In 1924 writer André Breton penned the Surrealist Manifesto, which called to destabilize the divides between dreams and reality, between objectivity and subjectivity. For many architects who had been—and continue to be—interested in the fundamental role of the built environment, Breton’s surrealist thinking provided a rich resource to examine the role architecture plays in forming reality. Since then, from Salvador Dali and Frederick Kiesler to Frank Gehry, Surrealism has profoundly shaped architecture in the 20th century.
The late British architect Will Alsop was noted for his exuberant and irreverent attitude that took material form in his expressive, painterly portfolio of educational, civic, and residential works. At the ripe age of 23, he was awarded second place in the 1971 Centre Georges Pompidou. From there, he went on to work for the ever humorous Cedric Price before establishing his practice with John Lyall, and eventually many others, in the early 1980s. With a career spanning almost fifty years, here are ten iconic works from an architect who never missed an opportunity to play.
Which building is better, the duck or the ornamented shed? More importantly, what kind of architecture does the average American prefer? In their landmark 1972 publication Learning From Las Vegas, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi probed these questions by turning their back on paternalistic modernism in favor of the glowing, overtly kitsch, and symbolic Mecca of the Las Vegas strip. From a chance encounter during a meeting in the Library of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and shared trips to the strip to critically shaping a new generation of architects, discover the hidden details of the romance and city that defined postmodernism in this latest episode from 99% Invisible.
Have you ever thought a building looked suspiciously similar to a futuristic tank? Or, perhaps a gothic spire was eerily reminiscent of a matchstick? You’re not alone. Rich McCor, aka paperboy, has been traveling the world since 2015 filling his Instagram account with whimsical photographs of black paper cut-outs that transform often serious works of architecture into playful cartoon-like images.
In March 1972, an article in The Architectural Review proclaimed that this structure was “probably the best building in Paris since Le Corbusier’s Cité de Refuge for the Salvation Army.” The article was, of course, referring to Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s first project in Europe: the French Communist Party Headquarters in Paris, France, built between 1967 and 1980. Having worked with Le Corbusier on the 1952 United Nations Building in New York and recently finished the National Congress as well as additional iconic government buildings in Brasilia, Niemeyer was no stranger to the intimate relationship between architecture and political power.
In 1961, the architect Louis I. Kahn was commissioned by the Fine Arts Foundation to design and develop a large arts complex in central Fort Wayne, Indiana. The ambitious Fine Art Center, now known as the Arts United Center, would cater to the community of 180,000 by providing space for an orchestra, theatre, school, gallery, and much more. As a Lincoln Center in miniature, the developers had hoped to update and upgrade the city through new civic architecture. However, due to budget constraints, only a fraction of the overall scheme was completed. It is one of Kahn’s lesser-known projects that spanned over a decade, and his only building in the Midwest.
Since the start of civil war in 1991, the political and architectural landscapes of the East African country of Somalia have been unstable. While the country’s urban centers, such as the capital city Mogadishu, boast a diverse fabric of historic mosques, citadels, and monuments alongside modernist civic structures, the decades of conflict have resulted in the destruction of many important structures. And, while the fighting has substantially subsided in recent years, the future of the country’s architectural heritage is still far from secure.
In the 1920s, Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian began painting his iconic black grids populated with shifting planes of primary colors. By moving beyond references to the world around him, his simplified language of lines and rectangles known as Neo Plasticism explored the dynamics of movement through color and form alone. Though his red, yellow and blue color-blocked canvases were important elements of the De Stijl movement in the early 1900s, almost a century later Mondrian’s abstractions still inspire architects across the globe.
Recently, long-standing architecture critic for the LA Times Christopher Hawthorne announced that he was stepping down to take up the position of chief design officer for the City of Los Angeles in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s administration. According to Hawthorne, the role will involve raising “the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city — and the level of civic conversation about those subjects.” This dramatic shift from the question: what is the role of the critic and architecture criticism in shaping civic architecture?
While Moshe Safdie may be more well known for the bold forms defining his portfolio of built projects—ranging from the National Gallery of Canada and the horizontal Raffles City Chongqing to the iconic Habitat 67—the architect considers his unbuilt works as important, if not more. Safdie ponders the role of these projects and more in PLANE-SITE’s latest addition to the series Time-Space-Existence.