United States Architecture

United States Architecture

Northern America

Since the end of the Second World War, the ideal conditions for the development of modern architecture have been established in the USA: economic prosperity, acceptance of the most modern ideas by the general public – also educated by avant-garde museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York -, strong and rapid upward movement in land ownership. The dizzying and unplanned growth of cities with the usual characteristics of overcrowding, lack of greenery, etc., induces Americans to move, as soon as economic conditions permit, in residential areas, to single-family houses with gardens, which surround for dozens of kilometers from the old centers. While a new city in extension was born on the outskirts, served by shopping centers, the old center, abandoned to the less affluent class, declines more and more economically and also aesthetically. Two reaction movements ensue: on the one hand, architects, sociologists, economists try to awaken interest in the urban scene, to remodel cities on the basis of current society, and for this they do not limit themselves to the old center, but they also dedicate themselves to the periphery that always conditions the center; on the other hand, private interests intervene to put a stop to the decline of the center. Even the events of urban planning show how decisive the function of private initiative is always in the USA.

In Philadelphia, for example, the city administration held an exhibition in 1947, animated by the architect. Oskar Stonorov, to launch the master plan that provided for the development of the city until 1982, divided into six-year plans; at the exhibition, private individuals actively and substantially collaborated for propaganda and to respond to the secret referendum among the visitors (400,000) of the exhibition: 60% of citizens declared themselves willing to pay more taxes to improve the development of the city. In 1949 the state of Pennsylvania obtained, with the City Restoration Act, that the federal government paid two dollars for every dollar spent by municipalities in buying, demolishing and rebuilding public housing, or selling to private individuals at a price below cost. of the areas previously occupied by unhealthy housing (note here, and this is also and above all for New York, that simultaneously with the movement of evasion from the city, an inverse movement arises for the new residential units built with federal aid in the rehabilitated areas of the center). Other examples of total or partial zoning plans required by city administrations are: Lafayette Park in Detroit for which Mies van der Rohe designed (1956) the reconstruction of an entire section of the city center taking into account the imperative green needs for a modern industrial city; the Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh designed in 1950; downtown Fort Worth, Texas, arch. v. Gruen, 1956; the Lincoln Center for the performing arts, in New York, which will have to be completed in 1961 and bring together the most important musical centers of the city. We must also remember the Boston Bay commercial and community center for which W. Gropius had made an important project (1953), not accepted, of a commercial, cultural and recreational complex reserved for pedestrians, with underground parking lots and functionally arranged buildings. Among the examples of intermediate shopping centers we remember the Southdale shopping center near Minneapolis (Minn.) Of 1956, arch. Victor Gruen, and the JL Hudson Company center in Detroit (1950), arch. Gruen and Hummeck.

In the cities, residential houses are often replaced by office buildings: huge constructions that occupy all the available space, perhaps with a marked tapering of the upper floors (the so-called wedding cakes) according to building regulations; these buildings, especially in recent years, have also become a model of modern architecture as large companies have felt the importance of the advertising effects of artistically valid buildings.

In particular we remember: Lever House, arch. Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, New York 1952; Alcoa Building, arch. Harrison and Abramowitz, Pittsburgh, 1952; the office building for Mellon National Bank and US Steel in Pittsburgh, 1952, arch. Harrison and Abramowitz. which runs without interruption for 41 floors and appears as the latest result of the module proposed by the Rockefeller Center in New York, also of great interest for the use of various types of steel not only externally but also for construction purposes; Manufactures Trust Company, arch. G. Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, 1954, New York, the first example of a bank outside the traditional scheme, all glass with the safe visible near the main door; Republic National Bank, arch. Harrison and Abramowitz and GF Harrell, Dallas 1954, all clad in steel like the Alcoa Building; the Equitable Life buildings, arch. Irwin Clavan and DP Higgins, etc., in the so-called Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh (1954), consisting of three metal-clad cruciform towers; the Mile High Center, arch. IM Pei, 1956, Denver, Col., whose glass cladding is supported by a mesh of aluminum and porcelain; Seagram Building, arch. Mies van der Rohe and Ph. Johnson, 1958, New York, etc. Seagram Building, arch. Mies van der Rohe and Ph. Johnson, 1958, New York, etc. Seagram Building, arch. Mies van der Rohe and Ph. Johnson, 1958, New York, etc.

To realize the vitality of modern architecture in the USA, just think of the exceptional work carried out by the architects who have most influenced modern architecture, such as Wright and Mies van der Rohe; only Le Corbusier has never worked in the USA (except for his collaboration at the UN secretariat building in New York), while it is also necessary to keep in mind the activity of numerous other European architects including E. Mendelsohn, Eliel Saarinen, A Aalto, R. Neutra, Pietro Belluschi, W. Lescaze and W. Gropius. The latter, called in 1937 by Harvard University to direct its Graduate school of design, organized there, assisted by M. Breuer, the only true theoretical school of architecture in the USA, notable for its exceptional number of high-level architects who managed to produce in a short time. From this school came Paul Rudolph, director of the school of architecture at Yale University since 1958, considered the most qualified exponent of young American architects. Since 1953, Gropius has been practicing freely with the TAC (The Architects Collaborative).

