Arts My Five Favorite American Buildings
posted by February 15 at 11:50 AMon
1. The Egg, Albany, NY
I choose this in part, as I choose these all, for sentimental reasons. I grew up outside of Albany, and this is the first piece of architecture I remember noticing as architecture. It also, of course, is a giant sculpture. Designed by Wallace Harrison in 1966, the Egg—which houses two theaters, is made of poured concrete, and has virtually no right angles inside it—was completed in 1978. It is an early example of curvaceous, iconic architecture, and as the perfect foil to the bullyish towers across the way in the Empire State Plaza, it is is wildly underappreciated.
2. The Chrysler Building, NY, NY
I am simply a sucker for this sparkling thing. It is so naked in its ambition, so hopeful and yet so Darwinian, and so frozen in its moment, with its hood ornament eagles and radiator cap corners. I visit it every single time I am in New York, and every time, I can hardly believe it exists.
3. The First Congregational Church of Bennington, Bennington, VT
There are older churches and more grandiose statements by this same architect, but the delicacy and modest size of this creaky church, and the way its slightly-too-wide facade recalls a barn structure, always seem to me the purest distillation of the early protestant American spirit. Carpenter Lavius Fillmore designed and built this simple church in 1805-06, deriving it from an 18th-century American builder’s handbook adapting the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. Inside, it still has box pews, and its small, adjacent cemetery was full long, long ago.
4. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Whenever I see a show I love installed in a so-so space, I think, imagine this art at the Kimbell. This museum of cast-concrete vaulted forms, designed by Louis Kahn and completed in 1972, is the ideal museum, and the reason why is simple. It excels both in light and in form. Many museums can do one or the other, and certain rooms in certain museums can do both. But I’ve never experienced another museum so uniformly pleasing, giving such generous light and such nurturing form, inside and out, upstairs and down.
5. Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA
I realize this is an obvious choice. But every time I tried to boot it off this list, it kept coming back. This place is alive. It makes you feel you’re in on something, and not something that began recently and will fade away, but the electricity of long-term knowledge-gathering. I am surprised that a library should feel so electric. I am surprised that a building this glamorous should feel so substantial and loving. I knew I could trust this building when, after a death in my family, all I wanted to do was to ride up to its top floor, lean my head back, and look at the sky through the diamonds.