Category Archives: Modernism

Remember Soviet architecture? Hmmm. All that’s coming to mind for me are massive, hybrid modern-neoclassical apartment buildings from, like, the ’30s.

Turns out there’s more to it than that, at least according to a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

For a brief, utopian moment in early 20th-century Russia, artists and architects together sought to forge an abstract language of form suited to the politics of the new state. Vladimir Tatlin’s famous model for a Monument to the Third International—envisioned in 1920 as a 1,300-foot-tall ziggurat-like tower rotating on three levels—embodied the visionary, futurist aesthetics and idealism of the movement. The commitment to abstraction and the sense of shared purpose between painters and architects paralleled that of the Bauhaus, and in fact some of its members traveled to Moscow. Yet while the Bauhaus is enshrined in the history of European architecture and modernism, the Russians are often sidelined, and only a few protagonists—such as Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky—are widely known by nonspecialists.

The piece, by Cammy Brothers, a professor at the University of Virginia, is definitely worth a read.

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AND COMING UP ON CONCRETE ASPIRATIONS: The year of 2011 in architecture.

Already, the LA Times’s Christopher Hawthorne has his take and the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin has his favorite developments of the year and his least favorite. But my take is something entirely different.


Remember Soviet architecture?

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The Lens: Farnsworth House

A stunning building and a stunning rendering (no, this is not a real photograph). I like it so much I made it my desktop background. Photo courtesy Evermotion: Marlasinger.


The skill of Romaldo Giurgola

For those of you who don’t know him, Romaldo Giurgola is a tremendously skilled architect with a career that spans back to the 1950s to the present. Giurgola is well-known for his breaking with the Modernist pack in the 60s in favor of a more Frank Lloyd Wright-esque, quiet, contextual Modernism. Giurgola is no Robert Venturi; he did not abandon Modernism. Rather, he practiced it uniquely and with tremendous skill.

Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Here we have Giurgola’s Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College, one of the campus’s highlights. This quiet building is pulled off with exceptional skill inside and out. It manages to be unassuming but memorable, subtle but affecting.

More about the Lang Building and Giurgola after the break. Continue reading

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Ross Douthat vs. modernism

In today’s New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat attacks modern architecture in order to remember the late Steve Jobs. Yes, you read that right.

The whole breakdown is after the break. Continue reading

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Baltimore’s Morris Mechanic Theater

Once in a while, something just really irritates me. Here is a good example: Melvin Greenwald, a Baltimore developer, recently purchased a now-closed Morris Mechanic Theater, and would like to do everything in his power to modify it or tear it down. He says, “They call it Brutalist architecture, I call it a mistake. It’s ugly. I don’t know anyone that likes it. The building was obsolete when they built it.”

I cannot stand uneducated, ignorant pronouncements. More of my rant, and more pictures, after the break.

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Eero Saarinen and the Modern Movement

Hit up the link below to read my 20-some page research paper about Eero Saarinen and his relationship with the Modern movement. This paper was written over the course of the past several months. And yes, it does have some pictures!

Eero Saarinen and the Modern Movement


Sentimental Visions of Societies Past

It is nearly impossible find someone who will defend America’s suburban sprawl — with good reason. I’m certainly not writing this to do that.

Now that we’ve accepted that as a problem, we’re faced with a much harder task: solving it. In order to do so, let’s go back and trace the roots of the problem. In 1925, Le Corbusier came out with a radical, highly influential plan to raze a good deal of central Paris in order to make way for a new city-within-a-city. His plan called for a large group of perfectly identical, exactly aligned skyscrapers. Even though this plan was ignored, it set a precedent for Modern urban development — a precedent for an attitude of blatant disrespect for past architecture, blind faith in modern skyscrapers, and flat-out rejection of the principles that had guided the development of cities up to that point. Le Corbusier essentially wanted to do away with the street. This idea was even more clearly embodied in his vision of the ‘city of the future’ in which massive concrete apartment buildings (‘machines for living’) were scattered throughout the country and connected only by highways.

Le Corbusier’s plan for remaking part of Paris.

More after the break.

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Dealing with Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center, the large cluster of travertine-covered performing arts buildings in New York City’s Upper West Side, never had very much architectural integrity. Most of the buildings rely on classical forms and geometries, while still trying to be acceptably modern. At the time the complex was being designed, the late 1960s, full-on Modernism was still not very popular with the public (it never really was), and so it was decided that all the buildings would be covered with travertine and lined up axially.

The Main Plaza at Lincoln Center.

More after the break. Continue reading

Kahn vs. Rudolph

Yale University is home to buildings by many notable Modern architects — there is a science building by Philip Johnson, two residential colleges and a hockey rink by Eero Saarinen, the Center for British Art and the Art Gallery by Louis Kahn, and the Art & Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph. The latter two are in fact directly across the street from each other, and the result is quite interesting.

On the left, Kahn’s Gallery, from the Art & Architecture Building, and on the right, the Art & Architecture Building, from the street.

More after the break.

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The Role of Popular Opinion

My last post featured Le Corbusier’s magnificent Carpenter Center at Harvard, a building renowned throughout the world of architecture. But ask anyone on the street — even most Harvard students and faculty members — what they think of the building, and they’ll probably tell you it’s ugly. They don’t like the raw concrete, or the pilotis. They don’t like how it doesn’t blend in, or how it blurs the line between exterior and interior. They don’t like that it’s devoid of ornamentation.

More after the break.

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