Tag Archives: THOMAS PHIFER

MY TOP TEN FAVE ARCHITECTS

December 1, 2023

The Nancy and Rick Kinder Building at the Musuem of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, by Steven Holl. The architect’s inspiration came from the changing shapes of clouds and the trapezoidal shape of the property. (photo by Richard Barnes)

“Hey Anthony, who is your favorite architect?,” I am often asked.

I might reply, “Can there only be one fave? What is your favorite book or your favorite song?”

upper left: Casa Batllo, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo from stirworld.com); upper right: Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallee, France, by Ricardo Bofill (photo by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura); lower left: Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, by Le Corbusier (photo by Narinder Nanu); lower right: National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis Kahn (photo from metalocus.es)

For nearly all, there is no one favorite piece of music. For me, there is no one favorite architect. There are several dozen. But here I try, gathering a mere list of ten, in no particular order. Just a note: My list comprises living architects, so excludes favorites like Antoni Gaudi, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, and Ricardo Bofill.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl. Adjacent to the renovated museum, five enigmatic glass structures deliver various qualities of natural light into the interconnected subterranean galleries. (photo by Andy Ryan)

Steven Holl
Holl possesses an individualistic vision of architecture, where his signature watercolors establishes the conceptual agenda for each project. This New York–based architect blends complex building programs—both new structures as well as additions—with seemingly random sculptural shapes, while applying his mastery of shaping natural lightTime magazine called him “America’s Best Architect” for “buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye.”

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor. Impeccably crafted, the leaf-shaped, one-room structure explores a lemniscate, an algebraic, hyperbolic, inverse curve. (photo by Federico Covre)

Peter Zumthor
Often called the “architect’s architect,” there is no one else practicing today so often referred to as a “master” of his craft. Each project from the Swiss architect, the son of a cabinet maker—whether a home, chapel, or museum—is precisely uncompromising, often austere, and elemental, embracing the basics of architecture, e.g., shelter, light, materials. Zumthor suggests, “Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence.”

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands, by Rem Koolhaas. Two planar surfaces fold and interlock to create lecture halls, classroom, cafeteria, and plaza. (photo from architecture-history.org)

Rem Koolhaas
Dutch architect, provocative theorist, prolific author, professor at Harvard, and one-time filmmaker—Koolhaas brings gravitas and intellectualism to his practice. His work is known for its clarity in conceptual thinking, where a simple idea or diagram drives the development of an entire project, whether a house, library, or entire town. Time magazine put him in their top 100 of “The World’s Most Influential People.”

Iberê Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza. Soaring ramps give an iconic personality to this cultural institution and museum dedicated to the works of Brazilian Expressionist painter, Iberê Camargo. (photo from archdaily.com)

Alvaro Siza
Some buildings from this Portugues architect are quiet and minimal, like his Leca Swimming Pools—so integrated into the waterfront that one doesn’t even know where the buildings end and the land begins. Other projects combine invention, and poetry. “Every design,” Siza states, “is a rigorous attempt to capture a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances . . . the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”

Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan, by Tadao Ando. To avoid compromising nature, this museum burrows underground. Abstract openings of square, rectangles, and triangles march across the scenery and open to the sky. (photo from avauntmagazine.com)

Tadao Ando
Self-taught Japanese architect started out as a truck driver and professional boxer. Contrasting the delirium of such a past, Ando’s portfolio is the epitome of minimalism, exploring a profound nothingness. Nearly all his projects are composed of primarily two materials. 1) poured-in-place concrete—concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete roofs, and 2) natural light (yes, I view light as a construction material). Though many of his buildings appear to be the similar, celebrities flock to own an Ando design: Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kanye West, Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, amongst others.

Douglas House, Emmet County, Michigan, by Richard Meier. Restored twice since its 1973 completion, this 3,000-square-foot, waterfront residence is one of the most iconic Modernist homes of recent generations—and added to the National Register of Historic Places. (photo by Scott Frances)

Richard Meier
New York architect Meier (now retired with controversy) claims, “White conventionally has always been seen as a symbol of perfection, of purity and clarity.” He established his design language, for better or for worse, as the one of the most recognizable styles in history—a singular vision and personal brand of Modernism, stark white surfaces, and strict geometries. The formality and strictness in Meier’s work, though rigid and severe for some, provide an oasis of calm for others.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany, Herzog and de Meuron. A new glassy, 2,100-seat concert hall sits upon an 1875-constructed warehouse, rebuilt in 1963. The sweeping roof provides a plaza with views of the docks and city. (photo by Iwan Baan)

Herzog & de Meuron
Based in Basel, Switzerland, the partnership of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron approaches architecture as a deep dive into design philosophy, experimental methods, and technology. They believe their work “can meet the needs of our rapidly and radically changing world.” Each project is a reinvention of their creative process, with a fetishization of form making, textures, patterns, and materials—both traditional and radical.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, by Bjarke Ingels. This spiraling museum displaying watchmaking history contrasts the company’s traditional 1875 workshop building. (photo by Bjarke Ingels Group)

Bjarke Ingels
Many of Ingels’ projects—bold, exaggerated, and cartoonish—appear to have leapt off the pages of a comic book. In fact, he published a 2009 graphic novel entitled, Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. His firm of 700 architects, simply known as BIG, is one of the fastest rising companies in the global marketplace. The Wall Street Journal called this Copenhagen-based architect, “Innovator of the Year” for architecture and “one of the design world’s rising stars.”

