Archive for the ‘brutalism’ Tag

Architecture of Snowbird, Utah

I’ve been to Snowbird a handful of times, and aside from the amazing terrain, powder snow, and views, I was very interested in the buildings scattered around the base and the mountain. These are period pieces in classic Brutalist style, conceived in the mid-1960s and completed in the 1970s. Despite the seeming mismatch of lots and lots of concrete and wood, they strangely fit into the landscape, avoiding the often unexceptional, derivative nature of architecture at ski areas. Now architecture is normally not what one thinks of when going skiing, but I had to pause and explore some of these buildings in closer detail and loved what I saw.

I’ll also say a bit about the snow, my visit was timed with a moderate snowfall, with up to 6 inches accumulating overnight, and since some areas were closed until the avalanche danger eased, there were plenty of fresh tracks to be found. The crowds were minimal, despite being on a weekend, and there was no waiting in lines. The weather even cooperated on my second day there, as the sun came out. It’s a steep mountain, with lots of high speed lifts, and I probably got nearly 20000 meters of vertical over the course of two days. Fun! Incidentally, I purchased a Mountain Collective pass, which has been a good investment this year, especially now that the snow returned to the West.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The buildings are Brutalist, with no attempt at hiding the modernist roots and the architecture in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. They reminded me of Louis Kahn, with the blend of concrete and wood, but are mixed in with plenty of dark, reflective glass. The master plan was completed in 1966, and the buildings were completed between 1971 and 1973, designed by Enteleki, Architecture, Planning, Research, and Brixen and Christopher architects (closed 2016).

The best building is probably the mid-mountain lodge, designed to withstand the elements, but also graced with wood beams that blend with the trees, and plenty of windows that allow for views of the mountains. Designed by Enteleki and completed in 1971, it looks clearly 1970s in the color scheme, but has weathered the 45 years very well. The entrance is a bit awkward though, with a ground level entrance splitting the lower level in half, and stairs lead up to the lodge level.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

The base tram terminal shoots out of the ground like a church, but is a simply designed, logical structure that expresses exactly what it does. It’s unadorned form following function.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

So even the distinguished architectural photographer Julius Shulman dropped by and took photos, it was that good!

At the top is the Summit at Snowbird, which opened on 26 December 2015, and is the least distinguished structure, resembling a bunker. The views from the balconies and from behind the reflective glass are amazing, but it stands out like a sore thumb on the summit of Hidden Peak. The restaurant and seating is nice, though, serving healthy food with a touch of class and even linen tablecloths! It does provide a necessary stopping point at the junction of the upper tram terminal and the Mineral Basin lift. This “entry column” evokes the concrete architecture of the other buildings, but the materials don’t quite fit in.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

And the logos and fonts, they evoke the 1970s as well, large and clean, with the Snowbird “triangles” logo imprinted into many of the structures. This is a great 1970s period pieceĀ and remains fresh even today.

An excellent page with more info and photos can be found at the Salt Lake Modern website.

 

 

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Louis Kahn’s Fort Wayne Performing Arts Center

This is one of Louis Kahn’s least known structures and his only theater, among an already small number of completed structures in the United States. Like many architects, he was a late bloomer, with numerous projects barely finished or under construction at the time of his untimely death in 1974. I suppose that he was one of the first starchitects, contributing buildings primarily on a grand scale, campuses, government centers, and museums. Today, forty years after his death, his buildings have lost none of their visual punch.

Completed in 1973 after over a decade in the planning stages, it’s the centerpiece of the Arts Campus in Fort Wayne. This is unmistakably Kahn, monumental, his way of “wrapping ruins around buildings” in his own words. In this structure, the plain, nearly unadorned facade of brick and concrete surrounds the theater inside. The front entrance is characterized by shallow arches, vaguely anthropormorphic in character, and the interior is livened by the sunlight coming in through the windows. His structures are nearly devoid of ornament, relying on simple geometric forms, circles, triangles, rectangles, arches, that contribute to a tension between being monumental and weightless all at the same time.

Front and side elevation

Front and side elevation

Front facade

Front facade

 

Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana, is one of America’s supreme built environments, in a rather unlikely place, located 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, Indiana. Over the past 70 years, there have been a string of distinguished buildings from the leading architects of the day, starting with the First Christian Church of Eliel Saarinen. In this small town of 44,000 is a treasure trove of civic and religious structures, many of them built in an agreement with the Miller family and their Cummins Foundation, who would pay the architects’ fees in exchange for a commission from their list of architects.

The town overall exudes Midwestern conservatism, no doubt a defining feature of Indiana, especially the southern part of the state. I perceived a bit of a Southern flavor as well, given that it’s south of the I-70, and within about an hour of Louisville, Kentucky, and two hours of Cincinnati, Ohio. And it was difficult to find a cup of coffee downtown.

I dropped by in mid-summer 2012, complete with oppressive heat and humidity, and crunchy brown lawns. The best of the buildings are the churches, I visited the three ‘historic’ ones, by Saarinen senior, Saarinen junior, and Harry Weese. Each of them is in a different style, and rendered even more amazing by the more recent McHouses nearby, typical of American suburbia. The Saarinens couldn’t be more different in style, and Weese puts a human scale to Brutalist architecture, and is a very underrated architect. Weese loves concrete and brick, and he did wonders with the First Baptist Church (1965), just as he did with his more recognized works in the DC Metro and Chicago. The outside is reductionist, almost windowless, with the clear elements of a church. The interior is a surprisingly warm space, with wood ceilings, and still plenty of natural light filtering into the sanctuaries. Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church (1942) is very large, occupying an entire city block, a sprawling complex with his signature brickwork and Craftsman-like woodwork. The building must have caused a stir when it opened, as it was unlike anything in the town at the time, and still dominates the area as the tallest structure downtown. Saarinen junior’s North Christian Church (1964) soars tall, with a 200 foot spire topping an asymmetric floor plan. The interior is subdued, with this filtered oculus that didn’t quite work the way it was intended, but still hovers high above the space in a thrilling way.

First Christian Church (1942)

Door detail, First Christian Church

North Christian Church (1964)

Oculus, North Christian Church

Downtown has stuff that one would never imagine today, for example the post office (Kevin Roche, 1970). This is no ordinary post office, it’s a rugged, brawny structure reminiscent of the Daley Center in Chicago. The main newspaper office (The Republic) is a clean, glassy block. Eero Saarinen’s 1954 bank building (Irwin Union Bank and Trust) is accompanied by the skylit addition (Kevin Roche, 1973) that could have been mistaken for 2003. The Saarinen building was probably the most distinguished bank structure since Louis Sullivan’s banks. And there’s a whole lot more, including buildings by Pei, Pelli, Stern, Meier, Venturi, Birkerts, distinguished public art, and all sorts of creative designs for schools, bridges, fire houses, and other civic structures. There’s also Saarinen’s Miller House, which is hidden away (but I think I’ve figured out where it is) and is open for tours, though they were sold out the day I visited.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust, with the 1973 extension on the left, and the original in the background

First Baptist Church (1965)

Interior, First Baptist Church

Still, given all the wonderful buildings in town, it’s hard to say how much this enhances the daily lives of its residents and workers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.