Friday, February 10, 2012

Building architectural landmark

Architecture is the product of the minds of some of the most creative thinkers. It has played an indispensable role in the growth of cities.

In the last 33 years since its inception, master architects from various countries have been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. For the first time, a book introducing all of the laureates and their works has been published, entitled “Architect: the Pritzker Prize Laureates in Their Own Words.” The Korean version came out last month.

It presents all 33 recipients of the prize, and captures, in pictures and their own words, the essence of their key works. Organized by architect, each chapter features approximately four to six major works that represent a range of skills, materials, and methods, as well as a variety of structures including museums, libraries, transportation hubs, hotels and places of worship.

The text, gathered from diaries, interviews, articles, speeches, and notebooks, and provided by each architect, illuminates works and enlightens on topics such as influences and inspirations, personal philosophies and aspirations and the future of architecture. The book also includes 700 stunning photographs, blueprints, sketches, and computer-aided designs representing major works.

Architecture plays various roles in our society, fulfilling the needs of the people, communities and organizations.
“The role of an architect is service. You are a servant of the community. You are, in a way ‘a handyman,’” said Kevin Roche, Irish-American architect and the 1982 Pritzker laureate.

There are important messages for the future of architecture in the book as well.

“Two issues that I believe are particularly important in the future growth of cities: the role of public spaces and the quest for more ecologically responsible architecture,” 1999 Pritzker winner Norman Foster of the United Kingdom said.

Architecture also has the power to lift a city’s cultural status to new heights.

Take the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Owen Gehry, a Canadian American 1989 Pritzker Prize winner based in Los Angeles, Calif. Gehry also designed the Guggenheim Museum, Weisman Art Museum, Dancing House in Prague, Art Gallery of Ontario, among others.

Inaugurated in 2003, the hall has played an instrumental role in promoting the resident orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In an interview with PBS, Esa-Pekka Salonen, former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said, “Everyone can now hear what the L.A. Phil is supposed to sound like.”

Status of local architecture

Scanning through the book, one of the questions at the forefront of a Korean reader’s mind may be why there has never been a Korean winner in the list of laureates of the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Korea is yet to produce a winner of one of the most coveted prizes in the field, while there have been four Japanese laureates. Does this say anything about the level of the nation’s architecture?

An architectural landmark serves as a symbol of a city — like the Opera House in Sydney or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But when it comes to Seoul, one may have a hard time pinpointing the definitive masterpieces constructed in modern times in the nation’s capital.
There are no Korean architects or buildings in this book, but it can provide helpful lessons for future generations.

Some have just started to gain international recognition, like Cho Min-suk, the designer of the Korean Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The 46-year-old has emerged as one of Asia’s foremost architects, known particularly for combining “Koreanness” and modernity. Many of Cho’s buildings are in Korea but some of his temporary structures have been seen abroad, such as the Air Forest in Denver, Colo. in 2008 and the Ring Dome in Milan and Yokohama.

Some of the Asian architectural works mentioned in the book are the Beijing National Stadium, designed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. It was a joint venture among architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2001.

The book is the result of an editor-architect collaboration.

Ruth Peltason is an editor and writer. She runs Bespoke Books, an editorial studio specializing in the development, editing, writing and design of books on cultural arts. Grace Ong-Yan is an architect and an architectural historian. She received her master’s degree from Yale University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.

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