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Paintings: Murals in Modern Architecture

Archives of American Art
Exhibition Announcement : 1 p. ; 9 x 13 cm.

80c Modern Architecture single

National Postal Museum

The Elements of Modern Architecture

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
The poster celebrates am exhibition of modern architecture, designed by the MARS group, held at the New Burlington Gallery in London, from January 12th to 29th, 1938. Central image, resembling an abstracted hourglass, consists of gray and blue solid geometric shapes linked by a black linear element. Surrounding the image are words pertaining to the architecture exhibition. At top in blue, tan, and black lettering: NEW ARCHITECTURE / EXHIBITION OF; across the central image, in various orientations: M / THE ELEMENTS OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE / A / DESIGNED BY / MARS GROUP; below, in lines of alternating black and tan text: NEW BURLINGTON GALLERIES / BURLINGTON GARDENS W 1 / JANUARY 12TH TO 29TH 1938 / 10 A.M. TO 8 P.M. ADMISSION 1/-.

Lego Architecture Studio Brings Modernism to the Play Room

Smithsonian Magazine

lego patent

The patent that ignited the dreams of generations of architects

Lego bricks have been inspiring generations of future architects since they first hit toy store shelves in 1949. For any kid (anyone really) with even the slightest predisposition toward building, Legos represent an incredible opportunity to create anything. I’ve probably wasted days of my life sitting on the floor amidst piles of tiny plastic bricks, scouring through the thick piles of our carpeting to find the one small piece that would make my design perfect, which inevitably would elude me until one of my parents had the ill fortune to step on it. The possible permutations of the snap-together blocks were limited only by my imagination and the number of blocks on my carpet.

Decades later, my architectural career may be in remission, but I still love Legos. In 2008, the Danish toymaker decided to capitalize on such life-long goodwill, targeting a new product at architects, recovering architects, and those interested in architecture. The Lego Architecture Series gives the brick-obsessed the chance to build their own small-scale replicas of iconic works of architecture from around the world – from the Empire State Building to the Imperial Hotel. Recently, Lego took their interest in architecture even further with the debut of The Lego Architecture Studio, a new set for a more mature demographic that gives users the tools to make their own unique contribution to the Architecture Series.

The first architecture sets were inspired by the work of Adam Reed Tucker, who started practicing architecture –sans Legos– in 1996. After the events of 9/11, Tucker started building Lego models of iconic skyscrapers as a means to help educate the public on the design and engineering of skyscrapers.  Why Lego? “I thought… the brick as a medium could be kind of whimsical to offset the intimidating nature of architecture,” Tucker told Smithsonian in 2010. As he started to exhibit his works, the massive, detailed designs soon caught the attention of Lego, who brought Tucker aboard to develop what became the Architecture Series.

lego villa savoye

“The biggest challenges of the LEGO model construction – which took more than 15 versions to reach its final state and included the help of most experienced designers from the LEGO team – were they pillars and the complex roof design. At first I constructed the pillars from 1×1 round bricks, but they always seemed oversized. In the final version…I used blades from LEGO lightsabers….” – Lego artist Michael Hepp, statement from the Villa Savoye instruction manual (images: LEGO, Wikipedia)

Unlike his previous projects, Tucker’s collaboration with Lego resulted in small –really small– models cleverly constructed from some of the smallest and simplest pieces Lego makes. The sets aren’t exact Lego-built replicas, but artistic interpretations created through the medium of plastic brick. Every design is instantly recognizable – a testament to the artists and designers tasked with translating stone and brick to plastic brick. Despite their diminutive size, the surprisingly expensive sets manage to capture the distilled essence of the each structure.  The Rockefeller Center model, for example, is just a small, abstract mass of 19 shapes. Yet it’s still Rockefeller Center. The smooth, thin tiles used in the Lego version somehow evoke the art deco urban space with minimalist aplomb. But the Architecture Series is most successful at capturing modernist designs, such as Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929, above image) and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951, below image). Along with the assembly instructions, the extensive books that accompany each set provide a little background on the miniature masterpieces, elucidating their historic importance and notable features.

lego farnsworth house

“Farnsworth House is a structure that seemed to have been designed using only ordinary LEGO bricks, lending itself perfectly for exploration as a potential model. The challenge may not seem so obvious: straightforward design and basic LEGO elements, what else could you ask for? However, there are two not so obvious challenges even with a seemingly easy build, namely those of scale and proportion.” – - Lego artist Adam Reed Tucker (images: Lego and Farnsworth House)

This isn’t the first time that Lego have tried to attract a more professional, design-savvy user.  The Architectural Series traces its origins back to 1962, when Lego’s popularity was rapidly increasingly and, in an effort to expand the line, designers created a new type of brick –thin “plates”– that made it easier to construct detailed models. The plates were a success and can still be found in most Lego sets today, but the “Scale Model” line was phased out a few years later. Looking back at their old kit-of-parts, Lego says, “it seemed to match the spirit of the age; where modernist architects were redefining how houses looked, and people were taking an active interest in the design of their dream home.” Perhaps that optimistic times are returning. The new Lego Architecture Studio is a sort of modernist update to the Scale Model series that Lego hope will educate and entertain amateur builders –and perhaps even professionals– of all ages.

lego architecture studio

The new Lego architecture studio includes 1210 Lego bricks and an inspirational guidebook filled with 272 pages of tips, techniques, features, and exercises endorsed by leading design houses. (image: Lego)

Before they went into full production, the monochromatic Architecture Studio was tested and endorsed by noted architecture firms from around the world: REX architecture, Sou Fujimoto Architects, SOM, MAD Architects, Tham & Videgård Arkitekter, and Safdie Architects. The set consists of 1,210 pieces and accompanying user guide – an architectural crash course with contributions from the participating firms — designed to help the Sunday morning modernist learn more about concepts like space, section, scale, mass, symmetry, modules and repetition. Color, history and ornament are basic architectural principles as well, but like the Modernists who inspired the series, the Architecture Studio abandons those ideas in favor of studies in pure form and planning principles.

