I love you Building – Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2014 — 29 Comments

It’s Valentine’s Day and that means this is the day to stand out in front of the world and let anyone and every know just how much love is in your heart. Since I am the elder statesman in the studio and I am surrounded by young single people (at least where I sit), I am a bit on a Valentine’s Day island. Sure, they can one up me on just about every other thing (like going out at night) we are going to keep the Valentine’s Day celebrations on the down-low. I did, however, ask everyone to tell me what their favorite building was …. the one that they truly loved.

[cue the sexy love building music]

Brion Vega Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa

Michael Malone – Brion Vega Cemetery, San Vito d’Altivole, Italy.
Architect: Carlo Scarpa completed 1969-1978

Not really a single building but more a garden with building like objects.  One of Scarpa’s few ground up commissions, it is an exquisite lesson in architecture telling a story through metaphor.  An abstract and personal take on death and the world beyond told through beautiful objects and spaces in service to memory and detailed to delight the living.  The recurring motive of the interlocking rings speaks to love and eternity and their knitting together of two people, two places, two states of being two understandings of the cosmos.


Amsterdam Orphanage by Aldo van Eyck copyright CCA Mellon Lectures

Ryan Thomason – Amsterdam Orphanage, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Architect: Aldo van Eyck completed 1960

A beauty not in the mystic and distant sense, but in the attainable and present sense. A beauty of youth, of conviction, of place, and of occasion. A beauty that could shift the center towards the collective. While skin may wrinkle and fashions come and go, a beautiful idea remains as vibrant as the moment it was created.


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Frank Gehry

Peter Joe – The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Vizcaya, Spain.
Architect: Frank Gehry completed 1997

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain is a real gem, it has a very organic flow within the landscape set against the backdrop of a more contemporary and tradition grid of the city.  I have always admired the way the buildings skin, the titanium panels, beautifully compliment the environment that it surrounds. While the titanium skin mirrors its surrounding landscape, at the same time it etches out its own identity by violating the rules and being the opposite of the building that surround it.  It complements its surroundings and stands on its own.


Pantheon by Apollodorus of Damascus

Morgan Newman – Pantheon, Rome, Italy.
Architect: Apollodorus of Damascus Completed 126 AD

2000 years old.  Still standing.  Simple plan. Amazing space. Much bigger than you think it would be.


National Building Museum Paul Pascarelli

Paul Pascarelli – National Building Museum, Washington D.C.
Architect: Montgomery C. Meigs completed 1887

Built before the advent of structural steel and poured in place concrete, it is constructed of 10’ wide masonry walls and wrought iron roof trusses. Openings in the roof allow for air circulation from vents in the base of the building up to the roof openings providing natural air circulation for the comfort of occupants. Despite the heaviness of its construction, it carries an air of fine detailing as can be seen in the exterior articulation of the fenestration, the corner columns and the wrap around frieze depicting the Civil War. On the inside there the interior column details and Renaissance style colonnades serving as the perimeter circulation.

A building that was almost demolished for the expansion of Judiciary Square, it is now recognized for its historical significance and I find it appropriate to be utilized today as our country’s National Building Museum.


Le Corbusier Sainte Marie de la Tourette

Audrey Maxwell – Couvent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, Lyon, France.
Architect: Le Corbusier completed 1956-1960

I met my first architectural love in the summer of 2003 during a whirlwind tour of European architecture. We traversed six countries and visited legendary 20th C buildings by the likes of Aalto, Mies, Gaudi and Siza, but it was a hillside monastery by Corbu that ultimately stole my heart. I wrote in my journal about the moment the building became visible through the trees: “The effect [was] overwhelming and immediate. I found myself suddenly small, recognizing the existence of something greater.” It took my breath away. Ten years later, I’m still convinced it was love at first sight.


Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor

Ezra Loh – Therme Vals, Graubunden Canton, Swizterland.
Architect: Peter Zumthor complete 1996

One of my favorite buildings is the thermal baths in mountain village of Vals, Switzerland. It is one I hope to someday visit and has long been a project that has fascinated me for its local history, location, and its powerful composition of natural light, materiality, and one of nature’s most important elements – water. From those who have experienced the baths, it is said to be a multi-sensory experience as you move through  the different rooms  constructed from slabs of the local stone quartzite taken from below the site. I especially like the architect’s narrative that relates the building to a rectangular stone mass that when carved and chiseled away, creates the building’s interior. It’s a simple concept, but its charm and complexity lies in the detailing expressed in the modulated joint assembly of the massive stone walls, slivers of natural light that creep in from above, and the sequence of carefully controlled views as you move through the building. All of which are timeless characteristics I believe any architect can fall in love with.


