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Civilizations are often identified by their architectonic relics, as architecture is one of humanity’s most visible and long-lasting forms of expression. The most celebrated architects are renowned for pushing the boundaries of their profession and disrupting the status quo with their designs. These talented creators not only conceived some of the most innovative buildings in the world, they continue to inspire future generations to do the same.
Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2016)
Zaha Hadid, the great dame of architecture, ‘Queen of the Curve’ and founder of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), was an Iraqi-born British architect who spent her career pushing boundaries, both social and artistic. She was a pioneer of her time as she was the first woman to have won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize and RIBA Royal Gold Medal. In addition, Hadid was honored as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in Queen Elizabeth II’s 2012 Birthday Honours List for services to architecture. She is renowned for gravity-defying geometric designs that elevate uncertainty to an art; and her buildings often appear as if from a sci-fi film, conveying a sense of mobility and freedom. Her proposals were so innovative and complex that she struggled to win commissions for many years. But as technology caught up to her imagination, she became a revolutionary force in British architecture and her soaring futuristic structures have sparked imaginations and reshaped skylines around the world. Some of Hadid’s more notable works include the MAXXI: Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome (2009), the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games (2011) and the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan (2013).
César Pelli (1926 – Today)
Internationally acclaimed for designing some of the world’s tallest buildings seen today, Argentinian-born American architect César Pelli is widely revered as one of the 20th century’s most preeminent and influential architects. During his early career in the 1960s and ’70s, Pelli gained considerable hands-on experience designing high-rise buildings at various leading architectural firms in Los Angeles. There, he contributed to the conceptions of the futuristic Trans World Airline Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and the corporate modernist American Embassy in Tokyo. In 1977, he established César Pelli & Associates, now Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, and his work became distinguished for being both structurally expressive and powerfully connected to local culture and habitat. Rather than conforming to a certain style, Pelli instead believes every building should reflect specific characteristics of each project such as its location, construction technology and purpose, creating a stunning aesthetic that actively participates in the cultural identity. One of Pelli’s most recognized works, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was completed in 1998 and remained the tallest structure in the world until 2004. It was celebrated for mirroring the country’s high-tech ambitions and economic growth while incorporating motifs from Islamic art into its glass, steel and concrete façades. Additional works by Pelli include One Canada Square in London (1991), regarded as London’s first skyscraper and the UK’s tallest building until the opening of the Shard in 2010; and the Torre de Cristal in Madrid (2008), Spain’s tallest building to date. His efforts have been recognized in a number of ways including 12 honorary degrees, nine published books and more than 200 awards for design excellence.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959)
With a prolific career that spanned more than 70 years, influencing architectural designs across the U.S., Europe and Asia, Frank Lloyd Wright is celebrated among the finest architects in the 20th century and is widely considered to be the greatest American architect of all time. Wright achieved a distinctly American style of architecture that starkly contrasted with the elaborate Victorian homes that prevailed in Europe and the U.S. at the time. Employing only locally available materials and unstained, unpainted wood, his revolutionary designs featured one-story homes with low pitched roofs and open floor plans where rooms flowed together naturally in an uninterrupted space. His ‘Prairie Houses’ highly appealed to the domestic needs and tastes of modern families and more than 50 were constructed between 1900 and 1910, the most prominent being his own residence in Spring Green, WI, he named the ‘Taliesin.’ After spending some years in Europe and Japan, Wright returned to the U.S. shortly before the stock market crash of 1929, influencing him to develop new, more affordable designs known as ‘Usonians.’ Similar to his Prairie homes, an Usonian had an open floorplan, often without a formal living room, displaying the shift in American culture towards a more informal lifestyle. Architectural commissions slowed greatly during the Great Depression, leading Wright to establish the Taliesin Fellowship, an immersive architectural school taught at his own home. While he devoted himself primarily to residential architecture, Wright has designed many distinguished commercial and civic structures including Midway Gardens in Chicago (1914), Florida Southern College in Lakeland (1945) and the esteemed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1959).
Philip Johnson (1906 – 2005)
For more than 50 years, Philip Johnson was one of the most influential figures in American design and architecture, having played a significant role in defining what is seen today as modernism. Johnson started his career as a curator of the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, where he and architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchock curated the Modern Architecture: International Exhibition. The duo coined the term ‘International Style,’ introducing Americans to a radically modern display of contemporary European designs embracing a minimalist look often with the structures foundational elements as part of its aesthetic appeal. His first work, and perhaps his most important, was his own home; the iconic ‘Glass House,’ completed in 1949 in New Canaan, CT. Now a National Trust Historic Site and museum, the innovative residence was designed with walls of glass boasting an exposed steel frame and level roof. Johnson went on to create a number of distinguished works including the New York State Pavilion for the 1964-65 New York’s World Fair and the stunning Crystal Cathedral in Los Angeles (1950). Shortly after Johnson was awarded with the first ever Pritzker Prize in 1979, his style took a dramatic turn. He designed the AT&T building in New York (now the Sony building) in 1984, which became famous for its decorative details and ornamental features, revealing Johnson’s transition to postmodern architecture. Although Johnson formally retired in 1989, he continued to influence numerous architectural designs acting as a consultant.
Frank Gehry (1929 – Today)
Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry has been headlining architectural news across international platforms since he established his practice in Los Angeles back in 1962. Throughout his career, he has been honored with several prestigious awards including a Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts, more than 25 national and regional American Institute of Architects (AIA) accolades and a Pritzker Architecture Prize for a collection of works that features one of his best-known buildings, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (1997). It was once dubbed ‘the greatest building of our time’ by fellow architect Philip Johnson. The revolutionary mass of shimmering titanium encapsulated Gehry’s style of Deconstructivism and demonstrated how form didn’t always need to express function. To facilitate his nearly gravity-defying proposals, he adopted technology intended for aerospace design to develop cuttingedge architectural modeling software, eventually founding Gehry Technologies. His distinguishable style was born while remodeling his own residence in Santa Monica. By surrounding the existing bungalow with industrial materials, like chain-link fencing and corrugated steel, he caught the attention of the architectural world, effectively launching his career. For more than 50 years, Gehry’s ingenuity has been called upon for countless notable projects including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (2003), the Dancing House in Prague (1996) and New York by Gehry, his very first skyscraper, completed in 2010.
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