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Icon: Maison Carré by Alvar Aalto

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.

Maison Carré, Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, France, by Alvar Aalto

Icon: Habitat 67

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.

Icon: The Alvorada Palace

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

Icon: North by Northwest House

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.

Vandamm House, by MGM set Designers (Robert Boyle, William A. Horning, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, and Frank McKelvey), for North by Northwest directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Read more: Jet Set Modern

Icon: Barcelona Pavilion

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

Icon: Jonas Salk Institute

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

Icon: Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat House

Mies van der Rohe’s famous Tugendhat House is the subject of a bitter custody battle. One of European modern architecture’s early classics, it was designed by Mies for an owner of a textile factory in Brno Czechoslovakia. It was also a project for which Mies designed every detail, from the doorknobs and light fixtures to the Tugendhat and Brno chairs, now classics of 20th-century design produced and sold by Knoll. The villa was seized from its Jewish owners Fritz and Greta Tugendhat by invading Germans in 1939, and was never returned to the family.

Tugendhat House, by Mies van der Rohe, 1929, Brno, Czech Republic.
Official Site: Tugendhat Villa

Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography

 

Icon: Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier

“Here we will build a monument dedicated to nature and we will make it our lives’ purpose”.

Le Corbusier’s ‘chapel of our lady of the height‘ is a pilgrimage chapel, though on most days more frequented by architectural pilgrims than the intended variety. Perched on a commanding hill above the village of Ronchamp, it is the latest of a long history of chapels on the site. Its predecessor was destroyed in fighting in the Second World War, though much of its stone is used in the walls of Le Corbusier’s building.

The thick, curved walls – especially the buttress-shaped south wall – and the vast shell of the concrete roof give the building a massive, sculptural form. Small, brightly painted and apparently irregular windows punched in these thick walls give a dim but exciting light within the cool building, enhanced by further indirect light coming down the three light towers.

Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier

Icon: Philip Johnson’s Glass House

The Glass House is one of the most inspiring examples of the mid-century American interpretations of European modernism or, as Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock dubbed it in their 1932 book, The International Style. Perched on a leafy hill with a picture postcard view across the Rippowam Valley, the house consists of a roof, a floor and four glass walls supported by eight steel piers. The bathroom and a fireplace are enclosed in a brick cylinder, leaving the rest of the 65-by-32 square-foot, or about 6-by-3 square-meter, space entirely exposed to the surrounding greenery.
Hopelessly impractical though a transparent home would be for a family – or for anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to be able to afford quite so much land – it was perfect for the fastidious Johnson and his lovers.

“The only house in the world where you can watch the sun set and the moon rise at the same time. And the snow. It’s amazing when you’re surrounded at night with the falling snow. It’s lighted, which makes it look as though you’re rising on a celestial elevator.”
Alice Rawsthorne, the International Herald Tribune

Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 1949, New Canaan, Connecticut.
Official Site: Philip Johnson Glass House

+ Buy the DVD, Philip Johnson: Diary of An Eccentric Architect at Amazon

Icon: Crown Hall by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

A defining structure of 20th-century modern architecture, this is one of the masterpieces of the world-reknowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Designed to house Illinois Institute of Technology’s departments of architecture, planning, and design, the building’s dramatic, structurally-expressive form resulted from the need to create an open interior space that could be flexibly adapted for changing needs and uses. Instead of interior columns, the roof is hung from exposed steel trusses bridging the depth of the building.

Designed in the early 1950′s and finished construction in 1956. Described by Time Magazine as “the world’s most influential, inspiring and astonishing structures” Crown Hall is a breathtaking, free space; intimidating with its jet black, sharp lines, while entirely inviting and open with its gigantic windows. 

I had spent my first 2 Years at the Institute of Design in the basement of this building and what struck me at the time was the perfect proportion of each and every window. The building leaked when it rained, and the students did everything to block out the dazzling light so they could work. The vast open air space and the freestanding wood paneled core set the personality for the interior.

Crown Hall, by Mies van der Rohe

Article: Wrestling with the Legacy: Metropolis

Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography

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