Ben van Berkel Electricity Substation

Bob Borson – Electricity Substation (50/10KV), Amersfoot, Netherlands.
Architect: Ben van Berkel UNStudio completed 1989 – 1993

Okay – confession time. This isn’t really my favorite building although I do really like it and it is an important building in the architectural consciousness of the man you’ve all come to know and love as Bob Borson. I was going to pick Couvent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette but since someone else selected it, I thought I would try come up with another significant blip along the line of my architectural consciousness. I discovered Ben van Berkel and this Electricity Substation in an issue of El Croquis back in the early 1990’s. It was the first time I had really ever dialed into the possibility of what an architect could do. I know that sounds incredibly naive, especially since 25 years old at this time and had been out of architecture for a year. I can distinctly recall thinking that this project could have been a nothing. It is an un-manned facility, it didn’t need to be anything special, but here it was – it was amazing!! This was the building that flipped the switch in my brain that anything and everything can be designed. I will acknowledge that as far as shape making goes, I still find it quite evocative, but that’s not why it’s I’ve included it on this list.
Do you have a building that you love, that is significant to you? What building flipped your architectural switch on?

Happy Valentine’s Day building, I love you.

Bob AIA signature


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  • Shannon Campbell

    My favorite building is Westminster Abbey in London. I went on a whirlwind high school choir and band performance tour to Europe last summer and saw many gorgeous buildings, but none of them quite compared to the emotional resonance Westminster had for me. I just immediately fell in love with the building. 🙂

  • Kevin Brown

    It’s rather a hero than a valentine, but the building I’ve always admired immensely is the Palazzo Strozzi. On the other hand, Sainte Chapelle is a beloved interior.

  • C’mon. Fallingwater. Only building to actually bring tears to my eyes…err…some dust from the falls must have gotten me.

  • Paul Scharnett

    Sagrada Familia. I don’t think I need to explain this one much, since it is well-known. But I will tell you why I love it so:

    While this building still stands yet unfinished, it is a testament to time, collaborative effort, nature, slight insanity, and ingenuity as architectural directors. The Sagrada Familia speaks volumes about Gaudi’s understanding of the natural world and his approach to architecture as its culminating point. The illusion of the forest opens the mind to understand that the grotesque is sometimes the most beautiful when one grasps its complexity and power. His architecture is not swayed by the International Style or the new and boisterous design paradigm–no, it adheres to no common set of rules, but that which Gaudi believed nature intended. I could go on for days…

    In any case, I love that building. Love it.

  • Kitlond

    Firstly I’ve just found this blog (it came up when googling Winchester Cathedral of all things) and I’m really enjoying it. Secondly, although I’m not an architect, I love buildings and what turned me on to buildings more than anything else was the books in the school library. Although, like many small boys, I loved castles at an early age it was seeing pictures of all the different amazing buildings around the world in the school’s library books that got me going. I don’t have a favourite building, but the first building I loved was the National Theatre in London by (I think) Sir Denys Lasdun. It’s very controversial, half the country loves it and half hates it. What I love about it is the wooden shuttering that was used to give the concrete texture, I love the multiple terraces and levels which make the experience of moving around the building and in and out of it such a pleasure. An early memory is stepping outside during the interval of a school theatre trip and seeing the floodlit dome of St Paul’s Cathedral further down the Thames. Finally I like the way the building works as a whole and yet you can read it’s structure, the fly-towers of the two main theatres from the outside.

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  • TX Architect in LA

    Bob, it is kind of sad that almost everyone in your office picked a European building. This shows me that they still teach European architecture when there are such great gems here in the USA.

    For me, I think I am torn between the British Art Muesum at Yale by Louis Kahn or the Rare Book Library by SOM again at Yale. BAM struck me walking into the use of natural light against the concrete along with the wood. So simple yet so complex. Walking into the RBL is amazing. The way the light shown through the exterior stone is shocking and then to have the glass book enclosure so close to your touch but you cannot touch it is amazing.

    I also have to mention one other great architect that I admire his architecture. He was Gehry before Gehry. Bruce Goff. I had the privilege to meet Joe Price (think Price tower by FLW) and walk into his home out here in California. It was designed by Bruce Goff and finished by Bart Prince after his death. What an amazing house. Every little detail figured out.

    • Susann Stone

      My favorite building is the Salk institute in La Jolla and I am from Europe… Maybe it has something to do with fascination for the things that are far away? Not sure.

  • As a teenager my (now) husband and I used to sneak around the exterior of Richard Meier’s Douglas House, perched high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. We were in awe of this simple yet artfully engineered box on what other’s might term and unbuildable location. The house was built to appreciate the view yet still hidden in nature from the road. Each time we go home to Michigan, we make a pilgrimage to drive by this house… still love it.

  • kArno

    For me it would be “Church on the water” by Tadao Ando. It was my first year in architecture school at UH, and it was in the Architecture History class from Prof. Burdett Keeland that I did learned of the name Tadao Ando. This was the first slice that came onto the giant screen in the auditorium and it was a complete silence for awhile because Professor Keeland didn’t say anything. Can’t remember how long it was but at that moment I was lost and drawn onto the beautiful relationship between the lines, squares and the semi-circle; especially, the semi-circle because in First Year Studio we weren’t allowed to use the circle, semi-circle, or the curve because they are very hard to use correctly! So, Mr. Ando was my hero until I found Mr. Meier 🙂

  • Kevin Keller

    The building that got me into architecture isn’t anything world renown, it is my childhood home. It was done by a local firm in my area at the turn of the 20th century. Its a Georgian Revival that has very carefully selected (and unusual) details. I didn’t really appreciate the home until one day in the basement when I was about 8 I found the construction drawings rolled up in a tube. I became obsessed with them and their precision. From that moment on I was hooked on architecture. Its one of the only remaining homes in the area from the early 1900s as it seems to be a display of wealth for new residents to buy old homes, tear them down and replace them with cheap versions of shingle style homes.

