Monday, October 15, 2007

Favorite Architecture-Related DVDs

Building Big with David Macaulay (PBS)

This set of five videos by artist/architect David Macaulay provides many hours of insightful entertainment and a great introduction to science and technology on a practical level. Each themed film - Bridges, Skyscrapers, Tunnels Domes and Dams - provides an in-depth historical treatment of the particular structure, interesting stories and overviews from famous structures and basic scientific principles involved in each project.

The set features lots of great location shoots with David Macaulay narrating interesting stories and pointing out details of each site.

To give you an idea, "Tunnels" covers aqueducts and water-carrying tunnels of Ancient Rome, early canal and train tunnels of the 19th century (particularly in England and the U.S.), archaic and modern methods of tunnel digging (particularly under rivers), issues involving tunnel safety (both during the project and during use afterwards) with a special emphasis (in all areas) on the building of the Channel Tunnel in the 1990s between England and France. Each video also includes a "Building Small" segment and pamphlet so that families can tackle simple science projects at home that demonstrate principles of architecture.

There was at least one segment - a few photos from an airplane crash into the Empire state Building in the 1940s - that might be a little too graphic for young children.

David Macaulay: Castle, Cathedral, Roman City, Pyramid

This series based on David Macaulay's best-selling books. Wonderful background on how and why these structures were built. Some history problems and mature content. Better for older children, previewing recommended.

Footprints of God Series by Steve Ray (Catholic)

Informative and engaging tours of the Holy Land teach lots of history and theology. My younger kids love Steve's funny and memorable ways of explaining things and there's nothing like hearing these stories told from right where they happened - except, of course, visiting the sites in person. Titles include: Jesus: The Word Became Flesh, Mary: The Mother of God, Peter: Keeper of the Keys and Paul: Contending for the Faith. Some portions may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive children.

NOVA: Secrets of Lost Empires (PBS)

These are fascinating projects undertaken by teams of experts and enthusiasts to reconstruct full-scale working replicas of historic structures (or parts of structures) to learn more about them and how they were built.

Titles include: Pyramid, Obelisk, Inca (rope bridge and stone wall), Colosseum, Stonehenge and Medieval Siege (trebuchets).

The series was not designed for children, though most of the content is suitable and quite accessible. Parental previewing (and editing) is recommended.

Rick Steves' Best of Europe (numerous titles)

These are fantastic tours of European Cities (with a touch of Turkey, Israel and Egypt thrown in) that cover history, architecture, culture, food and more. Definitely some history *issues* - but these have been great learning opportunities for our family. My older children's jaws dropped when he boldly stated that Jan Huss (a condemned heretic from the Middle Ages) is considered a hero in his country because "he stood up to authority while staying true to himself." Blech. We love these anyway. We watch them with our kids, discuss them and edit out some occasional bits of mature content. Previewing strongly recommended.

Visions of... Series (Titles include: England, Italy, Greece, France, Germany)

These are beautiful and interesting helicopter-view tours of each country, including scenic and architectural highlights and some stories. Mellow, but engaging.

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