Life is a Circus

How Architecture Reflects Our World

For more than a century, architecture has reflected the spirit of our times.

Just as the neo-Andean work of Freddy Mamani offers Bolivian culture and people a novel mode of expression, so architecture in the last 100+ years has reflected changes in the human condition and how we relate to the world around us. The work of the very best architects demonstrates how we respond to changing times and circumstances with boldness, creativity and humanity. 

Any list of the best architects in history shows a tension between two world views. On one side, you see architects inspired by and drawn to the influence of nature, while deeply concerned with serving the deepest human needs. A titanic figure in this regard is Antonio Gaudi, who as early as the late 19th century was creating truly iconic and singular projects such as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, which incorporate the forms and curves of nature with the architect’s unique soulful vision. Frank Lloyd Wright’s work throughout the early 20th century follows a similar path. Landmark buildings such as the Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City are informed by a strong vision, integration with the natural environment and forms, and a powerful spiritual impulse.  

The work of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century struck a counterpoint. Gropius was concerned with industrial means of production in the machine age and developed a unified architecture and design theory that attempted to create uniformity. Later architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson all followed this pattern, with projects such as Westmount Square in Montreal, the Seagram Building in New York, and Johnson’s Glass House. Skidmore, Owens and Merill, an architecture firm based in New York, has typified the drive to depersonalized architecture with projects like 1 World Trade Center, the John Hancock building in Chicago, and the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest skyscraper, in Dubai. 

In more recent years, architects like Frank Gehry (with his famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) and Montreal’s Moshe Safdie (who created the much-celebrated Habitat 67, among other projects) have reacted against the tendency to depersonalize and disconnect from nature with idiosyncratic, organic projects that once again place human needs at the center.  

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