Understanding the World's Greatest Structures

Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought this might be a dry explanation of engineering. I found it was a most interesting discussion of both historical and recent developments of the construction of domes and arches and bridges. The professor was engaging and fun to listen to. Enjoyed this very much!
Date published: 2021-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I am not a science/technology person so this class was fantastic for its crisp, clear explanations in layperson terms. His graphic. models and demonstrations were excellent. He was engaging and I couldn't believe how quickly each lecture flew by. I was very impressed, overall.
Date published: 2021-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent Course! This is another of Dr. Ressler's phenomenal courses. A perfect blend of basic math, science and art that anyone at any level can grasp and appreciate. This is among the very best of the many courses I have taken through Great Courses and I strongly recommend it for everyone. After watching this course, you will never look at a building (...any building) the same again. Thank you Dr. Ressler.
Date published: 2021-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learn to read the language of structure No wonder that Prof. Ressler's course has received such positive reviews. He is truly a master teacher. The course is beautifully designed to teach a novice the basic elements and principles of engineered structures and then to use the basics to explore a dazzling array of built structures across the ages. He smoothly switches among annotated photos, physical models, diagrams, and (gulp) mathematical equations to permit the student to understand structural design. The math is not at all difficult - it's enough to know that the thing being modeled increases when the items in the numerator increase and decreases when the items in the denominator increase. Even Gauss' theory of curves, which is largely beyond me, was presented in a way that was easy to grasp intuitively. Professor Ressler's love of engineering and delight in architectural beauty are infectious. He is very attuned to the way engineering developed historically and uses the evolution of design as a mechanism for building the student's progressive understanding. He also integrate effectively the says scientific theory, technological progress, and economic constraints have shaped the structures around us. Some of his most informative lessons involve structures that have failed. I loved this course. I understand so much more deeply structures I've visited and have generated a LONG list of structures I want to visit. Meanwhile I'm already beginning, in his words, to read the language of structures I see all around me. Thank you, Professor Ressler.
Date published: 2021-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now I Get It!! Dr. Ressler is an excellent teacher. His explanations, photos, diagrams and models made all the vocabulary and building techniques clear to this novice. I congratulate him on his knowledge, his skill and his dedication to our country.
Date published: 2021-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly a great course I have a layman's interest in architecture and found this course to be great. I was a little leery about the initial lectures explaining concepts. But, these lectures were critical to an understanding of the structures discussed in later lectures. Of particular note were the wonderful models that helped illustrate concepts clearly
Date published: 2021-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the World's Greatest Structures This professor has my gratitude for delivering one of the best lectures I have experienced in the Great Courses. He is thorough, gives great examples, and demonstrations. As a professor myself, I appreciate the witty delivery as well as combining mathematical solutions as well as empirical data. I bought this course because my wife is a mechanical designer and I wanted to support her viewing. However, I soon became entranced by the lectures and now on our walks or drives, I can point out arches, trusses, domes and solutions to tension and compression. Thank you for bringing this subject to life for me and enhancing my experience in this world.
Date published: 2021-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From beams and trusses to buildings and bridges I've taken about 35 Great Courses and would rate this as one of the three best that I've seen. The other two were Great Thinkers, Great Theorems, by Dunham; and Introduction to Astrophysics, by Winn. Professor Ressler knows his material well and starts out discussing engineering basics, like beams, trusses, and arches and shows how each supports load through compression or tension. He has many handmade laboratory models, which are utilized throughout the course to demonstrate the points he's making. From this beginning he goes on to discuss other basics and then many buildings, bridges and other structures and show how their builders solved any encountered design or structural problems.He covers ancient and modern structures, and I especially enjoyed his lectures on the many types of bridges and how to tell them apart. I'm no engineer, but I do have a background in mathematics, physics and computer science and hence, like others, would have liked to see a tad more mathematics in his discussion. In one case he calculates the forces on a corner of a truss, but doesn't move inward to adjacent members. I'd have liked that, even if he only stated the results. In another place he states that a parabola and a catenary curve are essentially the same. They're not! I played around with both curves spanning 120 feet with a variable sag of 30 to 90 feet and the curves always differed more than 40% about 12 feet or more from either the bottom or top. Clearly, I don't understand, or I'm not properly interpreting what he's saying. But, these are nits, and don't measurably detract from this excellent course.
Date published: 2020-12-04
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Understanding the World's Greatest Structures
Course Trailer
Learning to See and Understand Structure
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 a structure and actually understanding it? Discover the answers to these and other questions in this introductory lecture....

34 min
The Science of Structure-Forces in Balance
2: 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.

33 min
Internal Forces, Stress, and Strength
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, see these concepts at work in structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Athens' Olympic Velodrome.

32 min
From Wood to Steel-Properties of Materials
4: 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 structures.

31 min
Building Up-Columns and Buckling
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 carry load primarily in compression. You'll also learn about buckling: the often catastrophic stability failure that occurs in columns with certain geometric characteristics.

