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T, THE NEW YORK TIMES Style Magazine is published with the NYT Sunday edition and recently ran “The 25 Most Significant Works of Postwar Architecture.” Kurt Soller and Michael Snyder set up a Zoom call with architects Toshiko Mori, Annabelle Selldorf and Vincent Van Duysen; the designer Tom Dixon; the artist and set designer Es Devlin; the critic and T contributor Nikil Saval; and Tom Delavan, T’s design/interiors director.
Kurt Soller notes the importance of “social concerns of architecture—the need to provide housing, for instance, or create useful civic and academic structures; the idea that beautiful cities and communities shouldn’t only be built for and by the rich; the urgency of sustainability, environmentalism and more careful materiality.”
Here are tidbits from this August 2, 2021, article, focusing on my favorite examples. To paraphrase: I don’t know much about architecture, but I think I know what I like. And I’m open to educated opinions.
Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe, 1945. Soller and Snyder write, “By the time Edith Farnsworth commissioned Mies van der Rohe to design her suburban Chicago home in 1945, the German American architect had spent two decades working toward a philosophy that he called beinahe nichts (“almost nothing”), reducing his designs for institutional buildings to their absolute essence. With the Farnsworth House, he brought that aesthetic into the domestic sphere.”
Edith Farnsworth eventually begged to differ with the architect. In 1953, she described the experience of living there as being “like a prowling animal, always on the alert.”
The rectilinearity and proportions of the Farnsworth House remind me of Philip Glass’s music: minimal, yet complexly satisfying. But listening to nothing but Philip Glass might get on one’s nerves eventually too.
Les Arcs Resort, Charlotte Perriand, 1974. “As an off-piste Alpine skier,” the article notes, “the French architect and furniture designer Charlotte Perriand approached the construction of her ambitious Les Arcs resort as an opportunity to introduce the masses to what she described as the ‘possibility of self-transcendence’ offered by mountain landscapes.”
Indeed, “Perriand would come to criticize the project’s imposition of urban density onto the natural landscape, but its combination of advanced modular techniques with rural materials far from the city—a new typology that neither superimposed the layout of a city on the mountains nor resorted to rural kitsch—still resonates today.”
I like the way Les Arcs fits into the landscape, rather than plunking an Alpine cowbell into it.
Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Carlo Scarpa, 1959. In 1949, architect Carlo Scarpa transformed a deteriorated ground floor and gardens of a century-old palazzo in Venice. Observed architect Mori, “Scarpa designed it precisely for rising sea levels, which is a significant attitude for an architect. He actually made this historical palazzo adaptable to climate change [some 60 years ago], and that’s incredible.”
I admire how Scarpa blended modern themes in renovating an 1869 museum and library set in a centuries-old palazzo.
Centre Pompidou, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, 1977. Designs aren’t always completely realized: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers envisioned an art center to be both radical and functional: The building was to have mobile interior floors (useful for changing exhibitions), giant screens that would broadcast messages into the surrounding plaza, and an infinitely adjustable exterior.
“And,” T notes, “though the young designers’ most ambitious plans for the building never materialized—the floors don’t move; the exterior is static—its impact as a museum is undeniable, as is its gleeful, winking embrace of playfulness as an architectural value in itself.”
I agree. I’ve visited the Pompidou and enjoyed traveling its exoskeleton from floor to floor.
Gando Primary School, Francis Kéré, 2001. Architect Francis Kéré’s birthplace was a Burkina Faso village without clean drinking water, electricity, or schooling. In an earlier NYT article, November 16, 2016, Stephen Heyman wrote, “His father, the village chief, decided that his son should be the first in the family to learn how to read and write, so he sent him at age 7 to live with an uncle in a distant city….”
Kéré said later, “In my heart, I felt even then that I wanted to build things better one day, so that kids like me would be free to learn.”
The T article observes that architect Francis Kéré “has made his small hometown into a laboratory for buildings as elegant in their forms as they are in their clear eyed solutions to matters of light, ventilation and social engagement.” The clay-and-cement bricks are cast on-site. The ceiling’s perforated brickwork draws hot air up, obviating the need for resource-gobbling air conditioning.
“Kéré’s work,” Soller and Snyder write, “represents an important step toward a new paradigm, declaring—albeit subtly—that tradition can provide a sturdy foundation for a better future.”
What thoughtful analyses of modern architecture. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021