, dome-like, or saddle-like: to attain strength and stiffness. See these three types of thin shells used creatively in buildings ranging…
Episode 22 Vast Roof Systems of Iron and Steel
The need for roofs spanning large enclosed spaces led to a startling number of new structural systems in the last 200 years. Look closer at long-span structural configurations in places…
Episode 23 The Incredible Lightness of Tension Structures
Apply old concepts in new ways with this episode on tension structures, where all the principal load-carrying elements are in tension. Explore noteworthy examples, from the cable-supported roof of North…
Episode 24 Strategies for Understanding Any Structure
What happens when you encounter a noteworthy structure that hasn't been included in this course and you want to know more about it? Professor Ressler devotes his final episode to…

Related videos

Strategies for Understanding Any Structure
What happens when you encounter a noteworthy structure that hasn't been included in this course and you want to know more about it? Professor Ressler devotes his final episode to answering this question; sending you out into the world with suggested strategies for understanding any structure: great or otherwise.
Great Cantilever Bridges: Tragedy and Triumph
Professor Ressler shows how structural catastrophes produced two bridges that provide a wonderful opportunity to see and understand structure: Scotland's Firth of Forth Bridge and Canada's second Quebec Bridge. You'll also gain insights into the human element of engineering, and the reasons structures turn out the way they do.
Internal Forces, Stress, and Strength
Use the Simple Tension Test (pulling on a structural element until it reaches the breaking point) as a gateway to understanding the concepts of internal force, stress, and strength. Then, see these concepts at work in structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Athens' Olympic Velodrome.
Egypt and Greece: Pyramids to the Parthenon
Embark on your tour of different types of structures from around the world and across time. Your first stop: ancient Egypt, and the surprisingly complex engineering of pyramids, including the Great and Red pyramids. Your second stop: ancient Greece, where you visit the domed Treasury of Atreus and break down…
Learning to See and Understand Structure
How are ideas for buildings, bridges, and towers transformed from sketches to concrete reality? What are the three essential qualities that make a structure great? What's the difference between seeing a structure and actually understanding it?
Building Up: Columns and Buckling
One of the most potent human aspirations supported by engineering is to build up. Learn how this has been done from antiquity to the present with columns: structural members that carry load primarily in compression. You'll also learn about buckling: the often catastrophic stability failure that occurs in columns with…
The Science of Structure - Forces in Balance
Explore how two types of external forces: loads (forces applied to structures) and reactions (forces developed at supports, in response to applied loads): act on structures such as Kansas City's Chouteau Bridge. Also, learn how these forces are related to the most important concept in engineering mechanics: equilibrium.
From Wood to Steel - Properties of Materials
Materials profoundly influence the form, function, and structure of great buildings, bridges, and towers. Using steel (which is superior in terms of strength, ductility, and stiffness) as a benchmark, compare the structural properties of wood, masonry, concrete, and iron: and see them at work in thousands of years' worth of…
Three Great Domes: Rome to the Renaissance
Trace the dome's evolution from the 1st century A.D. to the Renaissance. It's a journey reflected in the increasingly sophisticated domes of three great structures: the ancient Roman Pantheon, the Byzantine-era basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the Renaissance-era dome over the Florence cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
The Beauty and Versatility of Modern Concrete
Concrete, the world's most commonly used construction material, has been used in buildings that are anything but common. See concrete's versatility at work in an incredible range of structures, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the Salginatobel Bridge in the Swiss Alps, and Dubai's Burj Khalifa (currently the world's tallest building).
Loads and Structural Systems
Structures are heavily influenced by the loads they're designed to carry. First, take a closer look at the most important loads structures must resist, including traffic loads and earthquake loads. Then, using the historic iron building at Watervliet Arsenal in New York, analyze how loads are actually transmitted through structural…
The Rise of Iron- and Steel-Framed Buildings
How did iron and steel revolutionize building design? Find out in this trip back to late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe and America, where iron-framed structures: such as sheds at England's Chatham Dockyard, New York City's Equitable Life Insurance Building, and Chicago's First Leiter Building: would set the stage for…