Tyler makes me think. He asks, “What are our five favorite buildings in America, that are publicly accessible? “ The list was not easy to make. We are blessed with great buildings in this land. From California, to the New York Island. But we’ll give it a try.

All this was prompted by this crazy AIA list of “the people’s” favorite buildings in America.

So here’s ours, in reverse order of favorites.

If Tyler wants to name the St. Louis arch, then I’ll choose as

#5. “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park, Chicago, by Anish Kapoor.

Tyler says the arch is the best piece of public art in America. He might be right, it is sublime and thoughtful and delightfully modernist. But is it superior to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., the Statue of Liberty, or “the bean?” “The bean,” Cloud Gate, is also a gate, not seen in the pic above, and as I’ve written, it expresses Einsteinian space, the relationship of the individual to the collective, of the individual to the self, the relationship of heaven to earth and light to solid, and it gorgeously displays the celestial passage of time. Not bad for a single object. I’ll vote for it as a “favorite building” also to show how architecture and sculpture are wedded these days.

4. Fallingwater and Robie House, by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I could have listed Wright’s Guggenheim, Unity Temple, or Johnson Wax, but I’ll choose these two domestic symphonies. They’re exhilirating to walk through, to experience the blend of nature and flowing space and important for their attempt to fashion domestic harmony (would that it were!). I could have listed only the obvious masterpiece Fallingwater, but I know
Robie House better and for its urban location and size it would be an easier model for more people to follow. Would that urban and suburban dwellings were built with such sensitivity and artistry today.

3. The Auditorium Building, by Louis Sullivan.

A powerful, beautiful statement of the importance of bringing culture at the highest levels to all the people. A gesamtkunstwerk by “unser Lieber Meister,” if ever there was one. In there more than anywhere else in the world, one feels, “Ars Longis, Vita Brevis.” And it’s thrilling. When the performance is moving, say, the Joffrey dancing Balanchine’s “Apollo”, one looks up at the space under the golden, electrically lit arches above, and has a taste of what heaven will be like.

2. 860 – 880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Mies’ work was left off the AIA/people’s list of favorite buildings, but his solutions to find dignity and poetry in modern, industrial life are unrivalled. I always live in large cities, and can only afford to live in a high-rise. If I could live in any high-rise anywhere, I’d like to live in 860 – 880 N. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Oh, wait a minute, I do live there. I’ve been there 5 years. Each day is magic. The ways the two halves of the whole play off of each other, in unfolding overlapping ever-sliding planes. The way the I-beams rise up the sides, create depth and when you walk around the buildings, cause the facades to seem to open and close. The crystalline cleansing of walking through the lobby. The serenity of looking out through my magic windows, through which the city takes on a perfection. After 5 years, I still hear music from these works of art.

And, as of today, my number one pick for my favorite building in America is:


1. The Farnsworth House, by Mies.

Plato would be jealous. The Farnsworth incarnates, in space, light and a few fine materials, mostly in pure white, the perfect idea of the modern house. Whether it works well or not is another issue. I love to sit inside and contemplate the ever-changing nature outside, and the nature of life, lived in a modern way – is that possible? – inside. Space and time flow through one, inside this lantern, this beacon, this jewel in the woods. It is more beautiful, more shocking, more perfect than you, or even Plato, could imagine. A true Temple of Love to love. Adding to it’s allure is that it’s unattainable now that it’s owned by the National Trust and Landmarks Illinois. When it was for sale recently was the only time I’ve ever played the lottery.

What’s your list?

I thought of mine off the top of my head, I’m sure I’ll argue with myself as soon as I post this. What didn’t make my list, but could have?
For a religious building – Eero Saarinen’s chapel at MIT.
For a library – Louis Kahn at Phillips Exeter Academy.

There you go.
Now let’s build more good ones!
-E

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2 Responses to “”

  1. Sallie Wolf Says:

    Here’s my list off the top of my head:

    The old library at Exeter Academy–I spent to summers there and loved the balcony with ladders, the window seats, the comfortable chairs. I wanted to read forever.

    Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, IL.Pretty amazing–you get to see architecture as laboratory.

    Aspen Wall Tower, the VA Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA> Possibly the perfect playground. We climbed the fire escapes, jumped off the porches into the boxwood bushes, broke into the bell tower as kids.

    Not publicly accessible–Barton Myers home and studio near Santa Barbara, CA. Build like three open airplane hangers, the concrete and steel boxes are open to the fresh air, the wonderful view, and outdoor living. Softened by many books, cozy furniture, a very functional kitchen, this is how life should be lived, on the Italian model.

    802 Fairmont, St. Paul, MN–my grandmother’s Queen Anne (I think) Victorian house, which has now been restored to its former splendor. I haven’t seen it since I was 8 or 9, but it had gorgeous wood paneling, window seats, stained glass, mosaic tile floors, a paneled library, and a third floor play room. As a kid you could get lost in this house. The big question was always whether to share the blue bedroom with my brother so we could play ghosts or have the little back bedroom with the old child’s desk and the Arizona highways to myself. You could swim in the bathtub. Grandmother lived in fear that we would break the curved glass window off the screened in porch. We never did, though.

    That’s it–I don’t think big public buildings are nearly as interesting as where people live.

  2. jeremy Says:

    Is the list Chicago-centric only because that is where the buildings you visit most are? Not that I would deny any of these fine buildings a place on a list of the top buildings of all time of course.
    They are all (excepting the “Cloud Gate”) also clusted around the classic modern time period… which I find interesting. Has anything great been built in Chicago since then? Thought I suppose you are not pointing out all the “great” buildings necessarily, but your personal favorites.
    If you would like to expand your list,you ought to try and arrange a visit to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles by Rafael Moneo. I was shocked at how beautiful and well crafted it is. It is well worth seeing in person, and could quite possibly make its way onto your list. I would venture that the spatial experience inside is on par with the Unity Temple (which is one of my favorites BTW).
    The other building I would promote for any top-architecture-in-the-USA list would be OMA’s Seattle Public Library. Beyond merely modern, it stands out as a landmark of fresh contemporary design while creating stunning interior and exterior spaces that mesh in a calculated way with the urban fabric it stand in. I have yet to visit this one in person, but it is on my list for the first half of 2007.
    I am also curious on what you have wished you added after posting (re: the comment at the end of the post).

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