Archive for the ‘midwest’ Tag

Des Moines Art Center

A distinguished group of architects contributed to this medium-sized art museum in the Midwest, which includes additions by I.M. Pei (1968) and Richard Meier (1985). But I’ll concentrate on the original structure, one of Eliel Saarinen’s later designs, completed in 1948. This building has the signatures of Eliel Saarinen’s buildings, warm stone, and an undefinable style. It’s not Art Moderne, or Art Deco, or Art Nouveau, or International Style, but is uniquely Saarinen Sr. For those of you who have visited Cranbrook or his churches, this one stands out as an Eliel Saarinen building. The exterior is Lannon limestone, quarried next door in Wisconsin, alternately rough-cut and smooth, with careful attention to detail. His sweeping lines and calculated asymmetry are evident here, as are the protruding bricks interrupting the horizontality, lending a subtle three-dimensionality to the exterior walls. So he manages to achieve an understated, yet individual result. ┬áThe use of decoration is minimized, instead the textures of the stone become the basis of decoration. The entryway is a masterly series of gentle curves that draws the visitor inside, emphasized by the sparse use of horizontal lines around the vestibule. Like all of Saarinen’s structures, the refinement and quality is really appreciated with a closer, rather than cursory, look.

Front entrance, a mix of glass, smooth stone, and brickwork

Another view of the main entryway

Courtyard entrance detail

Courtyard, with Pei (left) and Meier (right) additions


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