Mike MJ Harris

Summer of Architecture


Sometimes by design, or chance, or some beautiful combination of both, a topic threads itself through various parts of your life for a short period of time. This summer it was architecture - through a work trip to Chicago and a holiday to Germany I got to experience some iconic buildings on two continents often with similar themes or indeed the same architect.

Skyscrapers of Chicago

The windy city is where the first skyscrapers was built and is renown for it's architecture and architects. When I asked on twitter for recommendations the Chicago Architecture Centre came up regularly mainly because it's a top attraction but also because they are a client of Tessitura (an arts ticketing and CRM system) who were organising the conference we had travelled for.

Chicago city skyline

Whilst the visit to Chicago was work based we were lucky to have a few days before and after the conference to explore. Took the river boat tour organised by the Chicago Architecture Centre through the city where you can see a whole range buildings and skyscrapers. The city was altered dramatically by the great fire of 1871. Impressive feats of engineering followed such as reversing the flow of the river and also the amazing forward planning of Daniel Burnham.

The Architecture Centre is housed in an impressive Mies Van der Rohe skyscraper. Mies' career started in Germany where he was famously director of the Bauhaus in the early 30s - which leads me on to my second trip of the summer.

100 years of Bauhaus

This year was the celebration of 100 years since the creation of the Bauhaus. There are a number of exhibitions, refurbished houses and events happening throughout Germany to mark the anniversary and I decided to spend some of my summer holiday traveling through the key areas. This included visiting Weimar to visit a new museum, eating at the Kornhaus restaurant and visiting the Masters' houses - made famous by Lucia Moholy's photos. The highlight was staying in one of the student rooms in the refurbished Bauhaus building in Dessau.

Bauhaus dessau

This iconic building was built to Bauhaus designs when the school move from Weimar in the 1920s. The structure was even more impressive that I'd imagined with clean, clear lines everywhere, a beautiful flow to the layout and a sense of peace. The student rooms were fitted with furniture from the school and each had an iconic curved balcony.

Away from the Bauhaus there was so much more architecture - from the stunning rebuilding of Dresden through to the more classical buildings in Weimar. One house that was unexpectedly impressive - the Haus Hohe Pappeln in Weimar. This was build in 1907 and was a complete work of art which the architect, Van de Velde, designed from the inside out with an eye to function. He also chose the colours and designed the interior decoration. The look and feel reminded me again of Chicago and the work of another famous architect...

Frank Lloyd Wright

In Chicago at the turn of the 19th Century Frank Lloyd Wright was starting to make a name for himself. During our trip we took the chance to look round his house and studio and the world famous Robie house (see pic). Stunning. Again there was the focus on design, function, how a person felt as they moved through the house, how the light worked and where children could play.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House

Looking further

Historical discriminations mean that major accomplishments are by often by white men - for example the ones referenced in this post. The world is changing and opportunities are open to a wider demographic. This article lists some of the key female Chicago architects. Also in the past women (and others) achievements weren't recognised. This talk at the RA was ncredibly interesting about the photos of Lucia Moholy and their impact on the Bauhaus story.

Summer of Architecture and beyond

This is a small taster of some of the sights of the summer. I learnt a whole lot about architecture, design and so much more - and it was so interesting to have many common threads weaving through both trips. Happy to share thoughts and ideas and provide what tips where I can - just drop me a message. See below for some books and articles that I found helpful.

The more you learn the more you understand how much more there is to learn. On the wishlist I want to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, visit Tel Aviv again with an eye on the Bauhaus designed buildings and also learn more about famous non white male architects. Even on that front I'm lucky - getting to swim regularly in the swimming pool Zaha Hadid designed for the London Olympics.

Appendix - Reading Material