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Architecture - Overview - Modern Era

building soufflot american office

The emphasis on the place of human understanding and reason, on rational analysis, initiated by the Renaissance and Reformation, reemerged in the eighteenth century.

Enlightenment.

During the so-called Age of Reason, or Age of Enlightenment, scientific analysis of the structural forces at work in a building began to be modeled mathematically, and the strength of building materials such as different woods and stones were tested and recorded in statistical tables. A good example in which the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason overlap can be seen in the Church of Saint Geneviève in Paris, begun in 1755 by architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot. Returning to the perfected forms of the Renaissance, Soufflot used a plan based on a Greek cross, with four arms of equal length extending from a central rotunda capped with a dome. Heavily influenced by what he had learned on a recent trip to southern Italy to inspect and study the ruined Greek temples at Paestum, near Naples, Soufflot used rows of structural Corinthian columns inside the church, balancing the weight of the smaller domes over the arms of the building directly on these columns. Seldom in the preceding three centuries had free-standing columns been used—as in ancient Greek architecture—for true structural support. Moreover, the great central dome was supported by slender piers. Using his knowledge of the strength of materials, Soufflot made the entire building much more delicate and lighter in appearance than had been the accepted norm. When cracks began to appear in the dome piers, construction was ordered halted while Soufflot's computations were subjected to scrutiny. Overall, Soufflot's calculations were proven to be correct, although some strengthening of the building took place. The building was finished in 1790 after Soufflot's death, but such was the shift in ideology and patronage in those tumultuous years of the French Revolution that the church was desacralized and converted to become the Panthéon, a memorial to great deceased French military and literary heroes.

United States.

The nascent utilitarianism incorporated into the design of the Panthéon was carried to the newly formed Nineteenth-century drawing of the Panthéon (originally Church of Saint Geneviève), Paris, France. Constructed 1755–1790. During the Age of Enlightenment, attention began to be paid to different methods of structural support, one example being the freestanding columns Jacques-Germain Soufflot used in his design for the Panthéon. © ARCHIVO ICONOGRAFICO, S.A./CORBIS United States of America where the demands of commerce became the driving cultural force. The greatest and most innovative achievements made by American architects were not in churches, nor even in buildings to house representative government; in these they borrowed heavily from Greek and Roman and even Renaissance models. Instead their most innovative achievements were made in the design of the free-standing single family residence (as in the work of McKim, Mead & White in their early years, and in the career of Frank Lloyd Wright) but most recognizably in soaring office skyscraper towers. The first accomplishments were made in Chicago in the 1880s and 1890s in ten-and twenty-story office towers, but the lead soon passed to New York architects, who piled floor upon floor to create spires of forty and fifty stories. In an effort to attach a measure of culture and time-honored respectability to his world headquarters, Frank W. Woolworth instructed his architect Cass Gilbert to model his new fifty-five-story office building, to be named the Woolworth Building, on northern Gothic European guild halls. Although a marvel of applied engineering—from its massive caisson foundations extending to bedrock, to its steel frame clad in terra cotta panels, to its innovative elevator system, among scores of other technical innovations—externally the building is Gothic in style, artfully composed, like Gothic churches, with every line straining heavenward. Here, however, the aspiration is not for heaven, but for self-advertisement, aggrandizement, and profits. Woolworth called it a "Cathedral of Commerce." The apotheosis of the American office tower was reached in the soaring 102-story Empire State Building, 1929–1931, begun just months before the onset of the Great Depression. The tallest building in the world, it was not surpassed in height for thirty years.

American office skyscrapers became ever taller by the mid-twentieth century—sixty, eighty, and finally a hundred stories. These were proud towers, often showing little real concern on the part of patrons or architects for the impact on urban scale. They became symbols of American enterprise, and were first exported by American corporations around the world, and then embraced by developing countries around the globe in the late twentieth century. Even where the concentration of activities into narrow soaring towers made no practical sense—most The Empire State Building, New York City. Constructed 1929–1931. In the United States, most advancements in architecture were based on the societal need for copious office space, leading to structures that reached over a hundred stories into the air. The Empire State Building held the record for world's tallest office building for thirty years. © BETTMANN/CORBIS notably in the twin Petronas towers designed for Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, in 1996, by the American architect Cesar Pelli, to rise 1,476 feet or 450 meters—towers they became nonetheless, as symbols of national power and pride. Such dramatic symbols, proud, standing free in the open air, inescapable emblems of American cultural imperialism (in some viewers' eyes), proved irresistible targets for terrorists at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Damaged in 1993 by a bomb, the twin World Trade Center towers (1,368 ft., 417 m) were brought crashing to the ground on 11 September 2001, after terrorists used commercial aircraft as flying bombs. For the terrorists, the ideas represented by the towers were too loathsome to let stand.

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