by Alex Marga
Seattle’s skyline is full of various types of buildings, new and old. These particular buildings hug a courtyard on Pine Street & 4th Avenue.
When we go through our day, passing through building after building, we are constantly bombarded with the walls, floors, doorways and windows around us. Whether we are having dinner at home working in an office building, our surroundings take on a form of emotion that either connects us to that place or pushes us away.
Buildings have emotions built into the blueprints. Each component is thought through hundreds to thousands of times, whether it’s the shape of the building, or where to disperse the sprinklers on each floor. While each part is important, it’s usually the little things that matter the most to both the audience and to the architect.
We take advantage of various things in a building: light-switches, stairs, sinks, windows, doors, and more. But there comes a time when we really see what we use and appreciate it. That’s the art of architecture.
San Franciscan architect and real estate developer Don Bragg has been in the business of buildings for 25 years, working on indoor pools, homes, office buildings and Burger Kings. Over those years he has discovered his tastes in buildings and practiced them on his own designs.
“I consider architecture as an art form first and foremost,” says Bragg. “I like the holistic approach of the design of a building.”
A simple choice to do stone work versus woodwork for a home can be a deal breaker for potential buyers, but putting too much artistic thought into something can cause other problems too.
“You want these things that are on these buildings to have an artistic representation, but you don’t want the building to look haphazardly [sic],” says Bragg.
The Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington rests in the sun at the base of the Space Needle. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Experience Music Project (EMP), Frank Gehry’s elaborate building in Seattle, Wash., is one such building that receives criticism for its unusual design. With multiple slabs of brightly colored metal overhanging the glass door entrances on each side, and its place next to the iconic Space Needle, the EMP is not one people flock to for inspiration. According to
The Harold Washington Library, located in Chicago, Illinois, is often criticized for its over abundant homage to various types of architecture. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.
writer Bunny Wong, this building is “everything from ‘a multicolored blob’ to ‘open-heart surgery.’”
Other buildings, like the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, Ill., create a different type of criticism: pretentiousness. “Neoclassical references collide with a glass-and-steel Mannerist roof; throw in some red brick, granite, and aluminum… and you’ve got way too much architecture class for one day,” writes Wong.
Bragg believes that the best type of architecture is one that can combine each component with ease. “Despite differences between different parts [of a building], it should at no point forget about itself,” he says.
Some of the most famous buildings tend to be ones that stick to one style. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France remains famous for its elaborate ironwork, and the Louvre museum, also in Paris, showcases an elegant glass pyramid that plays with the eyes when lit up. Both keep a consistent style and are praised for their iconic images.
But when it comes to average architecture, each person has his or her own preference. “I always like when they put stone on the wall,” says Bragg, who praises his own house for being an interesting piece of architecture.
While the actual building is a piece of artwork, to make a functional part of that building into a piece of art is a feat of its own.
“Whatever component is designed to be a part of a building must be artistic,” Bragg says. That means every light switch, every doorframe, and every side of the building must be designed to look pretty.
The fire escape, for example, has a specific use: to quickly exit a building on fire. However, the incorporation of the iron or steel bars on a building – traditionally brick – creates an interesting contrast to the often-drab metal-and-glass buildings of modern times.
This fire escape, located in Portland, Oregon, has been painted white to match the white bricks on the building. People use the fire escape as a balcony, plant holder, or extra storage rather than its intended use.
“When we design buildings, there are entire indoor [fire exit] corridors being planned alongside the building,” says Bragg. “But in San Francisco most buildings that are six or seven stories have fire escapes.” The choice to leave almost obsolete objects on a building is purely an artistic choice, but one that reflects the style of that building.
There’s a cultural implication for certain pieces of architecture, alongside the aesthetics of it. Stained glass windows are reminiscent of cathedrals and the Renaissance era, while fire escapes are a reminder of tenement houses and neighborhoods.
Whether it’s a specific component of a building, or just the style that it fits into, architecture resonates with everyone in contact with the building. It can bring up good memories and bad ones, it can make you feel uncomfortable or completely in your element, and it can make you wonder about the world or not at all. Without even you knowing it, architecture is quite possibly one of the most important elements of life.
Architecture by Woody Allen
Famous neurotic director Woody Allen is an architect-phile. Finding the beauty in even the most down and dirty places, Allen tends to romanticize the art of buildings and place by making them characters in his film. Well, not characters in a traditional sense at least. Here are five brilliant examples of architecture in Woody Allen films.
1. Paris, France (Midnight In Paris, 2011)
Paris is one of the most photogenic cities in the entire world. With a history of brilliant architecture and the romance of the various colors and style coming together as one, it’s hard to find a bad picture of the city. So, during the opening credits of Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris, he decides to let the city show itself.
2. Rockaway, New York City, New York (Radio Days, 1987)
The story of Radio Days relies heavily on the setting: as Allen tells the story of “his childhood” (a fake version, but one that doesn’t seem to be too far off from the truth), he illustrates the memories from the Rockaway in New York City. The way he describes his neighborhood for the first time becomes an important piece of the plot.
3. Beverly Hills, California (Annie Hall, 1977)
It’s the beginning of the end of Annie Hall when Alvy (played by Allen himself) and his girlfriend Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) head to Los Angeles for Christmas. While this example is not one of Allen’s moments of praise for architecture, it does illustrate his taste and dislike for the sunny West Coast versus his beloved New York City.
4. New York City, New York (Hannah And Her Sisters, 1986)
Holly (played by Diane Wiest), one of Hannah’s sisters in Hannah and Her Sisters, is on a date with an architect. Well, she’s more of a third wheel of a date with an architect. As they drive through New York City at night, the three characters discuss the beauty and elegance of various buildings and why they stand so gracefully next to some that are not so beautiful.
5. Manhattan, New York City, New York (Manhattan, 1979)
Nothing screams New York City more than the opening of Manhattan. As Allen attempts to kick-start his story in the perfect manner, black and white shots of the Manhattan district of New York City roll on, all set to the music of “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. The entire scene is so elegant that despite not even mentioning the buildings, Allen introduces them like characters to his plot.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rome, Italy (To Rome, With Love, 2012)
Because the film hasn’t come out yet, it’s not fair to add it to the list just yet, but already from the preview we can tell that Allen is sure to make the audience fall deeply in love with Rome.
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