32 min
Building Across-Beams and Bending
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 at Mycenae to Norway's Raftsundet Bridge, you'll investigate scientific developments and transform your understanding of what makes this structural element possible....

32 min
Trusses-The Power of the Triangle
7: Trusses-The Power of the Triangle

Trusses, the subject of this fascinating lecture, are rigid frameworks composed of structural members connected at joints and arranged into networks of triangles. Learn how they work to stabilize and support a range of structural wonders, including the Brooklyn Bridge and-most famously-the Eiffel Tower.

32 min
Cables and Arches-The Power of the Parabola
8: Cables and Arches-The Power of the Parabola

In this lecture, 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 two examples of breathtaking structural features that also have extensive, occasionally surprising, parallels.

31 min
Loads and Structural Systems
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. Then, using the historic iron building at Watervliet Arsenal in New York, analyze how loads are actually transmitted through structural systems along load paths.

31 min
Egypt and Greece-Pyramids to the Parthenon
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 Great and Red pyramids. Your second stop: ancient Greece, where you visit the domed Treasury of Atreus and break down the structural system of the Parthenon.

31 min
The Glory of Rome in Arches and Vaults
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 as the Arch of Titus to massive aqueducts like the Pont du Gard and majestic public spaces like the Baths of Caracalla.

33 min
The Rise and Fall of the Gothic Cathedral
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 on several structural innovations-including flying buttresses and pointed arches-at work in places such as France's Chartres Cathedral.

33 min
Three Great Domes-Rome to the Renaissance
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 Byzantine-era basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the Renaissance-era dome over the Florence cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

34 min
How Iron and Science Transformed Arch Bridges
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, see how science contributed to increasingly sophisticated modern bridges such as Spain's Campo Volantin Bridge.

29 min
Suspension Bridges-The Battle of the Cable
15: Suspension Bridges-The Battle of the Cable

After learning the science behind suspension bridges, begin your two-lecture look at these structural marvels. Here, relive the "Battle of the Cable," in which 19th-century engineers struggled over whether to build suspension cables from iron chains (as in England's Menai Strait Bridge) or steel wire (as in the Brooklyn Bridge).

33 min
Suspension Bridges-The Challenge of Wind
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 lecture on suspension bridges, focus on how the Brooklyn Bridge, the Severn Bridge, and other bridges were designed to combat the second great challenge of these record-breaking bridges: their vulnerability to wind-induced vibrations.

31 min
Great Cantilever Bridges-Tragedy and Triumph
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 also gain insights into the human element of engineering, and the reasons structures turn out the way they do.

32 min
The Rise of Iron- and Steel-Framed Buildings
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 England's Chatham Dockyard, New York City's Equitable Life Insurance Building, and Chicago's First Leiter Building-would set the stage for modern skyscrapers.

32 min
The Great Skyscraper Race
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 masterpieces you examine in depth are the Wainwright Building, the Chrysler Building, the Willis Tower, and the World Trade Center towers.

30 min
The Beauty and Versatility of Modern Concrete
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 Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the Salginatobel Bridge in the Swiss Alps, and Dubai's Burj Khalifa (currently the world's tallest building).

33 min
Amazing Thin Shells-Strength from Curvature
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 from St. Paul's Cathedral in London to the Zeiss planetarium in Germany to the Trans World Flight Center at New York's JFK Airport.

30 min
Vast Roof Systems of Iron and Steel
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 such as the Houston Astrodome, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and even the Hartford Civic Center (the collapse of which offers a lesson in the risks of innovation).

32 min
The Incredible Lightness of Tension Structures
23: The Incredible Lightness of Tension Structures

Apply old concepts in new ways with this lecture on tension structures, where all the principal load-carrying elements are in tension. Explore noteworthy examples, from the cable-supported roof of North Carolina's J. S. Dorton Arena to the suspended dish roof of Madison Square Garden to the cable dome of South Korea's Olympic Gymnastics Hall.

32 min
Strategies for Understanding Any Structure
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 lecture to answering this question; sending you out into the world with suggested strategies for understanding any structure-great or otherwise.

32 min
Stephen Ressler

In over two decades as a teacher, I've never experienced anything quite like commitment of The Great Courses to rigor in the course development process and uncompromising production quality in the studio.


Lehigh University


United States Military Academy, West Point

About Stephen Ressler

Dr. Stephen Ressler is Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). A registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, he earned a B.S. from West Point and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University, as well as a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Professor Ressler's papers on engineering education have won seven Best Paper awards from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Professor Ressler has also won numerous awards from the ASCE, including the President's Medal and the 2011 Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award-the organization's highest award. His other accolades include the Bliss Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Engineering Education from the Society of American Military Engineers and the Norm Augustine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Communications from the American Association of Engineering Societies. Professor Ressler served for 34 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 2013. While on active duty, he served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He is also a developer and principal instructor for the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Teaching Workshop, which has trained more than 500 civil engineering faculty members from more than 200 colleges and universities.

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