Category Archives: Architecture

Pandemic Art Adventures: MIT

The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal.  In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art.  College campuses are great place to find art, so one day in June I visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside.  I found quite a bit of art, which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. MIT has an excellent website with additional information here.

K2B Eero Saarinen - MIT Chapel (1956) Cambridge, MA
Although Eero Saarinen’s 1956 MIT Chapel is a work of architecture, it’s compact size and modernist belltower make it feel like a sculpture, so I am including it here.  Other interesting works of architecture on campus are Baker House (1948), one of only two permanent structures in the US designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (see below),
baker house 3
and of course, the whimsical Stata Center (2004), by Frank Gehry.
stata center 1
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L8B Alexander Calder - La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965) (1) MIT
Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965), made of painted steel, is located in McDermott Court.
L8C Alexander Calder - La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965) (2) MIT

N1C Louise Nevelson - Transparent Horizon (1975) (1) MIT
Transparent Horizon (1975) by Louise Nevelson is made from Cor-Ten steel painted black and is located in front of the Landau building.
N1D Louise Nevelson - Transparent Horizon (1975) (2) MIT

N9B Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 3) MIT
Gary Wiley’s Invaders, completed in 1981 and installed in 1982, consists of three different butterfly figures and is made of wrought iron, soft steel, mirrored and colored Plexiglas, marbles, and paint. The sculpture is intended to be mobile and is moved to different locations on campus from time to time.  I saw it at the alumni pool building.
N9C Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 2) MIT N9D Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 1) MIT

B1C Mark di Suvero - Aesop's Fables, II (2005)(1) MIT
Mark di Suvero’s Aesop’s Fables, II (2005) is made of steel painted red and is located on the northeast sector lawn.
B1D Mark di Suvero - Aesop's Fables, II (2005)(2) MIT

C6C Jaume Plensa - Alchemist (2010) (2) MIT
Alchemist (2010), by Jaume Plensa, is made of stainless steel painted white and is located on the lawn of the Stratton Student Center.
C6B Jaume Plensa - Alchemist (2010) (1) MIT

Modernist Architecture in Cambridge, MA: A Tour

Cambridge, Massachusetts (“Our Fair City”, to CarTalk fans) is home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and each of these institutions of higher learning is home to two major works of modernist architecture.  I took a self-guided tour today of the four buildings (actually one of them consists of multiple buildings) and thought I’d share some photos and info with you.

AT HARVARD

Harvard University Graduate Center (1949-1950)
Architect
: Walter Gropius (Germany/US, 1883-1969) with The Architects’ Collaborative (Jean Bodman-Fletcher, Norman C. Fletcher, John C. Harkness, Sarah Harkness, Robert S. McMillan, Louis A. McMillen, and Benjamin Thompson)
gropius complex 1
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gropius complex 4
gropius complex 6
Originally built as the university’s graduate center, the Gropius Complex (as it is sometimes called) consists of eight buildings – seven dormitories and a dining hall/student center – arranged around larger and smaller four-sided courtyards. The dormitories are situated so that no one faces another. The dormitories are now used to house Harvard Law School students. The dining hall (Harkness Commons) can seat up to 1,000 students. All the buildings are four stories or fewer and are constructed of concrete; the exterior walls are made of buff-colored brick or limestone. According to Architectuul.com, “The Harvard Graduate Center is the first modern building on the campus, it was also the first endorsement of the modern style by a major university and was seen in the national and architectural presses as a turning point in the acceptance of the aesthetic in the United States.”

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (1961-1963)
ArchitectLe Corbusier (Switzerland/France, 1887-1965) with Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente. On-site coordinator: Josep Lluís Sert.
carpenter center 5carpenter center 2
carpenter center 1
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carpenter center 3
 
carpenter center 6
Le Corbusier was a driving force in modern architecture and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard is the only building in the United States that he designed. Le Corbusier was famous for his “five points of architecture”: (1) The building is raised up on reinforced concrete pylons, which allows for free circulation on the ground level, and eliminates dark and damp parts of the house. (2) The sloping roof is replaced by a flat roof terrace, which can be used as a garden, for promenades, sports or a swimming pool. (3) Load-bearing walls are replaced by a steel or reinforced concrete columns, so the interior can be freely designed, and interior walls can put anywhere, or left out entirely. The structure of the building is not visible from the outside. (4) Since the walls do not support the house, ribbon windows can run the entire length of the house, so all rooms can get equal light. (5) Since the building is supported by columns in the interior, the façade can be much lighter and more open, or made entirely of glass. There is no need for lintels or other structure around the windows. The building now houses Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, and is the venue for screenings by the Harvard Film Archive. The building was completed in 1963, just two years before Le Corbusier’s death; he was too ill to attend the opening ceremonies and never saw the completed building.

