For over a century, wooden gabled grain elevators, known as Wheat Kings, have defined the Canadian prairies. They are faintly anthropomorphic, with a pointy head, sloping shoulders, and stout torso. But one by one, they are vanishing, going the way of the small-town railroad station and manned lighthouses.
The first grain elevator sprang up alongside the tracks of the newborn Canadian Pacific Railway at Gretna, Manitoba, in 1881-four years before Riel’s Northwest Rebellion. By 1933, close to 6,000 grain elevators dotted Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. These simple and durable railside appurtenances became focal points in prairie social and economic life.
But the consolidation of small farms into mega-farms and the abandonment of railway branch lines spell the end for the traditional elevator. Today’s farmers increasingly ship their grain by long-haul tractor-trailer to regional “high-throughput grain handling centres” where super-efficient, steel and concrete plants each do the work of a dozen old-style elevators.
Fewer than 1,200 prairie cathedrals remain standing, a handful may survive as heritage artifacts. The rest will succumb to demolition crews.
Flickr Set: I Love Grain Elevators
One of the best known and most admired buildings in the City of London, the current Lloyd’s building is the eighth home of Lloyd’s in its 300 year history. This icon of modern architecture was designed especially for Lloyd’s, by Richard Rogers Partnership, to a very specific brief of quality, flexibility and presence. The building was built over eight years from 1978 to 1986. Its focal point is the gigantic Underwriting Room on the ground floor, which houses the famous Lutine Bell.
Lloyds of London Building, by Richard Rogers Partnership
Widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture, Walter Gropius’s first large building, the Fagus Shoe Factory in Alfred on the Leine in 1911 was materialized due to his connection with Peter Behrens and in cooperation with Adolf Meyer.
The client’s wish for an attractive facade was solved by Gropius in a special way: by means of a projected steel skeleton, which pulled the function of support to the inside, thereby making possible a broad dissolution of the exterior envelope into glass walls; the idea of the ‘curtain wall’ was at this point first expressed in a consistent manner.
— from Udo Kultermann. Architecture in the 20th Century.
Fagus Shoe Factory, 1911, by Walter Gropius with Adolf Meyer.
Santiago Calatrava has combined sculpture and the dynamics of architecture with the power of engineering for a residential tower in Malmö, Sweden. Calatrava’s design for the Turning Torso is meant to be seen as a free standing sculptural element inspired by the human body, and evolved from one of his sculptures in an exhibition. Nine cubes, twisting 90 degrees from bottom to top, will rise 45 stories topped with a glass-enclosed floor for meetings and special events, and a rooftop observation deck with vistas to Copenhagen.
“There was a wish to get something exceptional, I also wanted to deliver something technically unique.” – Santiago Calatrava
A building whose brief called for a “family house with hanging space for paintings, while avoiding the appearance of an art gallery,” Maison Carré is one of the most important private homes designed by Alvar Aalto, the distinguished Finnish architect and father of Scandinavian modernism. Built in the late1950s, and situated some 40 kilometres southwest of Paris, the residence has now been acquired by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, it has now been opened to the public.
The house was commissioned by Louis Carré, a prominent French art dealer and gallery owner. After purchasing a piece of land in 1955, Carré contacted Aalto to ask whether he could design a new home for him. In the summer of 1956, Carré travelled to Italy where the architect was supervising the construction of the Finnish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale.
Some see Habitat 67 like and Ant hill or rabbit warren and others see a resemblance to a Taos indian pueblo village. While the visiting public was impressed, they didn’t embrace the concept. At a distance the complex looked like an exciting piece of Cubist sculpture, at close up it’s flat concrete-gray exterior looked dull and as if nobody lived there.
An experiment in apartment living, Habitat 67, became the permanent symbol of Expo 67 after it closed. It was Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s experiment to make a fundamentally better and cheaper housing for the masses. He attempted to make a revolution in the way homes were built – by the industrialization of the building process; essentially factory mass production. He felt that it was more efficient to make buildings in factories and deliver them prefabricated to the site. Prescient.
Habitat 67, by Moshe Safdie, for Expo 67.
The Alvorada Palace is Brazilian Presidents’ official residence. Surrounded by a large garden, the building is known for its white marble columns that have become a symbol of the country. Brasilia is the result of a modern urban project designed by Lúcio Costa, the Alvorada is one of a series of structures that Oscar Niemeyer designed for this city, many of these modern buildings appear on Brazils’ currency and in countless tourism brochures.
“You may not like Brasilia, but you can’t say you have seen anything like it — you maybe saw something better, but not the same. I prefer Rio, even with the robberies. What can you do? It’s the capitalist world. But people who live in Brasilia, to my surprise, don’t want to leave it. Brasilia works. There are problems. But it works. And from my perspective, the ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.”
- Oscar Niemeyer
A suave pioneer of curvaceous concrete, toying with the limits of engineering while injecting sex and surrealism into Le Corbusier’s famous machine for living, he designed some of the most audacious, sublimely poetic and occasionally goofy buildings of the 20th century.
- NY Times Magazine
Alvorada Palace, by Oscar Niemeyer
One of the best known houses in the history of Modernism is not a house at all, but an elaborate movie set. Created entirely at MGM studios in Culver City, California for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, North by Northwest. In 1958, when the movie was in production, Frank Lloyd Wright was the most famous Modernist architect in the world. His magnum opus, Fallingwater, was conceivably the most famous house anywhere. His renown in the Fifties was such that mass-market magazines like House Beautiful and House & Garden devoted entire issues to his work. Hitchcock instructed the set designers at MGM to design a house in the Wright style, by its creation, the image of the Vandamm House became an icon of Modernism in architecture.
The Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. (rebuilt 1986) It is the most significant building in the history of modern architecture, known for its simple form and extravagant materials, such as marble and travertine. The building stood on a large podium alongside a pool. The structure itself consists of eight steel posts supporting a flat roof, with curtain walls of glass and a small number of partition walls. Mies designed his now famous Barcelona chair especially for this building.
Barcelona Pavilion, by Mies van der Rohe
Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography
One of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, Louis Kahn (1901-1974) realized relatively few buildings, yet the formal restraint and emotional expressiveness of his Jonas Salk Institute is regarded as an inspired progression from the International Style.
Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, saw the world much as Kahn did, he felt that great thoughts would flow more freely from a monastic setting, perched high on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean, that allowed the thinkers to ponder the great questions of life in solitude.
Jonas Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, USA by Louis Kahn