Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Bucket List

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
St. Augustine 

All too quickly it seems 2013 is coming to a close. The end of the year is a time when many people are taking stock of what they did or did not accomplish during the preceding twelve months. Ultimately, everyone’s goal is to have lived a life with no regrets. A common yearning is to see as much of the world as possible, to sail away from the safe harbor of the familiar, explore strange lands, and return refreshed and enriched. 

Many architects I know are prone to wanderlust, venturing on lengthy pilgrimages to see seminal architecture and places. Unlike my peers, I’m less enamored of traveling, the tribulations of which seem to increase ten-fold or more each time my wife and I embark on a trip. Regardless, I’ve journeyed enough to recognize the importance of overcoming my aversion to vacation hassles. As an architect, I know acquiring firsthand knowledge of my medium is far superior to looking at mere photographs of famous buildings. 

Accordingly, I’ve assembled a “bucket list,” an assortment of architectural landmarks I want to visit before I die.(1) This is a personal collection. It’s a useful gauge for me, motivation for leading a no-regrets life. It’s a means to achieving one set of goals I consider significant and meaningful.(2) 

In alphabetical order, here’s my list: 

The Alhambra
The last Muslim emirs in Spain (Nasrid dynasty, 9th century AD) built the Alhambra’s Islamic palaces on a strategic site overlooking Granada previously occupied by a fortress. In the centuries that followed, the Alhambra would subsequently see partial demolition and successive construction of new portions in various styles. It narrowly missed disaster when Napoleon’s retreating troops attempted (but failed) to blow it up, instead laying abandoned for many years. Ultimately, Spanish authorities declared the Alhambra a national monument, and the process of repairing, restoring, and preserving the complex continues today. 

It is the Alhambra’s layering of history and styles, its changes over time, and its organic adaptation to the mountainous site that are fascinating to me. 

The Court of the Lions, Alahambra (photo by comakut via Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

I previously blogged about how as a child I instantly became captivated by Fallingwater upon seeing a photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece for the first time, and how discovering it would set me on my life’s path. While all of the buildings and places in my bucket list are equally worthy, I think I would be most regretful if I did not check off Fallingwater before my time is done. 

Fallingwater (photo by Sxenko via Wikimedia used under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

Ise Shrine
The Ise Shrine intrigues me because of its radical simplicity and the antiquity of its architecture. It is simultaneously perfect and primitive, at once both ancient and new. Ise is re-built at enormous expense every 20 years as part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things. 

My sense is that Ise represents the most fundamentally Japanese architecture of all. If and when I visit Japan, what I find may prove or disprove my instinctive response to the images of Ise I have seen. 

Naiku, Ise (photo by N-Yotarou via Wikimedia used under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

Kimbell Art Museum
Because of the presence of some of his followers and former employees on the faculty(3), the work of Louis Kahn was highly influential at the University of Oregon during my time there in the early 1980's. I thoroughly studied his projects, ultimately concluding that the Kimbell Art Museum was truly the best expression of his elemental approach to architecture and the one Kahn building I have to see before I die. 

What I find most noteworthy about the museum was Kahn’s use of natural light as the primary shaper of form, as well as the palette of timeless and durable materials he employed, that together achieve an unrivaled sense of serenity and elegance.

Kimbell Art Museum (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Upon its completion in 1954, Le Corbusier’s Chapel of Notre Dame de Haut in Ronchamp was widely as regarded as a retreat from the modern movement, and as bafflingly peculiar and primitive. Viewed in the context of his entire oeuvre, Ronchamp was actually consistent with Corb’s idiosyncratic, complex approach to his art, and a “pure creation of the spirit.” Like many of his other works, it is in fact highly rational, meant to be experienced as part of a carefully arranged architectural procession. I hope to one day join the legions of architects who have made the pilgrimage to Ronchamp and experience its intense sculptural power firsthand. 

Chapel  of Notre Dame de Haut, Ronchamp (photo via Wikipedia by Valueyou used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Sagrada Familia
Every time I read or see more about Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia, the more spectacular it seems. The enormous Art Nouveau/neo-Gothic confection is already more than 130 years in the making, with a goal of completion by 2026 (the centenary of Gaudi’s death). Gaudi’s nature-inspired, thoroughly imaginative, and highly symbolic language of architectural forms and craft is entirely unique. 

 Sagrada Familia (photo via Wikimedia by Bernard Gagnon used under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

A recent segment on TV’s 60 Minutes further piqued my fascination with the Sagrada Familia. Click the link below to view “God’s Architect: Antoni Guadi’s Glorious Vision:” 

Sydney Opera House
Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House is universally regarded as one of the greatest architectural works of the 20th century. So powerful is its design, it is now difficult for anybody not to view the Opera House as an iconic symbol for the entire nation of Australia. 

The brilliance of Utzon’s competition-winning concept is balanced against the trials and tribulations it experienced during its protracted realization. I find the prospect of one day seeing the Opera House intriguing not only to experience its beauty but also to measure its success in the face of the hurdles it had to overcome. 

Sydney Opera House (photo via Wikimedia by hpeterswald under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

*    *    *    *    *    *

Having my architectural bucket list is all well and good, but the very fact it is a list is also its shortcoming. A precise itinerary connecting the dots on a map may fail to make room for the serendipitous and unplanned. A case in point is the grand tour of Europe I undertook between my sophomore and junior years of college. I had my list of architectural icons to see, but it was the revelations—the discovery of remarkable buildings unfamiliar to me—that would prove most rewarding. Nevertheless, my list provides me with a road map of sorts, a set of goals to reach for, and a sense of gratitude for the opportunities still awaiting me. 

What is your bucket list?

(1)   In addition to the buildings and places I include here, a few more also figure prominently on my bucket list:

a.      The Acropolis

b.      Chichen Itza

c.      Chrysler Building

d.      Hagia Sophia

e.      Henry Mercer’s Fonthill, Museum, and Tile Works

f.       Machu Picchu

g.     Various National Park lodges

h.      Robie House

i.       Taj Mahal

(2)    My complete bucket list includes much more than just visiting buildings:

a.      Remodeling our home and yard

b.      Flying in a WWII-era “warbird”

c.      Learning to speak Japanese

d.      “Simplifying”

e.      Reading more literary classics

f.       Making a difference/leaving behind something of value

(3)   Richard Garfield, Thom Hacker, Bill Kleinsasser, and Gary Moye among them.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good list! Hope you get to see them all.