FROM WHIPLASH LINES THROUGH UTOPIA TO SKYSCRAPERS: BUILT AND UNBUILT LANDMARK ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNS IN THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY

Today’s post comes to your direct from our Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi and deals with a visit by distinguished architectural critic, Rowan Moore and highlights some of the masterpieces pulled from our library stacks for his perusal. Thanks to the work of our Digital Resources Photographer, David Almeida, many of the unrealized projects previously exhibited in a library exhibit, as well as published projects recently on display for our guest, are ready for display for you, our distinguished virtual visitors. Enjoy. 

On Thursday, November 14th, architecture critic, writer, and curator, Rowan Moore, launched his book Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture (HarperCollins, 2013) at The Wolfsonian-FIU. Prior to this event, the architecture critic for the Observer (London) paid a visit to the library and perused a few portfolios and books presenting the work of several pioneering architects active at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

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Designed in 1898, Le Castel Béranger, made its architect, Hector Guimard (1867-1942) famous at once.  This multi-family housing apartment building at 17, Rue La Fontaine in Paris (fourteenth arrondissement) has become a symbol of French Art Nouveau architecture. It impresses through its facades which constitute a harmoniously light-coloured whole, although they are made up of materials as varied as bricks, millstones, metal and stones.  At the same time, the design violated established building codes, dividing peoples’ opinions over it. Consequently, “Castel Beranger” (the real name of the building), earned the nickname “Castel Dérangé” (Castel Cracked), and its architect was called crazy.

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The most beautiful parts for sure, are still the metallic railings of the balconies or the sumptuously crafted sea horses in wrought-iron climbing up the building.  The entrance door brings to mind another famous architect of the twentieth century, the Catalan, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926).

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Hector Guimard’s other lasting contribution to the Parisian built environment were the entrances to the Metro.

The Wolfsonian museum is privileged to possess several Art Nouveau inspired items by Guimard: one is a handsome balustrade prototype:

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Another is a set of theatre chairs designed for the Humbert de Romans Concert Hall in Paris, presently on display in our museum’s fifth floor gallery.

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In 1901 the Zeitschrift für Innendekoration, the first periodical dedicated to interior design, published in Darmstadt, Germany, promoted a competition for the design and decoration of a House for a Lover of Art (Haus eines Kunstfreundes). Entrants were required to create a house for an art lover that was simultaneously grand and modern.  Interior and exterior had to be matched to each other in terms of design. Our library has a portfolio illustrating the three submissions. The portfolios became famous because of the artists involved, especially the Scot, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his wife Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933). In fact, the two had been eliminated from the competition for formal reasons, but because the quality of their submission was so high, their designs were published along with the work of the two winners, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865-1945), a representative of the English Arts and Crafts movement, and Leopold Bauer(1872—1938), from Vienna, a pupil of Otto Wagner. The following two plates show the exterior view of the building and an image of the dining room, as proposed by Hugh Baillie Scott:

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The Austrian architect Leopold Bauer gave the following solutions to the exterior and the interior of the house:

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Because they were not obligated to please a client, Mackintosh and Macdonald were able to freely express their thoughts on architecture and interior design:

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All three suggestions show a strikingly personal approach, while at the same time addressing new tendencies that were emerging around 1900.  Nevertheless, the House for a Lover of Art remained unbuilt at the conclusion of the competition.  Interestingly, almost a hundred years later, Mackintosh’s design, although it did not win the competition, was constructed in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, between 1989 and 1996, where it remains open to the public.

The Prima Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna (First International Exposition of Modern Decorative Arts), held in Turin, Italy, in 1902 (opened 10 May), was a world arts exhibition that was important in spreading the popularity of Art Nouveau design.  It featured many works in the Art Nouveau style including the main exhibition building, designed by Raimondo Tommaso D’Aronco (1857–1932).

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The interior of the German pavilion was designed by Peter Behrens:

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The interior designs by Victor Horta decorated the Belgian pavilion:

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The above plates showing images from the 1902 Turin Exposition, were published by Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, one of Germany’s leading publishers and sellers of books about art and architecture.  In 1909 it was the same publisher that agreed to publish a portfolio of 100 lithographs of the work of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).  Titled Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (Studies and Executed Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright), it was published in Germany in 1910.  The already famous American architect seized the opportunity offered by the publication of this portfolio and embarked on a year-long European trip not only to promote his own work, but also to gain firsthand experience of European architectural history.  At the same time, this portfolio, that came to be known as the Wasmuth Portfolio, exerted a great influence on the work of major European architects, such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius. The library at the Wolfsonian-FIU has a copy of the Wasmuth portfolio.

The design of the Winslow Vila in River Forrest displays the features of Prairie School established by Wright.

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Approximately half of the images in the Wasmuth portfolio are the work of architect and one-time Wright assistant Marion Mahony Griffin, whose visual style has a lot to do with its success.  A good illustration is this plate featuring the house for Victor Metzger, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

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An intriguing plate shows Wright’s approach to a communal building, Lexington Terraces, to be erected in Chicago, Illinois.  However, this remained among Wright’s unbuilt designs.

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By the way of unbuilt architectural designs, Tony Garnier (1869-1948) imagined a utopian form of urban living in his portfolio Une cité industrielle. Exhibited already in 1904, but published only 14 years later, Garnier’s conception was highly influenced by the writings of Émile Zola, in particular his socialist utopian novel Travail (1901).

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Located between a mountain and a river to facilitate access to hydroelectric power, this city placed schools and vocational-type schools near the industries they were related to, so that people could be more easily educated. There were no churches or law enforcement buildings, in hope that man could rule himself.

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In 1922 the Chicago Tribune organized an international design competition for its new headquarters, and offered $100,000 in prize money with a $50,000 1st prize for “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” The competition worked brilliantly for months as a publicity stunt, and the resulting entries still reveal a unique turning point in American architectural history. More than 260 entries were received.  After the competition all the submitted entries were collected in a hefty folio book The international competition for a new administration building for the Chicago Tribune, MCMXXII.  The library of the Wolfsonian-FIU has a copy of it among its holdings pertaining to architecture.

The winning project was a tower crowned with buttresses in a neo-Gothic design by John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, both architects from New York.

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A radically simplified tower by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) took the second place and received $20,000.

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Other renowned architects also participated in the competition.  Water Gropius (1883-1969) and Adolf Meyer (1881-1929) designed a tower made up of variable volumes:

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Adolf Loos (1870-1933) imagined that the new skyscraper would take the shape of an ancient Greek column ending in a Doric capital:

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The design of Bruno Taut (1880-1938) recalled a tent-like structure:

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Perhaps the most intriguing submission came from the German architects Heinrich Mossdorf, Hans Hahn, and Bruno Busch: their tower is surmounted by Mount Rushmore-like head of an American Indian.  Their architectural solution betrays the influence of American exoticism permeating German popular fiction: the numerous novels authored by Karl May (1842-1912) set the image of Native Americans (tomahawks, plumed head dresses) for the German and also European reading public.  It is also worth noticing that the posture of the figure on top of the building is identical with that of the Statue of Liberty, therefore this design may be also “read” as a modernist version of the monument erected at the entrance of New York harbor.

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~ by "The Chief" on December 6, 2013.

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