37¢ Modern American Architecture
Set of 12 Stamps
Issue Date: May 19, 2005
City: Las Vegas, NV
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: Serpentine Die Cut 10.75 x 11
The Guggenheim Museum is located across from Central Park in New York City. It was founded in 1939 as the Museum of Non-objective Art. Its permanent collection includes many modern works.
In 1939, the museum commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) to design the perfect space in which to view an art collection. Building the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum occupied Wright until its opening in 1959.
As a child in Wisconsin, Wright spent a lot of time playing with geometric blocks. He believed that this early play shaped much of his approach to design.
Wright studied at the University of Wisconsin, but did not stay to get a degree. Instead, he learned his craft by apprenticing to a builder and working under other architects. In 1901, he opened his own office.
Wright practiced “organic architecture,” designing structures that evolve naturally from their surroundings. During a 72-year career, he produced over 800 designs; about 400 of them were constructed.
The Guggenheim is probably Wright’s most well-known masterpiece. The building coils around a space topped by a glass dome. The plan allows visitors to view art exhibits as they slowly walk along a spiral ramp.
Often praised as the greatest art deco skyscraper, the Chrysler Building is easily recognized on Manhattan’s skyline. The Chrysler Building was built between 1926 and 1930 for William Chrysler. The auto manufacturer wanted a monument to his growing car company.
The architect, Brooklyn-born William Van Alen (1883-1954), had attended Pratt Institute and had worked for several New York firms. In 1911, Van Alen formed a partnership that became known for tall commercial structures.
Shining steel automobile icons decorate the building exterior. Chrysler had tested the alloy – a mixture of chrome, nickel and steel – to be sure that exposure would not tarnish its silver glow. Large metal hubcaps, giant winged radiator caps, and huge hood ornaments also adorn the building. Finally, a sunburst-patterned, stainless steel dome supports a needle-like spire.
Chrysler wanted his building to be the world’s tallest. After a rival building won the title at 927 feet, Van Alen had a 125-foot spire hoisted above the Chrysler dome to make it 1048 feet – and the world’s tallest structure. The Chrysler Building’s reach for the sky was surpassed the following year, however, by the 1250 feet of the Empire State Building.
Vanna Venturi House
Robert Charles Venturi built the Vanna Venturi House for his widowed mother in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia in the early 1960s. The house is simple in appearance, complex in plan, and rich in traditional elements.
The heart of the home, the chimney, is placed in the center. The house appears basically symmetrical, but some features, like the windows, are offset. On the outside, Venturi combined historic architectural elements like a gable, door, lintel, arch, and windows in a design that is plainly modern, yet also strongly traditional.
Robert Venturi was born in Philadelphia in 1925. His parents passed on to their son their own interest in architecture and design. In 1950, Venturi graduated from Princeton University with a master’s degree in fine arts. He worked under several architects before beginning his own practice.
Reacting against Mies van der Rohe’s principle that “less is more,” Venturi rejected the sterility he saw in International Style modernism. Instead, he declared that “less is a bore.”
As a teacher, writer, and architect, Robert Venturi encouraged the return of symbolism, historic features, and applied decoration to architectural design.
Architect Eero Saarinen designed the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Terminal building at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York City. Saarinen (1910-61) was born in Finland into an artistic family. His father was a well-known architect and his mother was a sculptor and a photographer.
In 1923, Saarinen’s family moved to the U.S. After high school, Saarinen studied sculpture for a year in Paris, then enrolled in the architecture program at Yale.
In 1947, Saarinen won a competition to design the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. His huge, simple arch became the famous “Gateway to the West.”
Saarinen’s greatest architectural work, however, was the TWA Terminal at JFK (known as Idlewild Airport at that time). The free-flowing structure is made from concrete reinforced with steel. Saarinen wanted “...a building in which the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel.”
Few straight lines exist inside or outside the terminal. The shapes of even small details, like the check-in counters, chairs, signs, and telephone booths, echo the building’s soaring, curving shell.
Saarinen died a year before the terminal opened.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
In 1987, Lillian Disney donated $50 million to build a home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Her husband Walt Disney had loved classical music. The project took 16 years to complete, required over 30,000 architectural drawings, and cost more than five times the original donation.
Frank Gehry won the competition to design the new hall. Gehry was born in Toronto in 1929. He remembers making “little cities” out of scrap wood as a boy. In 1947, his family moved to Los Angeles. Gehry studied architecture at the University of Southern California.
According to Gehry, the Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed from the inside out. He created a curving, symmetrical interior in Douglas fir, designed with the help of acoustic expert Yasuhisa Toyota. Seats were placed around all sides of the stage. It was important to Gehry that “the musicians could come on stage, feel at home, and hear each other,” and also that “the orchestra and the audience would have an intimate connection with each other.”
Interestingly, Gehry developed his plans with the aid of software used to design fighter planes. The resulting stainless steel exterior forms a stunning organic sculpture. Gehry’s work illustrates the artistic aspect of architecture.
860-880 Lake Shore Drive
860-880 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, is the address of two identical apartment buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. The rectangular, glass and steel structure of these 26-story towers was a radical design when they opened in 1951.
As early as 1921, Mies had dreamed of building a glass skyscraper. With the Lake Shore Drive towers, he finally realized his dream. After these, his gleaming high-rises went up in Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto, culminating in New York’s Seagram Building, designed with architect Philip Johnson.
German-born Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) never received any formal architectural training. He was apprenticed to architects while still a teenager and opened his own office in Berlin in 1912.
Mies moved to the U.S. in 1937. As director of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago for twenty years, he trained a new generation of American architects. His philosophy of “less is more” became the guiding principle of mid-twentieth century architecture.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s stunning, twin Lake Shore Drive buildings remain the ultimate expression of minimalist glass and steel design.
