“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
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
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
More a Marvel of Engineering, Torre de Collserola functions as a highly adaptable communications tower and an innovation for an entirely new structural concept: a hybrid concrete and steel-braced tube. This required a base diameter of only 4.5 metres, dramatically minimizing its impact on the mountainside.
Torre de Collserola, Barcelona, Spain by Foster and Partners
The site where the Gherkin stands was originally occupied by the Baltic Exchange, a masterpiece of Edwardian commercial architecture that housed an expansive trading floor behind its elegant stone facade, the building was destroyed by an IRA truck bomb. A landmark on London’s skyline and architectural history; the sleek and shiny exterior of the offices at 30 St Mary Axe hide its credentials as the UK’s first environmentally progressive, commercial high-rise building. It changed the London skyline forever.
Echoing the Martian invaders in the War of the Worlds (Paramount Pictures, 1954), for which his brother, Hal Pereira, was Art Director, William Pereira’s “Theme Building” for the new Los Angeles International Airport was intended to resemble a landing spaceship. Calling this “the first terminal area specifically designed for the jet age,” The initiall building design was done by James Langenheim, of the Pereira-Luckman firm.
Theme Building, LAX, Los Angeles Airport, USA, by (1962, Pereira, Luckman, Becket, Williams)
The Farnsworth House, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1946 for his client, Dr Edith Farnsworth, is seminal. It asserted America as the pre-eminent home of modernism after the war. It also reduced (for the first time) the idea of a dwelling to its skeletal minimal.
Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois USA by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
+ Farnsworth House National Historic Site
Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography
When completed in 1969, the John Hancock Center was the tallest building in the world outside New York City. A mixed use building of offices and retail, it also contains the highest residences in the world. One of the most famous buildings of the structural expressionist style, the skyscraper’s distinctive X-bracing exterior is actually a hint that the structure’s skin is indeed part of its ‘tubular system’. This idea is one of the architectural techniques the building used to climb to record heights (the tubular system is essentially the spine that helps the building stand upright during heavy wind loads). The only drawback from my point of view is the ceiling height in the condominiums; I have entertained in several units and while the night light views are expansive and the morning views above the clouds are a real pleasure, and a heavy diagonal beam slashing through a window adds a distinctive interest, there is a certain interior claustrophobia that modernism should alleviate — bets are, it was a client decision to pack more floors in.
John Hancock Center, by Skidmore Owings Merrill
A classic house is up for Auction. Christie’s expects the house to sell for somewhere between $15 million and $25 million (€9.7 million-€16 million). It sits on 2.1 acres on a cul-de-sac in an exclusive section of Palm Springs.