Monday, June 9, 2008

America's Favorite Architecture

What is your favorite American building of all time? What architecture lifts your spirit and takes you to a new place? Is there some perfect expression of a church? Or a ball park? Or an airport terminal? What inspires awe in you?

Now there is the fun way to share your rabid opinions on the subject and help others find what you consider beloved. Vote for your “favorite five” of American architecture here. The American Institute of Architects polled their members and developed a list of all-time professional’s favorites. The projects that received six votes by members went on for further refinement to create an even more select list of America’s 150 favorite buildings.

It’s our turn to vote. It is a very hard choice. It’s like asking who among the many personalities that you know would you invite to a cocktail party. Why not everyone? Must I have a favorite? The beauty is in the mix.

Lists like this help us know what to go see. I thought I would have visited more of them than I have. I have been inside 64 of them. Here’s my top five:

1) Milwaukee Museum of Art designed by Santiago Calatrava – I have felt myself in the presence of genius expressed at this current moment twice in my life. Once was at the debut of Wynton Marsalis’ "Blood on the Fields" jazz opera, the other was when I entered this building. It is a masterpiece. Milwaukee residents should be proud to have commissioned the first example of Calatrava’s architecture in North America. If you go see it, don’t forget to watch the movie about the construction of the building. Like the construction movie for the Gateway Arch, it’s awe-inspiring!

2) Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel – this building looks exactly like what it is. A church for pilots. The seventeen spires are said to resemble a squadron of fighter jets shooting into the air. I took my children to hear the cadets sing Handel’s Messiah one Christmas in this exquisite building.

3) Lincoln Memorial – looking up at that big guy in the Lincoln Memorial…well… I can’t put it all into words. Probably because it gives me a lump in my throat. I guess it just makes me proud to be American. And great architecture inspires and becomes a backdrop for even more greatness… Marian Anderson singing there because she had been blackballed for being black and Martin Luther King declaring “I Have a Dream."

4) Jefferson Memorial – I don't know if someone from another country would be as moved by this one. Are they? The ideas are universal. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This memorial causes me to go silent. It brings out awe and wonder.

5) Golden Gate Bridge – Drop-dead, twelve-car-pile-up gorgeous. It’s so gorgeous, I think we know the bridge better than we know the bay. What was the visual shorthand for California before Hollywood and the Golden Gate?

It was hard to leave out the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial for creating a unifying monument out of a polarizing event, the United Terminal at O’Hare International Airport for communicating the romance of air travel, the Denver International Airport for the playful public art plus sheer speed and functionality (I can go from the park-and-go to the gate in 21 minutes), and Wrigley Field, which is just as mystical a place as everyone says it is.

I noticed so many of these projects were developed by architects who have been chosen as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects by their peers. Out of 80,000 practicing architects, only about 80 are selected to use the designation ‘FAIA’ after their name each year.

I went to see a friend be inducted as a Fellow. The ceremony was held in the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. While waiting for his name to be called I started to calculate the percentage of ‘fellows’ who had beards. 12%! Surely, that’s a higher percentage of beards than in the regular population. I think it helps an architect’s project list to be older and bearded. Pity the ladies then. Architects have it pretty good. How many professions are there where you get to do your best work after sixty?

One suggestion I have to improve the site is to make the list sortable by state so it’s easy to know what there is to see where you are. After voting, you can see how many votes your favorites received vs. everyone else favorites. What did you pick?

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