  • Thorncrown Chapel (E. Fay Jones) is mine – I’ve still not made it to Arkansas to experience it in person, but there’s something about the serenity it projects – the way the structure appears so delicate and in tune with the woods surrounding it. Even just by seeing photographs it is one of those buildings that just feels like it’s perfect where it has been placed.

    • quoin

      Surprisingly, with all of the documentation available, this was one building that took me by total surprise in person. Even with all of the amazing photographs, I was unprepared for the peaceful procession through the woods to this tiny little gem of a structure; I don’t think that you can appreciate the scale without visiting.

      You should plan the trip and you won’t be disappointed! For an out of the way corner of an out of the way state, NW Arkansas packs quite an architectural punch. A few Jones projects, Marlon Blackwell, Crystal Bridges, etc. At least Walmart is good for something…

  • Bryce Engstrom

    I had an instructor early in architecture school, who ended up being my favorite, who was from Turkey and he would constantly tell us about the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. He even did guest speaker stuff on this building so I learned a LOT about it. So, when my wife and I finally went to Istanbul some years after I graduated (and I believe after my instructor had passed away) I remember thinking that seeing it myself just HAD to be anti-climactic.

    But, I have never been more emotionally moved by a building, and I am not really sure I can explain why. The light, the “movement” of the spaces I felt walking around some of the mezzanine areas, the ancientness of it, I don’t know. I just know I have only had similar experiences at Taliesin, at the Sydney Opera House, and very few, if any, other places.

    If I ever design a building that makes anyone feel even remotely like I did in that building, I can die content.

    • Morgan Newman (Pantheon selection above) originally selected Hagia Sophia but changed her selection at the last minute. That is definitely one building that I want to see in my lifetime.

      • Bryce Engstrom

        The Pantheon was interesting to be sure, but just didn’t have nearly the same impact. Maybe it’s just a little too “perfect” for me.

  • Kerry Hogue

    it has to be the Flatiron Building in NYC Manhattan, 1902 by Daniel Burnham. I really liked this building the first time that Blake Alexander flashed it on the screen in architectural history class. exquisite use of the site and awesome details. maybe one day I will actually go to New York and go see it. (no I don’t get out much)

    • Hard to go wrong with a Burnham project – that one in particular.

      I haven’t seen it either …

  • AlmostJane

    Favorite building? Wow, that’s hard. Very “Sophie’s Choice.” I like some buildings for their exteriors, some for their interiors, and the real treasures for both. Also mine are mostly traditional and so probably kind of ho-hum for you professionals – however, here goes. Favorite skyscraper – Chrysler Building. Just plain beautiful – so far I haven’t found any tall building I’ve liked better. Favorite not-skyscraper – Boston Public Library. Favorite residential architecture [pictured] – Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill in Boston. IMHO, the single most beautiful street in America. Literally took my breath away first time I saw it. And strictly for its skyline view – the Times Square Building in my hometown Rochester NY [pictured]. This was fun! Can’t wait to see what others choose.

    • very solid selections (quite pro actually)

      • AlmostJane

        No kidding? Gee, I wish my parents could hear you say that. I was constantly asking my dad to drive past X so I could get a better look at it, and I always thought THEY thought I was a bit “off.” :>)

  • DavidB

    I know why Ms. Newman chose the Pantheon . . . there is a cute little ice cream shop across the street where all the architects hang out with their sketch pads and cameras enjoying an after dinner gelato. It’s not the building, but our experience with the building that we treasure.

  • Chad

    Is it just me or did you get more people in your office since the coffee post?

    • just you … not everybody participated in the coffee post (Paul offices off-site 99% of the time and Michael get’s tea from Starbucks on occasion so … no mug.)

      • Chad

        It’s always just me. 🙁

        • funny

          • Chad

            A little V-day lonely humor. 😉

  • Bill Wood

    I grew up loving the skyscraper, went through high school wanting to be the next Helmut Jahn or whomever the Adrian Smith of the day was; the skyscraper the did it for me – begged for me to tell it’s story somehow was The Singer Building (1908) in NYC. Yes, it was torn down in 1968, and still ranks as the tallest building intentionally removed for “new progress.” It’s slenderness, it’s bulbous top – the story of it’s construction, all appealed to me. I still look on skyscrapers, particularly older ones, with much appeal and love. I’ve taken the historic preservation angle from my love of tall buildings and have applied that in my career with great success, and have yet to design a building over 4-stories in height (do remodels count? Then 22 stories.)

    • if it gets built – it counts.

      I’m going to have to look up the Singer Building online, I can’t seem to pull up a mental image. (I love being introduced to “new” old buildings!)