Architecture's Modern Marvels - #1

8:44 PM

As many of you probably know, Vanity Fair recently compiled a list of Architecture's Modern Marvels. And it is really a pretty good list. Probably because they actually took the time to survey real (and prestigious) architects, rather than simply give us a list of the most popular according to HGTV. Since I've been fortunate to visit 6 of the top 21, I thought I'd take the time to write a bit about my experience with those buildings... after all, architecture is really all about the experience.




First up is Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, which coincidentally was the site of my first ever architectural pilgrimage. While lately it has been pretty popular to hate on Gehry (I'm as guilty as anyone), it is hard to deny the success of this building.
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One of my closest/oldest friends has lived in Bilbao most of her life, so the summer after my freshman year in college (1998 - just after the building opened), I took a trip to visit her. The trip was mostly social... I wanted to see my friend, but I have to admit I was also excited about the prospect of seeing this building, one that we'd been hearing about in school all year long.
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Even though I've known all my life that I wanted to be an architect, I had a bit of a rough start my freshman year. I just wasn't cut out for the tedium of pencil shading, hard-lining, and precision. Precision had never been my forte, but that was exactly what we were expected to produce. In fact, after a year of hard-lining (of which I was adequate, but certainly not a star), I was beginning to wonder if architecture was meant for me after all.
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That all changed when I visited Bilbao. Along with my friend and her family, we spent the day visiting the museum. Just walking the streets up towards the museum took my breath away. Clearly, this was an icon. The museum had been open for less than a year, but everyone knew that the city was changed forever. The Bilbao effect has since been coined to describe the complete and utterly positive changes on a city by a singular structure.
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We spent the day wandering through the museum. For anyone who ever travels with families, you know how difficult this can be. Trying to accommodate young children, the elderly, and everyone in between can be hard, and more often than not I'm leaving the museum sooner than desired. But, with the Guggenheim, no one wanted to leave.
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We all know that "form follows function" is not how Gehry works. But for some reason, the form and the function of this building are completely interconnected. All of the spaces are appropriately formed from the inside to suit the artwork, while still creating Gehry's sculpture from the outside.
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Do I think it is perfect? Of course not, no building is. But whether or not the Guggenheim Bilbao is to your taste or not, you have to admit that it is a spectacular piece of architecture. This one building does more than most architects' entire careers. It has unity a city, brought (some) prosperity to that city, and become an iconic symbol across the world. It has managed the unique and delicate balance of fantastic form and suitable function. It has helped to advance both the architectural and building technologies - in the field and in the office. And perhaps least importantly to most, but most importantly to me... it helped remind me why I wanted to be an architect, and helped me to return to school completely motivated and totally invigorated.
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