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, by Thomas Phifer. Mute boxy structures clad in Carderock stone form an introspective campus the combines art, architecture, and landscape. (photo from thomasphifer.com)

Thomas Phifer
One of the lesser known names on my list, and not yet a Pritzker Laureate like more than half of my list, Phifer established his Manhattan studio after working for Richard Meier. Whether Phifer’s work comprises the self-proclaimed “light buildings that landed lightly on the land” or Thomas De Monchaux’s description of “a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place,” I would suggest that Mies’ “less is more” is the rule. If ever in the D.C. area, do not miss a visit to the Glenstone Museum.

Marques de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain, by Frank Gehry. Part of the winery complex, the 43-suite, steel and titanium hotel expresses a typical Gehry sculptural presence, adding some new colors inspired by wine. (photo from shrifreevs.live)

Frank Gehry
The stunning collisions of steel, glass, and stone from this Canadian-born American has made him the most famous living architect on the planet. Though often accused of aesthetic sameness—a kind of architectural one-liner—the mastery of his design vocabulary never ceases to impress. With the 1997 completion of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry’s single building attracted so many visitors to the area that the entire economy of the Basque region improved dramatically.

Along the lines of favorites, here are my favorite buildings in Los Angeles, favorite buildings of all time, and most breathtaking buildings of last year.

GLENSTONE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ART, LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE

September 13, 2019

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland (photo from thomasphifer.com)

To call Glenstone a mere museum is to misrepresent the power of how a visitor can experience art. The museum’s website posits, “Glenstone is a place that seamlessly integrates art, architecture, and landscape into a serene and contemplative environment.” And boy, it’s successful.

Glenstone blurs the lines between the three mediums. Know this: “Art” is not just a simple framed painting hanging on a gallery wall. At Glenstone, art is a relationship between several forces experienced as an enchanted journey through time and space.

The “Pavilions” forming the “Water Court” (photo by Anthony Poon)

For my soon to be published second book, I scribed, “Do I like playing a Beethoven piano sonata more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point and excitingly, no end in sight . . . Music, painting, writing, architecture, and so on. For me, it is all one artistic gesture—interconnected, intertwined, inseparable.”

Compression Line, by Michael Heizer,1968/2016 (photo by Anthony Poon)

Over the years, Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, billionaire business leader and philanthropist, amassed an incredible private art collection of approximately 1,300 works from the 20th and 21st century: Twombly, Kelly, Heizer, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Serra, just to name a few—the Usual (but incredible) Suspects. In Potomac, Maryland, Glenstone opened in 2006 with safe and somewhat predictable Modern buildings by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. The museum’s name is a mash-up of the nearby Glen Road and the indigenous Carderock stone.

Design drawing by Thomas Phifer and Partners

In late 2018, the museum entered the transcendental world stage with architect Thomas Phifer and Partners’ powerful composition of the “Pavilions” and “Water Court,” with landscape collaboratively designed by Peter Walker of Berkeley, California. Glenstone’s 230 acres transformed into a state of mind that balances art, sculpture, installations, design, nature, water, light and all good things. Glenstone challenges one of my favorite places on Earth, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York.

The Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, Braubunden, Switzerland Zumthor (photo from vals.ch)

Akin to the Minimalism of architect Peter Zumthor’s  Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland, Glenstone is dramatic and theatrical, despite its mute Pavilions. A dozen of them, each a single art experience, center around a sunken water garden. Who knew that saying nothing and being silent can say so much?  Here, an engaging and direct conversation occurs when a massive vertical wall of Cardderock stone meets the peaceful horizontal surface of reflecting water, while above is the infinity of a blue sky. Nothing more, nothing less, and yet, so much more.

Massive and poetic vertical surfaces of Carderrock stone-clad “Pavilions” (photo by Anthony Poon)

Even the museum staff are Minimalistic. Accompanying their drab grey cotton garb with pants cropped at the ankles, they each have a small name tag of slim horizontal chrome stainless steel. But the name tags remain blank!

The approach through broad landscape, the “Pavilions” in the distance like an enigmatic modern day Stonehenge (photo from glenstone.org)
Buried in nature, one comes upon the mystery Clay Houses (Boulder-Room-Holes), by Andy Goldsworthy 2007 (photo by Anthony Poon)

The overall result of Glenstone is a must-see, near-religious experience of Modern art, elemental architecture and the pastoral outdoors. Make a reservation; the museum only lets in a limited number of people per day.  And sorry, no photography allowed within the galleries.

© Poon Design Inc.