In 1941, at the height of World War II in Western Europe, the city of Aarhus, Denmark achieved an unusual architectural feat. It finished construction on a brand new city hall that was to be a beacon of democratic governance while the city lay under direct Nazi occupation. Designed four years earlier by the heralded duo of Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller, the Rådhus survived the war and became an internationally recognized classic of Danish modernism.
This article was originally published on November 20,2014. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
No single building typology reveals as much about a nation’s political culture as the seat of its government. Parliamentary or palatial structures can tell stories of bureaucratic sprawl, autocratic excess, democratic openness, and anything in between. Kuwait’s National Assembly Building, the home of its popularly elected legislature, is no exception. Much like the nominally-democratic, effectively-oligarchic government it hosts, the building projects conflicting messages of accessibility and regionalist modernity, referencing traditions that don’t necessarily exist in the country and sometimes ending up in direct contradiction with itself. As an emblem of political culture, the building is thus perhaps too accurate in its reading of the Kuwaiti story, yielding a revealing insight into the complex political fabric of the country through its own eclectic bricolage of ideas.
It may be the single most important architectural detail of the last fifty years. Emerging bravely from the glassy sea of Madison Avenue skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, the open pediment atop Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s 1984 AT&T Building (now the Sony Tower) singlehandedly turned the architectural world on its head. This playful deployment of historical quotation explicitly contradicted modernist imperatives and heralded the mainstream arrival of an approach to design defined instead by a search for architectural meaning. The AT&T Building wasn’t the first of its type, but it was certainly the most high-profile, proudly announcing that architecture was experiencing the maturation of a new evolutionary phase: Postmodernism had officially arrived to the world scene.
This article was originally published on November 5, 2014. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
In a city of skyscrapers of nearly every shape and size, the Citigroup Center on Lexington Avenue is one of New York’s most unique. Resting on four stilts perfectly centered on each side, it cantilevers seventy-two feet over the sidewalk and features a trademark 45-degree sloping crown at its summit. The original structure responsible for these striking features also contained a grave oversight that nearly resulted in structural catastrophe, giving the tower the moniker of “the greatest disaster never told” when the story finally was told in 1995. The incredible tale—now legendary among structural engineers—adds a fascinating back-story to one of the most iconic fixtures of the Manhattan skyline.
This article was originally published on August 14, 2014. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
When Lina Bo Bardi received the commission to build a new museum of art on São Paulo’s Terraço do Trianon, she was given the job under one condition: under no circumstances could the building block the site’s panoramic vistas of the lower-lying parts of the city. This rule, instituted by the local legislature, sought to protect what had become an important urban gathering space along Avenida Paulista, the city’s main financial and cultural artery. Undeterred, Bo Bardi came up with a solution that was simple and powerful. She designed a building with a massive split through its midsection, burying half of it below the terrace and lifting the other half into the sky. As a result, the plaza remained open and unobstructed, and in 1968, the iconic São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) was born.
This article was originally published on May 25, 2015. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
Before the impossibly “super-thin” tower became ubiquitous on the Midtown Manhattan skyline, Raimund Abraham’s Austrian Cultural Forum challenged the limits of what could be built on the slenderest of urban lots. Working with a footprint no bigger than a townhouse (indeed, one occupied the site before the present tower), Abraham erected a daring twenty-four story high-rise only twenty-five feet across. Instantly recognizable by its profile, a symmetrical, blade-like curtain wall cascading violently toward the sidewalk, ACFNY was heralded by Kenneth Frampton as “the most significant modern piece of architecture to be realized in Manhattan since the Seagram Building and the Guggenheim Museum of 1959.” 
This article was originally published on January 2, 2015. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
At the Expo ’98 Portuguese National Pavilion, structure and architectural form work in graceful harmony. Situated at the mouth of the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal, the heart of the design is an enormous and impossibly thin concrete canopy, draped effortlessly between two mighty porticoes and framing a commanding view of the water. The simple, gestural move is both weightless and mighty, a bold architectural solution to the common problem of the covered public plaza. Under the graceful touch of Álvaro Siza Vieira, physics and physical form theatrically engage one another, and simplicity and clarity elevate the pavilion to the height of modern sophistication.
This article was originally published on ArchDaily in 2014.
The triumphant critical reception of the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal was the product of inventive architectural methodology and socially conscious thinking. Designed by Foreign Office Architects (FOA) in 1995, the futuristic terminal represented an emergent typology of transportation infrastructure. Its radical, hyper-technological design explored new frontiers of architectural form and simultaneously provoked a powerful discourse on the social responsibility of large-scale projects to enrich shared urban spaces.
This article was originally published on November 25, 2014. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
Architects have never enjoyed a position of such supreme prominence as they did in the worldview of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller. To him, architects alone were capable of understanding and navigating the complex interrelationships of society, technology, and environment as viewed through the comprehensive paradigm of systems theory. Architecture, in this model, was intended to exist in close contact with both mankind and nature, playing civilization’s most critical role in elevating the state of humanity and promoting its responsible stewardship of the environment. Emerging from the ethical positivity of postwar modernism, this melioristic perspective marks perhaps the zenith of optimism’s ascent in mid-twentieth century thought, and gave Fuller a uniquely moral blueprint for his revolutionary designs.