As indeed in the rest of the world, even in the USA there have been no aesthetic revolutions in recent years comparable to that of the years 1920-30; there has been a development above all of a technical nature linked, for example, to improvements in the application of glass walls, lifts, air conditioning systems, etc.; a development that naturally had its repercussions also in the expression of new architectural forms: think of the great success of the glass towers; one of the first is the United Nations secretariat building in New York (1950), which was also among the first examples, this time on an international scale – under the presidency of WK Harrison – of the coordinated planning system in which architects, engineers, decorators, landscape architects.

These glass towers can be considered the most followed architectural module in the USA; Mies van der Rohe has given the most valid examples (800 apartment houses, Lake Shore Drive, Chicago 1951; Seagram Building, New York, 1958, with Ph. Johnson). Among the most important works, from 1948 onwards, by FL Wright, founder of organic architecture and representative – at least until there was a regional distinction in American architecture (considering the architecture of the eastern regions under the influence of ‘Europe and that of the western regions of the Far East, a distinction which has now disappeared) – the “American” current par excellence, of the Middle West, we recall: the VC Morris store in San Francisco, Cal., 1948, where the spiral appears for the first time around a circular space; the tower for HC Price in Bartlesville, Okla., 1953-56; L’ Illinois, that is, the project (1956) for Chicago of a mile-high skyscraper that was supposed to contain 130,000 people, offering the possibility to tear down the entire city center and convert it into a park; and finally the Guggenheim Museum in New York, 1956-59, more fun (it is a concrete spiral conditioned by light and space) than a functional museum.

The low cost of steel, the great possibilities offered by the use of plastic materials and the development of technical applications, the impulse of engineers expert in the calculation of the most daring structures and avant-garde architects, give rise to what we could define an “experimental” architecture.

It was possible to build a house consisting of a single room all in glass and steel and another in brick for the services (by Ph. Johnson in New Canaan, Conn., 1949), more pictorial and agile than the house for E. Farnsworth by L. Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Ill., (1950), essentially consisting of glass walls between two horizontal planes supported by eight steel columns (with the services enclosed by wooden walls in a space at the side of the room principal). Buckminster Fuller’s research, begun in 1917, to enclose as much space as possible within a continuous envelope, resulted in the geodesic domes (1952 et seq.), One of the most conspicuous examples of those architectural amusements that have only been accepted in recent years by the general public also for their functional applications: think of the hangars of K. Wachsmann, to the dome-shaped house built (1953) by P. Soleri and Mark Mills in Cave Creek, in the Arizona desert, to the house for David Wright, Phoenix, Arizona, by FL Wright (1952). Still in the field of experimental architecture, what we can call “plastic architecture” should be considered: the aforementioned Guggenheim Museum in New York, by FL Wright, the arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, arch. M. Nowicki and F. Severud with WH Deitrick (1953-54), where two parabolic arches meet and support the steel cables on which the light roof rests; the house of the arch. EF Catalano in Raleigh, North Carolina (1955), with a hyperbolic parabola roof; the assembly building built (1957) for the Berlin international exhibition, arch. HA Stubbins and associates with the contribution of ing. Fred Severud, with the concave ceiling; the Kresge auditorium of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., by Eero Saarinen (1955).

In conclusion, it can therefore be said that in the USA we cannot identify a unitary orientation but at the same time the organic architecture of Wright, the rationalism of Gropius and Saarinen, the search for new forms through new techniques of B. Fuller develop, the architecture perfectly linear (inspired by the pictorial theories of Mondrian) by Mies van der Rohe, and an architecture that, almost inspired by the curvilinear houses of the first men, seems to express an attempt to escape from that parallelepiped structure that from time immemorial defines the buildings erected by man for his home.

In the USA, a high degree of quality has also been achieved by buildings of public utility, such as, for example, the schools of the architect. Maynard Lyndon, the shopping centers of V. Gruen, the industrial plants of the giant company of Alberth Kahn whose first example was the Dodge truck plant in Detroit, Mich. (1938), the boiler plant of the Illinois Institute of Technology, arch. L. Mies van der Rohe, Chicago (1950); the technical center for General Motors, arch. Eliel and Eero Saarinen, in Warren, Mich. (1946-55); Lambert-St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri 1953-55, arch. GF Hellmuth, M. Yamasaky and JW Leinweber, and the international airport. of Idlewild, Queens, NY, whose numerous buildings have been worked on by Eero Saarinen and associates for TWA, Raymond and Rado for KLM, Skidmore.

United States Architecture