The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.” – Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
The word ‘Architecture’ comes from the Greek ‘Arkhitekton’ meaning ‘chief builder’. Architects design homes, hospitals, office buildings, museums, libraries, bridges, structures. While their designs take into account safety and comfort, they should also adhere to three classic ideals of architecture: function, durability and beauty. Many of today’s architects also conceive buildings that conserve energy and help the environment.
Additionally they design things outside of architecture. Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe, for instance, created one of the 20th century’s most iconic lounge chairs: the Barcelona chair (1929).
In anticipation of World Architecture Day on Monday, today’s post gives a dozen fun facts about architecture:
- The base of the Great Pyramid in Egypt is large enough to cover ten football fields. Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone were cut, transported and assembled to create the 5.75-million-ton masterpiece.
- The idea of forming a complete military defensive line to protect China from invaders began when Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (221–206 BC), connected various fortifications built between the 8th and 3rd centuries. Construction of the Great Wall continued for over 2,600 years, longer than from the start of Christianity to today.
- Stone masonry mortar mixed with 10,000 egg whites of seabirds went into the building of Puente de Piedra (1608) in Lima, Peru. Dubbed the Bridge of Eggs, it still stands today.
- Beneath the streets of Cincinnati lies the largest abandoned transit system — about 2 miles — in the U.S. Begun in the early 1900s as an upgrade to the City’s streetcar system, the project was interrupted by WWI and cancelled in 1928 because of escalating costs and political infighting.
- During four decades in the 20th century, juries awarded 151 Olympic medals to original works in the arts — architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture — inspired by the concept of sports. In 1912 Eugène-Edouard Monod and Alphonse Laverriére of Switzerland won the first Olympic gold medal in architecture for their building plan of a modern stadium. After the London Games of 1948, however, the IOC decided to discontinue the arts awards; most of the arts participants were professionals not amateurs.
- The 1250 ft high Empire State Building (1931), a striking example of Modernist Art Deco design, was the tallest building in the world until 1971. Construction took only 410 days. In 2020 a ten-year retrofitting reduced the Building’s emissions by about 40 percent and increased its energy efficiency.
- Today the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa (2010) in Dubai at 2717 ft. It sustainably collects 15 million gallons of water per year that’s then used for irrigation and cooling systems.
- Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which opened in 1959, six months after his death at age 91. Wright prepared 700 sketches and six sets of working drawings to turn his vision “into an extraordinary sculpture of a building … that should be acknowledged as one of the most spatially beautiful International-style works of architecture.” (The famous or, according to some critics, infamous Guggenheim appears in many Hollywood movies: for example, “Cactus Flower”, “Three Days of the Condor”, “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Men in Black.”)
- In 2019 Bauhaus celebrated 100 years of design. First opened in Weimar by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus school brought together fine art, architecture, graphic design, and interior design into one movement whose radical influence lives on. “Bauhaus married functional design with aesthetic pleasure to create a modern art form that could bring beauty to everyday objects and beyond.” (Bauhaus artist/teacher Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) ranks in my top five.) Thanks to more than 4,000 Bauhaus buildings, many designed by German Jews who fled the Nazis in the 1930s, the city centre of Tel Aviv is a UNESCO-recognized site.
- China is home to seven of the ten longest bridges in the world, the first being The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge (2011) that’s an incredible 102 miles long (defining the word ‘grand’). The U.S. has two: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (1956) in southern Louisiana at 24 miles and running parallel to it the Manchac Swamp Bridge (1979) at 23 miles.
- While China also claims six of the ten longest suspension bridges in the world, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan at 2.4 miles is number one.
- The longest pedestrian suspension bridge is Arouca (2021) in northern Portugal: 1692 ft in length, suspended 574 ft above the Paiva river. SkyBridge (2019) is the longest in North America, at 680 ft and 150 ft high, offering spectacular views of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
Which architect’s work — new or old — impresses you? Please add your favourite(s) in the comments below. •
P.S. If you appreciate the work and influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, then you’ll enjoy reading Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Horan for a glimpse into his fascinating, unconventional life. Additionally, in his specific ideas about architecture and the pattern of his career Wright partly inspired the character of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand. (Her philosophy will determine your interest in reading, or rereading, her novels: “unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive”).