Everyone has a list of favorite buildings but some selections carry greater authority than others. To compile 100 Buildings, architect Thom Mayne polled 40 of his fellow practitioners and educators for their choice of the most significant structures of the 20th-century. They are listed in order of popularity (votes are tallied in back) and each gets a spread with an image and drawings. Destination Architecture is the third, pocket-sized spinoff of the Phaidon Atlas of 21st-Century World Architecture–a volume large enough to block a charging elephant. All these productions suffered from the same two flaws: the authors are anonymous (full disclosure: I contributed 50 entries to the first edition) and the emphasis on contemporary production ensures that the selection goes out of date quite quickly. As Oscar Wilde remarked: “it is dangerous to be too modern–one becomes old-fashioned quite suddenly”. Phaidon’s digital edition of the atlas can be easily updated, but it is a sloppy production, studded with errors.
One could dispute some of the choices in 100 Buildings–Aldo Van Eyck’s former orphanage, now being repurposed, is questionable– but the expertise of these architect-teachers is beyond question. For every famous landmark by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe there’s a less familiar selection. Seven are located in or near LA, so it’s easy to start comparing your impressions with those of the professionals, and you can make your own list of must-see buildings around the world. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building in Buffalo was wantonly destroyed in 1950, and the Glasgow School of Art recently succumbed to two devastating fires. The others survive intact and many are open for public tours. I’ve visited 94 of them and hope I’ll live long enough to see the remaining five. Nearly all of these buildings were daring experiments that still have the power to shock. And they provide an inexhaustible resource for students and the most adventurous architects of the 21st century.
Destination Architecture is much more compressed: half a page with one small picture and a few lines of description on each entry, and some of the choices are puzzling. Jinhua Architectural Park, an hour’s train ride south of Hangzhou, is an architectural zoo of follies by trendy practioners which appeared to be abandoned when I was last there, yet it rates eight pages. Yansong Ma’s early pavilion outside Beijing is located in a gated community that is closed to the public, and was constructed so badly that its architect has surely disowned it. As a guidebook, Destination Architecture is of little use, but it does include some projects to add to a better researched list.
Author: Michael Webb
Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.