Archive for August, 2009

The Razor’s Edge

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Designed by I.M. Pei in 1978, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art is easily one of my favorite buildings in the city.  The prismatic stone volumes are laid out on a daring plan that follows the angled streets of the baroque city plan while also fulfilling its own internal geometry.  The central lobby is a grand multi-level space full of light, crisscrossing with cast-in-place concrete terraces and bridges.  Note the curvilinear form of the escalator handrail as it is cut into the stone wall.  This was a bold modern move in an era when escalators were considered sub-architectural add-ons.  Pei elevates the mechanical by registering the newly iconic graphic signature of the escalator on the monumental walls themselves.

Other I.M. Pei buildings on the straight torquer:






News Worthy

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Designed by Polshek Partnership of New York City, the Newseum is the newest addition to the well known group of museum attractions surrounding The National Mall.  The architecture is highly contemporary, perhaps to the degree that it may be fated to be perceived as particularly dated in the years to come.  One aspect I do enjoy is the large stone tablet on which is inscribed the first amendment.  The material choice is a clear reference to the surrounding buildings, many of which are classical style Romanesque buildings with Corinthian columns that pretend to be made out of stacked stone.  The reality, of course, is that many of these buildings are actually constructed of modern steel or concrete frames, onto which is fastened a facade of stone paneling made to appear thick and tectonic.  The architects of the Newseum embrace and admit to this reality by stopping the stone panel before it hits the ground and by showing its thinness as an applied layer.  The expression is both honest, elegant, and it fits the material language of the existing city fabric.





Wednesday, August 5th, 2009







Boulevard Towers in Chicago by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is a magnificent specimen of modern minimalism.  Designed by a master at the height of his practice, the facade of the building is buttressed by standard w-section steel members, welded vertically the entire height of the building.  Their architectural affect is stunning in its simple beauty, both utterly functional and visually pleasing.  As the father of the skyscraper, Meis is even more remarkable in his courageous and novel approach to building of his era.  He was active at a time when these new technologies of steel frame construction and curtain walls were just gaining widespread use.  His pioneering and elegant ingenuity set in place a hugely influential movement of minimal, functional grace in architecture.

Aqua is designed by Jeanne Gang, principle and founder of Studio Gang Architects, and it is the firm’s first skyscraper project.  This is the largest project ever awarded to an American firm headed by a woman.  It is another example of modern technology being implemented in a way that shapes the building’s form.  This time it is the technology of computer aided drafting.  Each floor plate of the tower has a unique and curvilinear plan, something made possible by the availability of NURBS-based drawing software.  Computer aided (CAD) drafting began as a digital version of the traditional drafting table–simply a faster and easier way to edit the same kind of drawing.   As the technology has improved, however, it has allowed architects to visualize,  generate, and quantify forms and combinations of material that were never before possible.  No longer are we simply using a new tool to produce the same artifacts of the previous generation.  We are pushing the new tools to produce objects that are suited to the new paradigm