Friday, June 22, 2012

Architectural Road Trip

For spring break in March, my boyfriend and I decided to do a 5 day road trip, somewhere within a 500 mile radius of Chicago.  He literally took out a map and compass and drew a circle of 500 miles around Chicago, and we noticed that Pittsburgh was within those limits.  Guess what is near Pittsburgh: Fallingwater.
But rather than make it a drive-there-and-back type of road trip, we planned a few stops along the way. Poor guy had no idea what kind of architectural pilgrimage he had signed himself up for.
Our first stop was Columbus, Indiana, home of buildings by many famous architects, including many by Eero Saarinen, namely the Miller House, which is one of the few residential buildings he designed, which has only recently been opened to the public.  We did go on a tour of that, but since photos were not allowed, I will have to show you a few other buildings designed by Saarinen:
The Irwin Union Bank and Trust (now First Financial) which is right downtown (a charming downtown, and we saw it on a perfect spring day, with all the buds in the trees out).

and the North Christian Church, which looks a bit like a space shuttle landing, but I suppose that is in part due to my "artistic" camera angles.
The following day, we travelled east, to Fallingwater, making it through the back roads and winding trails by the river in good time.  We were again rewarded with some great weather and a few good vantage points, including "the view."
I have now toured Taliesin, Taliesin West, and Fallingwater, three of Wright's larger homes, and find the "great room" space in each to have a strong relationship to each other, mainly in that they are a gathering space, where one is encouraged to look out, even though the ambiance of the room surrounds the viewer in a way that almost hugs them (sorry, Frank, I think you would hate to have that said!).
We enjoyed views from an outdoor balcony, once we had been assured that it had been structurally reinforced recently.
Though my boyfriend did find that even some of the outdoor spaces were lacking in headroom.  This was his first FLW experience; I'm not sure how he'll do with future tours.
One of my favorite indoor spaces was the desk in Mr. Kaufman's office, which needed to be right by a window, but the window had to open, so . . . voila.
On to Pittsburgh, where we found some more modern architecture, like the PPG Building downtown, which is actually a complex which seemed a bit like an evil empire.  It was designed by Philip Johnson and co. and was built in the early 1980's.
Most of the architecture in Pittsburgh, however, was much older than that, though not necessarily because anyone thought to preserve it.  We figured that Pittsburgh had no money to build anything new in the era that a city would have wanted to, which makes for some eyesores now, but excellent opportunities for historical revitalization if they have the opportunity and aspiration, someday.  In the meantime, some old buildings, like this one, wait.

Since Pittsburgh is a city of hills and valleys, we took a funicular up to the top of Mt. Washington, on the west side of the river, for a great view out over the city, and a few beers at a local bar.

The last stop on our small tour of America was Toledo, OH, where we got to check out the Toledo Art Museum, and I got to geek out on Sanaa.  My first taste was a tea service in the main building, which I was totally entranced by even before I knew who had designed it.  The reflections go on forever.

And yes, of course we went across the street to the glass pavilion where we enjoyed a demonstration by a glassmaker who works at the museum.  The space is really quite wonderful, making you question, probably without even realizing it, the real nature of glass's transparency, how it loses that transparency when stacked layer over layer, and can become a real barrier, even though you can still see through it.
It reminded me of some work by Gerhard Richter that I saw at the Tate Modern called 11 panels.  The slightly green glass multiplies its opacity.  Of course, it's hard to find an image that gives a satisfactory idea of the effect, but this one, from Richter's website, is pretty good.

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