Michie Cao: Philip Johnson’s 1949 residence for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut, known as the Glass House, celebrates the beauty and simplicity of modern architecture. The steel-framed house has no exterior walls, only glass, giving its visitors the impression of being both indoors and outdoors simultaneously. But the glass itself adds a new element, the reflections off the different surfaces coming together to enhance the beauty of nature. At one end of the structure sits a cylindrical brick room, the only hint of privacy in the otherwise open design. The presence of the brick room heightens the contrast between private and public living and, by interrupting the flat roof of the design, draws attention to the beauty achieved in Johnson’s simple geometry.
Charles and Ray Eames built their California home in 1949 as one of what were known as “case study houses.” These homes were part of an experiment posed to architects to create a new vision for the American home in the post-war era. The Eames house approached the problem by creating a steel box made entirely from prefabricated industrial pieces originally intended for a different design. The home’s genius lies in how the Eameses used these materials to fashion a new brand of home that maintained the open plan and clean lines of modern architecture but without the discipline and regularity that controlled other designs. Combined with the use of brightly colored panels, the Eameses brought joy and freedom to the rigor of modern architecture.
Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s, is not only one of the most famous homes in America, but also one of Wright’s greatest design accomplishments. Though the house is visually striking with its glass, stone, and concrete exterior, the relationship to its surroundings makes it truly remarkable. Wright placed the bulk of the home directly on top of a waterfall, weaving the natural landscape into the everyday functions of the home. He also created a series of terraces and rooms that blurred the distinction between indoors and outdoors. These rooms hovering above the waterfall are the defining characteristic of the home’s exterior, expressing to all viewers that the relationship between the American home and the beauty of nature was central to Wright’s vision.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
Oscar Niemeyer’s 1996 design for the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, more commonly know as the MAC, displays his talent for creating architecture that rises out of its surroundings. When presented with a narrow, rocky site for the museum, Niemeyer handled the tricky landscape by creating a curving ramp that led to an elevated museum hovering above the water. The windows surrounding the circular museum allow visitors to take in panoramic views of the striking natural scenery. This integration with nature is only possible due to the reinforced concrete used in the structure, fully linking forward-looking technology and innovation with the ancient beauty of nature.
30 St. Mary Axe
Norman Foster’s tower at 30 St. Mary Axe transformed the London skyline upon its completion in 2003. The surrounding buildings adhere to more traditional methods of building, but Foster’s tower stands as a blend of groundbreaking sustainability and contemporary design. The conical building is covered in triangular glass plates arranged in a swirling design that enhances the tower’s unique shape. However, the glass is not only there for visual purposes. It represents part of a complex system of enhancements that allow the tower to use only half the energy of a similar tower. By showing off the environmental systems in the overall design, Foster created a unique building that is as new and exciting visually as it is technologically.