“Architects very often start designing ‘in negative’: it is about designing space where people live or work. You can design spaces and how they relate to one another by perceiving the Lego bricks as empty space.” – Excerpt on “Space and Section” from the Architecture Studio Guidebook (image: Lego)

While the fundamentals are there, a lot of the fun seems to be missing. The affordable, egalitarian multicolored blocks beloved by kids and adults have been replaced with expensive, refined model-making kits that are targeted more toward collectors than kids, and that when built likely won’t be destroyed and reused as part of some other far-out creation, but will sit on a book shelf and collect dust (and I write that as someone with a Villa Savoye on his book shelf collecting dust). It’s more text book than toy box. The beautiful set is, to be sure, a must-have for collectors, but it seems to me that the best way for aspiring architects and designers to learn about architecture isn’t to design efficient, austere forms, but suburban homes with with lasers, UFO landing pads, castle turrets and a wind-mill thingy:

Asadabad (Iran): View of Architectural Remnants Integrated in Modern Construction [graphic]

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Finding aid available in the Archives Department and on Internet

- Handwritten Notes on blueprint reads, "in Asadābād."

- Additional information from Finding Aid reads, "Subseries 4.7: Photo File 7(2 vols.) "Sasanian Architecture," Subseries 4.7.1: Vol.1, Image No. 39 (Negative Number: 2378). In Asadabad. Re-used temple blocks."

Members' Penthouse, Museum of Modern Art

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Modern villa

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Architectural History of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1969

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. (2009). A guide to Smithsonian architecture. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Groundbreaking for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden occurred in January, 1969, although legislation supporting a museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art was passed as early as the 1930s. Latvian immigrant Joseph Hirshhorn donated his extensive modern art and sculpture collection, along with the funds to build the museum. Hirshhorn stated that he wanted to repay the United States for what it had done for him, afforded him opportunities that he would not have been afforded anywhere else in the world.

The modern building design was met with controversy from those who opposed a building on the National Mall that was so stark opposite the existing buildings. It stands on the site of the original Army Medical Museum.

The design of the Hirshhorn Building subscribes to the modern architecture notion that "form follows function." Architect Gordon Bunshaft was chosen to design the building, and being an art collected himself, he had ideas about how contemporary art should be displayed. Circulation and flow were very key elements in the design, as were interior, windowless galleries to display those works that are light sensitive.

The perfectly geometrical cylindrical building was built using precast concrete mixed with crushed pink granite. The building is elevated, sitting atop four large pillars thus leaving the large plaza open for displaying sculptures and for visitor enjoyment. The circular fountain that was installed became one of the museum's key features. There is only one window in the entire building, a panoramic view window that faces the National Mall.

The outdoor Sculpture Garden was envisioned in the plan since the beginning, presumably because Joseph Hirshhorn displayed most of his sculptures on the outside lawn of his Connecticut home. The museum opened to the public in 1974.

A history of architecture, by Russell Sturgis ..

Smithsonian Libraries
Vols. III-IV, by A.L. Frothingham, have imprint: Garden City, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1915.

Modern Music

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Modern Consciousness

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Modern Florida

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Modern Head

Smithsonian American Art Museum

A sculptor's architecture

Archives of American Art
Pamphlet : 22 p. ; 17 x 13 cm. Published by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.
Printed on title page verso: Issued for distribution at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, New York City, 1913.
Discusses Raymond Duchamp-Villon's facade which was exhibited at the Armory Show.

Photoconstruction as Bricolage

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Architectural History of the National Museum of History and Technology (National Museum of American History) , 1958

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. (2009). A guide to Smithsonian architecture. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Construction of the National Museum of History and Technology began in 1958. It was the first building to be built on the National Mall since 1923 when the Freer Gallery opened. Following the museum's ideals of modern technology, the building was to be built with modern architectural features, as opposed to an architectural revival style like all of the previous Smithsonian museums had been built in.

The sleek and modern five story building is perfectly rectangular, and was built using Tennessee marble blocks. According to then Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael, the idea for the design was that the museum should be an exhibit vessel, not just a pretty building. Chief architect Walker O. Cain of the architecture firm Kim, Mead, and White described the building as "so disarmingly simple that I think it sits well with neo-classical buildings all around it."

The museum sits on a broad platform base, and boasts modernist shadow cornices. There are very few additional architectural elements, keeping the building simple and modern. Parking entrances were skillfully hidden by greenery. In 1980, the museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American History.

Modern Steel Carving

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Self-Reflection at the Museum of Modern Art

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Modern Builder's Guide

National Museum of American History

Ancient and Modern Egypt

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Oral history interview with Robert Venturi, 1991 June 1-July 20

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 156 pages

An interview of Robert Venturi conducted 1991 June 1-1991 July 20, by Peter Reed, for the Archives of American Art Philadelphia Project.

Venturi discusses his childhood, education and early career; travelling to Rome; his relationships with Louis Kahn and Vincent Scully; writing "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture"; teaching at Yale University; his partnership with Denise Scott Brown; projects such as the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London, the house he built for his mother, the Guild House and the Seattle Art Museum; and architect/client, architect/contractor relationships in contemporary practice.
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