AT MIT

Baker House (1947-1948)
Architect
: Alvar Aalto (Finland, 1898-1976)
baker house 3
baker house 4
baker house 2baker house 1baker house 5baker house 6
Finnish architect Alvar Aalto once described his design for Baker House – a six-story MIT dormitory on Memorial Drive in Cambridge – as a mix between a ski lodge and a ship. An aerial view of the building shows its wave shape. The website docomomo-us opined: “Baker House is the first major building to synthesize European Modernism with the regional material vernacular of New England. It is also a pivotal building in architect Alvar Aalto’s career and the most significant of his works in North America.”

Stata Center (2004)
Architect: Frank Gehry (Canada/US, 1929- )
stata center 1
stata center 5
stata center 6
stata center 7
stata center 4
stata center 8
The Stata Center houses classrooms and auditoriums used by MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, the Linquistics Department and the Philosophy Department, as well as other departments and on-campus groups. It is also home to the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems. Noam Chomsky, Richard Stallman and Tim Berners-Lee are among the academic A-listers with offices there.  In a 2004 review of the building, Boston Globe columnist Robert Campbell wrote: “the Stata is always going to look unfinished. It also looks as if it’s about to collapse. Columns tilt at scary angles. Walls teeter, swerve, and collide in random curves and angles. Materials change wherever you look: brick, mirror-surface steel, brushed aluminum, brightly colored paint, corrugated metal. Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That’s the point. The Stata’s appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that’s supposed to occur inside it.”

I’ll conclude with a Stata Center self-portrait:
stata center self portrait

 

Longer Isn’t Always Better: Introducing the Best Bridges Meta-Lists

I’ve created two new meta-lists of the best bridges in the world.  To do this, I collected over 20 lists that I found on the Internet of the best, greatest, most amazing, most spectacular and most famous bridges in the world and combined them into two meta-lists: one organized by rank (that is, with the bridges on the most lists at the top) and one organized chronologically.  I’ve included information about the bridges along with lots of photographs. Some of these bridges have to be seen to be believed!

Click on the links below to go directly to the lists:

Best Bridges of All Time: Ranked
Best Bridges of All Time: Chronological

Some of these bridges also appear on the Best Architecture Lists and the Best Works of Civil Engineering lists, and those lists contain some bridges that are not on the Best Bridges lists. Click on the links below to go to the other lists:

Best Architecture of All Time: Ranked
Best Architecture of All Time: Chronological
Best Works of Civil Engineering
Best Works of Civil Engineering: Chronological

I didn’t included “highest”, “longest” and other superlatives in the descriptions of the bridges for a number of reasons.  For one thing, new record-breaking bridges are always being built, so these designations tend to be short-lived.  In addition, I think emphasizing which bridge is the longest, tallest, highest, etc. can take away from the achievement that each bridge represents. After all, the third, fourth or fifth longest (or tallest) bridges may be as impressive and even more stunning than numbers one or two.  Finally, dimensions alone do not define every bridge; many of the bridges that made the list are there because they are beautiful, dramatic or unusual in some way.  Some are there because of how scary they look.  To me, that’s as good a reason as any to name something one of the “best” bridges of all time.

For those who crave to know the biggest, longest, here is an (uncut) list of some of the current record holders:

  1. Longest bridge: Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge (China, 2011) 102.4 miles
  2. Longest road bridge: Bang Na Expressway (Thailand, 2000) 33.52 miles
  3. Longest bridge over water (aggregate): Jiaozhou Bay Bridge (China, 2011) 25.84 miles
  4. Longest bridge over water (continuous): Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (US, 1969) 23.89 miles
  5. Longest bridge in US: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (Louisiana, 1969) 23.89 miles
  6. Longest bridge in Latin America: Rio-Niterói Bridge (Brazil, 1974) 8.26 miles
  7. Longest bridge in Europe: Vasco da Gama Bridge (Portugal, 1998) 7.67 miles
  8. Longest wooden bridge: Lake Pontchartrain Railroad Trestle, Louisiana (US, 1883) 5.82 miles
  9. Longest suspension bridge: Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (Japan, 1998) main span: 6,532 ft.
  10. Longest suspension bridge in Europe: Great Belt Bridge (Denmark, 1998) main span: 5,328 ft.
  11. Longest suspension bridge in US: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (New York, 1964) main span: 4,259.84 ft.
  12. Longest suspension bridge in Latin America: Angostura Bridge (Venezuela, 1967) main span: 2,336 ft.
  13. Longest stone bridge: Rockville Bridge, Marysville, Pennsylvania (US, 1902) 3,820 ft.
  14. Longest cantilever bridge: Quebec Bridge (Canada, 1917) 3,239 ft.
  15. Longest swing bridge: El Ferdan Railway Bridge (Egypt, 2001) 2,100 ft.
  16. Longest pedestrian suspension bridge: Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge (Switzerland, 2017) 1,620.72 ft.
  17. Longest transporter bridge: Newport Transporter Bridge (Wales, UK, 1906) 594 ft.
  18. Longest lift bridge: Railway bridge over Arthur Kill Channel, NJ/Staten Island, NY (US, 1959) moveable section: 558 ft.
  19. Longest plastic bridge: Bridge in Aberfeldy Golf Club (England, UK, ) 370.75 ft.
  20. Highest bridge:* Duge Bridge (China, 2016) clearance: 1,854 ft. above Beipan River
  21. Highest bridge in Latin America: Baluarte Bridge (Mexico, 2013) clearance: 1,710 ft. above Baluarte River
  22. Highest bridge in US: Royal Gorge Bridge (Colorado, 1929) clearance: 955 ft. above Arkansas River
  23. Highest bridge in Europe: Millau Viaduct (France, 2004) clearance: 886 ft. over Tarn River Valley
  24. Tallest bridge:* Millau Viaduct (France, 2004) 1,125 ft.
  25. Tallest bridge in Asia: Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge (Turkey, 2016) 1,056 ft.
  26. Tallest bridge in Latin America: Mezcala Bridge (Mexico, 1993) 774 ft.
  27. Tallest bridge in US: Golden Gate Bridge (California, 1937) 746 ft.
  28. Oldest bridge (still in use): Stone arch bridge over Meles River in Izmir, Turkey (c. 850 BCE)
  29. Oldest bridge in Europe (still in use): Stone arch bridge over Erasinos River near Xirokambi, Laconia, Greece (c. 150 BCE)
  30. Oldest bridge in US (still in use): Frankford Avenue Bridge over Pennypack Creek in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1697)

* Q. What is the difference between “Highest” bridge and “Tallest” bridge?
A.  “Highest” measures the distance (clearance) between the deck of the bridge and the ground (or body of water) below.  “Tallest” measures the height of the physical structure of the bridge from its highest to lowest point.

You can find out more about the bridges in bold type on the new lists. Click on the links below:

Best Bridges of All Time – Ranked
Best Bridges of All Time – Chronological

Building Sites: The New, Improved Architecture Lists

Update: I recently discovered several new lists of Best Architecture, Best Buildings, etc., and added them to the existing lists.  I also went through the Best Architecture and Best Architecture – Chronological lists and added more pictures: I mean, LOTS MORE PICTURES.  I tried to show aerial views in many cases, and also street level views of tall buildings. For ruins, I tried to find artist’s conceptions of what the building looked like in its heyday.  I think you will like the improvements.  Click on the links below to see the new, improved sites:

Best Architecture of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
— lists every work of architecture on 4 or more of the 24+ original source lists
— organized by rank (that is, with the items on the most lists at the top)
— items on the same number of lists are organized in chronological order

Best Architecture of all Time – Chronological
— considerably longer list than the above list
— lists all the buildings/architectural works on 3 or more of the original source lists
— organized in chronological order by date that construction began (if available)

As a result of the new Best Architecture lists I found, I was able to add 7 new buildings to the lists.  They are:

  • St. Pancras Railway Station. London, England, UK.
  • Natural History Museum. London, England, UK.
  • Imperial Hotel. Tokyo, Japan (destroyed in 1968)
  • Washington National Cathedral. Washington, D.C.
  • Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, California, US.
  • Reichstag (restoration and renovation). Berlin, Germany.
  • The Shard (London Bridge Tower). London, England, UK.

Other pages that contain information about architecture and building:

Best Architects of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
(organized chronologically by date of birth and listing each architect’s most important works)

Best Works of Civil Engineering

Best Works of Civil Engineering – Chronological

A warm welcome to my LinkedIn connections, who will now be getting posts from Make Lists, Not War: The Meta-Lists Website.