Tag Archives: EIFFEL TOWER

BEETHOVEN’S TENTH: IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION

January 4, 2019

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy, by Michelangelo, 1512

If Ludwig van Beethoven (here, here and here) composed a tenth symphony, would he have changed the world? Nearly all classical aficionados agree that Beethoven’s Ninth, his last symphony, is a perfect work of music. My intent of a ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’ is to ask this: What is beyond perfection?

What qualifies a creative work to be perfect? What defines a definitive work—a creation that ends the discussion, is agreed upon as the best, and even surpasses its own genre?

Beethoven 390, by Andy Warhol, 1987

The Ninth Symphony is not just music, just as Joyce’s Ulysses is not just a book, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel not just a painting, or Rodin’s The Thinker not just a sculpture.

Architecturally, there are projects throughout history that have become a definitive work of its building type. Here are just a few from each category.

upper left: Empire State Building, New York, New York (photo from chambershotel.com); upper right: Trans World Airlines Flight Center, New York, New York (photo from mimoa.eu); lower left: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France (photo from blog.massengale.com); lower right: Taj Mahal, Agra, India (photo by Olena Tur)

Skyscraper: Empire State Building, New York, New York, by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, 1931

Airport: Trans World Airlines Flight Center, New York, New York, by Eero Saarinen, 1962

Chapel: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier, 1955

Mausoleum: Taj Mahal, Agra, India, by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and others, 1632

Temple: Pantheon, Rome, Italy, by Apollodorus of Damascus and others, 126 AD

House: Falling Water (LINK), Mill Run, Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

Concert hall: Sydney Opera House, Australia, Jorn Utzon, 1973

right: Pantheon, Rome, Italy (photo by Kim Mason); upper right: Falling Water, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (photo from brandonarchitect.com); lower right: Sydney Opera House, Australia (photo from sydneyoperahouse.com)

These projects have evolved far beyond being a mere building. I am speaking of the monument. Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s Respect surpasses its label of pop song, to become a beloved anthem.

The judge of whether a work of art is a masterpiece or merely something wonderful (which is nothing to complain about) is time. The test of time proves that an idea, whether a building, a musical or a novel, will be more than something attractive or intriguing. Most great works, though accepted as incredible on day one, are rarely thought of as a perfect and ideal creative composition, until years, decades and even generations have honored it, as is the Bradbury Building. When completed, the Eiffel Tower was considered a disastrous work of architecture, protested by all to be demolished. Over time, it has become a world monument of beauty and grace.

Though beloved, this office buildings is not a work of art, Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco, California (photo by San Francisco Chronicle)

But works of excellence are not inherently perfect. We are all judges and we all have our opinions. San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid is considered by most observers to be the iconic San Francisco skyscraper, adored and honored by all. Yet, there isn’t a university architectural professor or notable architectural writer who will give this project any attention. They will claim such a skyscraper to be a trite design, pandering to the lowest common denominator.

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin, 1904, at the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (photo from joyofmuseums.com)

In the world of perfect creations—imagination, dreams and visions collide to generate a sensation unlike any other heroic artistic effort. When is that gift of talent given to a mere artist that might align himself with the heavens and the angels? Beethoven, this furious artist only wrote nine symphonies. Nine, only nine.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF NEW IDEAS

July 20, 2018

1887 to 1889: Eiffel Tower under construction (photo from eiffeltowerguide.com)

When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, it was criticized as the ugliest work of architecture and a horrific nightmare for Paris. Even prior to the completion of Gustave Eiffel’s iconic project—politicians, intellectuals, architects, and citizens banded together condemning the design.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France (photo from yallabook.com)

Calling themselves the Artists against the Eiffel Tower, they proclaimed, “We . . . protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk . . . all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream . . . like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”

These days, the beloved Eiffel Tower represents the pride of France, undisputed as one of the world’s most recognizable monuments, a marvel of engineering, and a landmark of architectural beauty.

Then a mere Yale undergraduate student, Maya Lin’s proposal was chosen from over 1,400 submissions. (photo from pdxmonthly.com)

One century later, the jury selected Maya Lin, only twenty-one years of age, as the winner of the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lin’s design immediately sparked artistic debates and fueled controversy about her lack of talent, youth, ethnicity, and gender. Rather than the typical memorial of soldiers carved out of marble celebrating victory, Lin’s design was somber, morbid even. An ambitious concept of abstract art, the young designer envisioned a long wall of black granite cut into the ground—a wound in the earth expressing the thousands of lives lost in this war.

Despite many challenges and negativity, her design opened to the public with universal fanfare and tears of gratitude. Twenty-six years later, The American Institute of Architects placed Lin’s design on their list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.”

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. (photo by Terry Adams/National Park Service)

Architects often deal with clients and the general public who might not embrace our creative visions. At least not at first. I am aware that not every design idea of mine is great. But I grumble here, because most people fear the newness of new ideas. The narrow-minded, the NIMBY’s, those who fear progress, and those with no ambition or imagination—all such members of this righteous audience stand ready to say no. They embrace a naive motto: if it looks different, it must not be good.

Basilica of Saint Denis, France (photo by Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Getty Images)
The Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China (photo by Songquan Deng / Shutterstock)

How do we explain to this kind of audience that we do know best? Regardless of an architect’s education and degrees, decades of apprenticeship and training, accolades and honors, media praise and client references, it doesn’t take much for a person to react to an architect’s presentation with, “No, nope, it’s not good.” Historically, this type of sentiment has been stated at the arrival of so many respected (later bestowed) works of architecture that has moved the needle of progress forward—from Gothic cathedrals to Chinese temples, from Frank Gehry’s masterpieces to heroic skyscrapers.

right: Flower Building, Prospect Place, London (rendering by Frank Gehry); left: 30 St. Mary Axe, London (photo by Creative Commons Attribution)

If you see a doctor and he says you have cancer, listen to the diagnosis and next steps. You are probably not smarter than your doctor. If you hire a lawyer, she probably has a better legal mind than you. Her experience has prepared her to be your best advocate. Pay attention.

Taegu Arena, Korea, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

If an architect proposes a new idea for a city park or a concert hall, an elementary school or a church—don’t have that knee jerk reaction, “I don’t get it. And I don’t like it.” Don’t be the establishment that proclaimed the Eiffel Tower as “monstrous, ghastly and hateful.” Keep an open mind to new ideas.

© Poon Design Inc.