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Tuesday 02.13.07

« See this | Main | John Buchanan and the curse of King Tut »

American Architectural Valentine

Buildings need love too and since Tyler Green's doing a collective intelligence experiment on the 5 best bits of American architecture, why not? Here's my list, as usual it is tinged with personal affinities, besides 5 is too short for historical sample:

1) Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple (1907), Oak Park Illinois. The approach to the temple is exactly that, its sets the pace, mood and expectations on a level with Mayan or Egyptian structures, then raises the bar (yeah scary). It was one of Wright's favorite buildings and highly innovative for its use of concrete at the time. The central hall is just dumbfoundingly good, debatably the best room ever designed by any architect. Pictures consistently fail it. Wright called it a, "jewell box." It is both massively uplifting and contemplative as an incredibly democratic yet enlightened community space. I wonder if Donald Judd ever experienced this space? There aren't many rooms similar to this, only Brad Cloepfil's Weiden and Kennedy building strikes any comparison, which is very good but Wright's is a class or two above that effort. Also, Unity Temple requires restoration, so please click here to help, it's a national treasure.

2) Frank Lloyd Wright's Wingspread House (1938-9), Racine Wisconsin... the ultimate anti-McMansion.

Photo Credit: Tom Bonner

3)Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003), Los Angeles California. Great outside and inside. It even sounds good, a functional masterpiece for the architect's home town. From the inside it's got that Frank Lloyd Wright awe and warmth too.

photo credit: Jeff Jahn

4) Rem Koolhaas: Seattle Central Library, (2004) One of the best things he's ever done and it's even very functional. It only loses to Gehry for being less exciting outside while being almost gimicky inside... that is a sophisticated eurotrash "almost" so even that is a kind of victory. Yes, the hours of operation could be better.

Photo Credits: Jeff Jahn

5) Eero Saarinen (1957) & Santiago Calatrava (2001) Milwaukee Art Museum and War Memorial. Situated on the waterfront of Lake Michigan, it couldn't have been better placed. At first sight the Calatrava wing had me doing a hammy version of "the Love Boat" theme. The Saarinen wing has ideal galleries with an art collection full of surprises. It is one of the best and most rewarding art trips in the country. Yes, I'm biased, I cut my "eye teeth" here and I know most every inch of the parts that are open to the public and a few that aren't.

Go ahead and feel free list your favorite 5.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on February 13, 2007 at 19:56 | Comments (3)


Great list, Jeff! Check out mine: danielflahiff.net

No common picks, but some of yours were on my short-list...

Posted by: Daniel Flahiff [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 15, 2007 06:20 AM

Nice list.

I love the Watts towers... a painter freind of mine David Klein painted an art brut portait of me flanked by the St. Louis arch and the watts towers. It all stemmed from a philisophical conversation we had and I said something like... "aesthetically I want to resonate between something like the St. Louis Arch and the Watts Towers."

I think the EMP is kind of a mess SCL imho is much better... both are daring buildings... The Freemont Bridge in Portland is really beautiful but it can't crack my top 5 or even 10.

The Old Faithful Inn is a magical place for me and it was nearly in my top 5... I love that line from Beauty and the Beast, "I use antlers in all of my decorating!" My parents have this hunting lodge made by a railroad baron... everything is knotty pine. Im a rustic guy in ways most Portland city slickers would find amusing. I'm happiest with a campfire in the woods or piloting some wind powered watercraft.

By being built around a hearth, Wright's buildings speak to that same lizard part of my brain, the specifics of the execution is what convinces the intellect. Gehry's concert hall and the Calatrava both evoke sailing ships so I see that primal aestheyic at work there too.

Hildur Bjarnadottir once told me... "you Nordic men are always building ships." I was hollowing out a piece of bread at the time.

Funny how architecture is such a subjective thing... just like art.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 15, 2007 10:57 AM

Isn't it funny how we can love antler decor as much as the Seattle Public Library [which nearly made my list too]? I've often wanted to see a successful hybridization of the two aesthetics; Koenig's Case House #22 meets Mary Colter's Bright Angel Lodge. The material economies and DIY ethics are similar, though at first glance the two seem to have nothing in common.

By the way, did you read Jen Graves' blurb on her love of the Seattle Public Library [one of her top 5 as well]? Wonderful and touching, here: http://www.thestranger.com/blog/2007/02/five_favorite_buildings

Posted by: Daniel Flahiff [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 16, 2007 10:29 AM

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