Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
The Norman Ramsey Collection
Project Started: April 2011
Anticipated Project Completion:
August 2012
Funding Sponsor:
USA Fidelity Charitable Gift
Principal Investigator:
Other Funded Research Projects

A fantastic collection of thousands of books, articles and postcards documenting decades of tall building history has been donated to the Council by Mr. Norman Ramsey.

The Council was saddened to learn that Mr. Ramsey passed away on July 11, 2012, at the age of 88. Upon receiving the donated "Skylina Project" from Mr. Ramsey in the spring of 2011, Jan Klerks at CTBUH headquarters wrote:

"Cedar Rapids is a pleasant and typical Midwestern town in the heart of the Iowa farmland, about as unlikely a place one would expect to find one of the world's biggest collections of tall building information. Yet there it was. Cedar Rapids happens to be the home of Mr. Norman Ramsey, who started collecting magazine articles, news paper clips, postcards, books and other sources of information on tall buildings when he was 18 years old. Now that he has reached a grand age of 88 years, he feels the collection is ready to move on into the hands of those who appreciate its value. In search for a new home, he eventually decided that the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat would be the best place for it. And what a fantastic life-spanning collection it is, a true gold mine for anyone interested in the history of tall buildings or related research on any project around the world.

Sample photographs from the collection showing early images of New York and Chicago

"Like many skyscraper enthusiasts, Mr. Ramsey is not an architect, an engineer, or in any way professionally involved in tall buildings. In fact, he worked most of his life as a Speech and Debate teacher, who started to take an interest in the design of tall buildings while attending art school. Through his hobby he was able to shape this interest, but being educated as an artist, he also often created images of tall buildings or drew cartoons in which tall buildings or skylines were featured. The images have been published regularly in local newspapers and magazines. The unique value of the collection is that most of it was collected in a time in which there was no internet, meaning that it contains historic sources which only exist on paper and as such are irreplaceable or irreproducible. 

Mr. Norman Ramsey Ramsey Collection forms its own tall building

"Mr. Ramsey has youthful sparks in his eyes when talking about his lifetime project. Any story reminds him of so many other anecdotes that it's almost impossible to answer questions about his most cherished item in the collection or his favorite tall building. Not only does it show how much time and effort has gone into the collection, but it also shows the passion with which he has done it.

"While working on his collection, Mr. Ramsey exchanged frequent correspondence with the then chairman of the Council, Mr. Lynn Beedle. They discussed current events or issues related to tall buildings, but mainly it was a way for both men to express and share their common interests. It is in honor of Lynn Beedle that Mr. Ramsey has chosen to donate the collection to the Council.

Ramsey Collection at its original home

"The collection was shipped over from Cedar Rapids to Chicago on Thursday April 21, 2011. The first order of business for the Council will be to comprehensively assess the whole collection. Although it has been very well organized and archived, there are undoubtedly many items to be discovered. It is the ambition of the Council to open up the collection as a source for information to students, researchers and the like. The collection has already shown its great usefulness as a source of information and images on the World Trade Center, which will be the theme of the upcoming 2011/III Journal." - Jan Klerks

Though unable to attend in person, the Council paid special tribute Mr. Ramsey for his gift at the CTBUH 2011 Awards Ceremony and Dinner. A Commemorative Plaque was sent to him to honor his donation.

A special Fidelity Charitable Gift was also received in 2011 to support the cataloguing of the collection. The Council has completed the sorting and organizing of the books, postcards, clippings, and other items, and will continue to process, label and digitally record the vast collection piece by piece to maximize its usefulness and value as an historic archive for years to come.

The Council is grateful to house the Skylina Project, the legacy of this life-long collector and tall building enthusiast, in the Resource Center at CTBUH headquarters as the Norman Ramsey Collection.