National Gallery of Art
In 1968, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., asked architect I.M. Pei to design a building east of the original, classic-style museum to house exhibits, a library, and offices. By this time, Pei had earned a prominent position in the architectural world.
Born in China, Ieoh Ming Pei came to the United States in 1935 to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. He opened his own firm in New York City in 1955.
Pei had to design the sharply angled building to fit the triangular shape of its site. The two main components of the structure are triangular in cross-section. They are joined by a concrete bridge and a triangular atrium. Light streams down through glass pyramids.
Although very different in style from the original museum, the East Building is faced with the same pink Tennessee marble found in the West Building. Where concrete was used, Pei had the cement mixed with the marble dust for a warmer color.
The National Gallery of Art’s East Building opened to the public on June 1, 1978. It is the most visited art museum in the United States. In 2004, the building was honored with the American Institute of Architects’ 25-Year Award for architecture of enduring significance.
Philip Johnson Glass House
The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Caanan, Connecticut, finished in 1949, is essentially a glass box with an exposed steel frame. It is an excellent example of architecture’s International Style.
The only solid walls enclose the bathroom. The rest of the interior is divided by low walnut cabinets. Johnson said, “It’s the only house in the world where you can watch the sun set and the moon rise at the same time.”
Philip Cortelyou Johnson (1906-2005) was born to a rich Cleveland family. With the help of his father, he became a millionaire before he finished Harvard. After graduation, he became director of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he introduced America to the streamlined, functional architecture of modern European architects.
In his thirties, Johnson returned to Harvard to study architecture. The Glass House, built to be his own home, was his master’s degree thesis.
By the 1960s, Johnson had begun to combine classical elements with modern design. The result was buildings like the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California (1980) and the AT&T Building in New York (1984).
Philip Johnson’s Glass House is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Yale Art and Architecture Building
The Yale Art and Architecture Building in New Haven, Connecticut, finished in 1963, is Paul Rudolph’s most famous work. The interior is a series of intricate, interlocking spaces – there are more than 35 different levels on seven stories. Huge concrete slabs bridge the hollow towers that contain stairs, elevators, and mechanical systems.
Paul Rudolph (1918-97) was born in Kentucky, a preacher’s son. In 1947, he earned a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard. He served as Chairman of the Architecture Department at Yale from 1958 to 1965.
To give the solid walls a distinctive texture, Rudolph ordered the workers to smash the ribbed concrete with hammers. The dean of the School of Art complained about the result, “...if you stumble into a wall you may end up going to the hospital with skin abrasions.”
The artists’ studios on the top floor were small and without the north light so valued by painters. The sculptors, who need space, were in a low-ceilinged sub-basement. (Both have since moved to other buildings.)
A Modernist architect, Rudolph combined massive forms with complex interior spaces. He designed light, elegant private homes, multiple family housing, and public buildings in a career that lasted fifty years.
High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, asked architect Richard Meier to create a memorable and unique building. The result is characteristic of Meier’s architectural style.
The museum is constructed of concrete with steel columns and frame, and is faced with Meier’s trademark – white, porcelain-enameled, steel panels. The architect said, “...for me, white is the most wonderful color because within it you can see all the colors of the rainbow.” The large, curved, four-story facade has a grid of huge windows that allow light to pour in.
Meier is known for creating structures that make bold statements. He was born in 1934 in New Jersey. After earning a degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1957, he worked with several architects. Meier started his own practice in 1963 by designing a home for his parents. Other commissions followed.
In 1984, the year after the new High Museum opened, Richard Meier became the youngest architect ever to receive his profession’s highly esteemed Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The High Museum is the leading art museum in the Southeastern United States. This museum welcomes about 500,000 visitors each year.
Phillips Exeter Academy Library
Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter, New Hampshire, finished in 1971, was designed by Louis I. Kahn. It has a brick exterior like the school’s other buildings, but there the resemblance ends. The entire library is load-bearing masonry, with the interior floors, walls, columns, and bracing made of reinforced concrete.
The powerful space of the central reading room is encircled by balconies of shelving which can hold 250,000 books. The seating can accommodate nearly half the Academy’s students. Study carrels line the perimeter of the building, where small windows at eye level can be closed by sliding wooden shutters.
Louis Kahn (1901-74) emigrated with his family from Estonia to Philadelphia in 1905. He showed talent as an artist at an early age, but wanted to be an architect. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and worked for several Philadelphia firms designing public housing before practicing on his own.
Buildings of Louis Kahn’s “Philadelphia School” style of architecture differ from the steel-and-glass forms of the International Style. Kahn used brick and poured-in-place concrete to develop an architecture that united modernism with the most enduring elements of traditional buildings.
John Hancock Center
John Hancock Center, also known as “Big John,” stands on prestigious North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It is a hundred-story, tapered skyscraper designed by Bruce Graham. The exterior is clad in black anodized aluminum with tinted bronze glass.
Tall buildings have to be strong in Chicago, the “Windy City.” Big John rests on caissons that extend down to bedrock as far as 191 feet below ground. Giant bracing made of square steel tubes crisscrosses the facade and carries most of the building’s weight.
Besides the Hancock Center, Graham also designed the Sears Tower in Chicago. Born in 1925 in Colombia, South America, Graham earned a degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948. In 1951, he joined the firm of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill where he became a specialist in high-rise corporate structures.
The Hancock Center opened in 1970. It contains both commercial and residential space, as well as many conveniences like a post office, shops, a supermarket, a day-care center, restaurants, health clubs, a swimming pool, and even an ice-skating rink!
In 1999, the John Hancock Center was honored with the American Institute of Architects’ 25-Year Award.