The Argentinean blog Ombu Architecture recently posted a wonderful animation that shows off, in alphabetical order, some of the world’s most influential architects and their greatest works. “The ABC of Architects” begins with Alvar Aalto and runs all the way to Zaha Hadid, bouncing through the list in a playfully minimal style.
In the animation, each building disappears almost as quickly as it appears, but by reducing them to their most basic elements, the buildings become instantly familiar. When the video ends, don’t be surprised if you find yourself starting all over again.
The largest book I own is the 20th Century World Architecture: The Phaidon Atlas. It’s 13.5 by 22 inches. Amazon indicates that its shipping weight is 18.2 pounds. The cardboard carrying case with handles helps. So yes, that’s a lot of architecture. “The most outstanding works of architecture built between 1900 ad 1999” means 757 buildings to the publisher, though some of your favorite buildings may be missing. But you get the distinct sense that if Phaidon had produced a more comprehensive volume the world may have run out of paper. Those on offer are, of course, excellent.
Any comment about the selections is simply going to layer my cherry picking on top of that of the “expert industry panel with input from over 150 specialist advisors from every geographic region” that determined the book’s contents. So before getting to that part of the orchard, an overview. One interesting conceit is that all of the buildings in the book are still extant (find your Imperial Hotel in some other book) and even accompanied by coordinates of longitude and latitude, which might be practically useful if you happen to have a GPS and a native porter for carrying the book.
The buildings within are organized by regional groupings whose representation plays out around the way that these things normally do: about half of them are European, although more-frequently-unnoticed architectural continents aren’t quite glossed over. There are 72 pages on South America and 52 in Africa. The atlas doesn’t stop at that. Each subsection includes a breakdown of projects by local as opposed to foreign architects, which largely displays the ebbing of European global design hegemony. Additional early charts illustrate the movements of architects: There’s of course an influx to the US and the UK in the 1930s and 40s, but otherwise a riot of lines of intriguing origin and destination.
It’s difficult to detect a curatorial bias in terms of styles or years. Europe’s strongest decade was the 1930s. North America and Africa boast the largest relative number of buildings from the 1950s and 1960s. Asia shows the greatest comparative strength in the 1980s. Aalto, Breuer, Le Corbusier, Mendelsohn, Van Der Rohe, and Wright lead the pack in individual selections represented; no surprise there. Some entries stretch beyond the linear “building”. New Delhi and Brasilia are represented along with a few master plans that seem worthy of recognition even if their constituent structures had varied designers, such as Potsdamner Platz in Berlin or EUR in Rome. It’s difficult to argue with these grand inclusions on any categorical ground.
Looked at in a certain way, the human environment is a kind of massive delivery system for critically useful information.
It gives us information about obvious concerns, like where we are, where we need to go, where we might find food, where to look ou…