This article was originally published on May 4, 2015. To read the stories behind other celebrated architecture projects, visit our AD Classics section.
Arches have long been used to mark the greatest achievements of Roman civilization. Constantine, Titus, and Septimus Severus built them to commemorate their military victories. Engineers at Segovia and Nîmes incorporated them into their revolutionary aqueducts. And fifteen hundred years after the Fall of Rome, Rafael Moneo gave a modern touch to the ancient structure in Mérida's breathtaking National Museum of Roman Art, located on the site of the former Iberian outpost of Emerita Augusta. Soaring arcades of simple, semi-circular arches merge historicity and contemporary design, creating a striking yet sensitive point of entry to the remains of one of the Roman Empire's greatest cities.
Best known for the Rusakov Workers’ Club and his own house, Russian architect and painter Konstantin Melnikov (August 3rd, 1890 – November 28th, 1974) has only recently received his due, now more than forty years after his death. He spent much of the twentieth century shunned by the Soviet architectural establishment, having refused to capitulate to the increasingly conformist (and classicist) prescriptions of Stalinism. As a result, he was forced to end his career only a decade after it started, returning to his other avocation as a painter and leaving in his wake only a precious few completed works.
Robert Moses, the planner-politician-architect who infamously built overpasses too low for buses to bring New York’s urban poor to his beaches, is the subject of a new graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Olivier Balez titled Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City. Admirable for its candid rawness, their profile of perhaps the most polarizing and important figure in American planning history is no lionizing eulogy. The impressive triumphs of Moses’ tenure are juxtaposed with unsparing accounts of his regrettable social policies and the often-shortsighted consequences of his public infrastructure. For each groundbreaking feat of structural engineering and political mobilization, there is another story told of his callous social engineering, the consequences of which reshaped the lives of New Yorkers as much as his architecture.
Sydney. Bilbao. Nouméa? They are cities recognized, popularized, and revitalized by a single foreign intervention of modern architecture. The phenomenon by which this occurs, often dubbed the “Bilbao Effect” in reference to Frank Gehry’s iconic museum, is one of the most fascinating and sought-after contributions of modern architecture to economic development.
The latter of these locations—the capital of the Pacific island cluster of New Caledonia—may seem a misfit on this list to those who have still not heard of it, now sixteen years after the completion of Renzo Piano’s Tjibaou Cultural Center, but it most certainly is not: the transformative economic effect of this project on the city of Nouméa has been no less dramatic than that of any opera house or museum of greater renown. Since the Center's completion, New Caledonia has found itself in the international architectural spotlight, as the graceful, ephemeral design of the building's iconic shells has brought fame and business in equal parts to its island and to Piano’s firm.
In the struggle against the homogenizing forces of an increasingly globalized architectural culture, the particularized interventions of Patkau Architects in the Canadian southwest proffer a means of resistance, grounded in the immediacy of context and the sacrosanctity of nature. Combining local material palettes with a rich tectonic vocabulary that borrows from the diverging currents of modernity and vernacular practice, the firm’s projects are dynamic and eminently sui generis, the results of an inspired pursuit at the nexus of regionalism, technology, and critical theory.
For the first time in over a half-century, the United States reopened its official diplomatic embassy in Havana earlier today, shining an international spotlight on Harrison and Abramovitz's modernist shoreline classic. Historically maligned by many Cubans as an embodiment of American arrogance and imperialism, the building has played a pronounced symbolic role in the escalation - and now the easement - of political animosities between the two countries.
Easy to overlook behind Kazuyo Sejima’s celebrated control of spatial and material effect is her emphasis on program and its role in the ratiocinated process of form-finding. In this 2002 lecture on her “Recent Work,” Sejima delves into the methodology that informs her work, beginning with two ongoing (and since-heralded) projects: the Theatre and Art Centre at Almere and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art at Kanazawa.
In both of these projects, Sejima ruminates on the intrigue of the microunit, the autonomously coherent spatial cogs that accumulate to participate in the purposeful machine. First within the irregularly-intervaled grid of the Theatre (as studios and staging areas), and second within the cytoplasmic circumscription of the Kanazawa Museum (as exhibitions), individual programmatic components with discreet performative roles seem to float, untethered to each other, in voluminous seas of circulatory space. By segregating elemental blocks within these projects, Sejima exaggerates their apparent autonomies in order to paradoxically draw attention to their spatial interconnectedness.
Happy Fourth of July! In recognition of Independence Day in the United States, ArchDaily has assembled six of our favorite "American Classics." Featuring projects by Louis Kahn, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen, and Richard Meier, each of these canonical works occupies a prominent place in twentieth-century American architecture. See them all after the break.
The violent insertion of Daniel Libeskind’s Spiral into the Victorian neighborhood of South Kensington renders a cataclysmic disruption into a landscape of order and propriety. It envisions a rupture in the fabric of space and time, aggressively anachronistic from the building it adjoins, unapologetically appealing not to cultured humanism but to the mathematical logic of complexity and chaos. What is now textbook "Libeskind" was in 1996 a shocking non-starter for the London establishment, an unacceptable risk for a city perpetually torn between its agitated cosmopolitan energies and its quintessential impulse toward nostalgia and restraint. Nearly twenty years after the Spiral was selected as the winner of a distinguished international competition, this controversial extension proposal for the Victoria and Albert Museum remains unbuilt.