Beauty in architecture, old and new  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , ,

Usually, when I think of beauty in large urban buildings, the word “old” or “ancient” immediately comes to mind. It is scenes like these that I am usually thinking of:

From Bratislava, Slovakia:

From Budapest, Hungary:

 And from Prague, the Czech Republic:

It isn’t that a building must be old to be beautiful, but I would argue that some modern architecture is not only ugly but, and I realize I am an amateur here, downright silly. Like the I. M. Pei glass pyramid he plopped down on the grounds among the stately buildings of the Louvre in Paris:

(Now I’ve probably insulted any Parisians or architects reading this—please straighten me out in your comments.)

In contrast is a new skyscraper in Chicago that I want very much to see.

Paul Goldberger introduces us to the building and the architect in a fine piece (which you can read here) in The New Yorker:

Aqua—a new, eighty-two-story apartment tower in the center of Chicago—is made of the same tough, brawny materials as most skyscrapers: metal, concrete, and lots of glass. But the architect, Jeanne Gang, a forty-five year-old Chicagoan, has figured out a way to give it soft, silky lines, like draped fabric. She started with a fairly conventional rectangular glass slab, then transformed it by wrapping it on all four sides with wafer-thin, curving concrete balconies, describing a different shape on each floor. Gang turned the facade into an undulating landscape of bending, flowing concrete, as if the wind were blowing ripples across the surface of the building. You know this tower is huge and solid, but it feels malleable, its exterior pulsing with a gentle rhythm.

Three close ups of the lovely terraces Gang wove into the exterior of the design:

And the architect on one balcony during construction:

Marvelous beauty, amazing imagination, a design for a building that is a deeply moving expression of creativity by someone made in God's image.

This entry was posted at Friday, February 05, 2010 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


First, I find it interesting how many times I have heard people use the Louvre Pyramids as an example of a lack of architectural integrity, when in fact, I think that I. M. Pei was trying to be as honest and respectful as he could! Let me explain:
If you look at images of the western facade (near the pyramids) and the eastern facade of the Louvre, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were viewing two different buildings. The reason for this is that the eastern facade was redesigned by architect Claude Perrault in 1665. His design was excessively Italian in scale and ornament, very different from the rest of the building. So the Louvre already had a history of mixed architecture before I. M. Pei ever entered the picture. When Pei was commissioned to design the entry, he didn't want to merely copy the existing architecture, because then it would look like a new building copying an old. That is never honest. Yet he wanted to respect the historical roots of the buildings, so he chose to build the oldest form in archictecture, the pyramid, and rendered it in very modern glass and steel. I. M. Pei didn't ignore the buildings, he set them off with a two sided counterpoint. He did the only thing he could do without condensing the original buildings to nothing more than a template.

All that being said, I LOVE the Chicago highrise! Thank you so much for bringing to our attention such a beautiful example of quality design. Being something of a computer graphics geek, the facade reminds me of some early 3D work with a flat plane of water, represented by the glass, rising out of an undulating land mass, formed by the concrete terraces. Beautiful.

February 5, 2010 at 3:54 PM

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