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Portraits: Space-crusading architects

We look at the men behind some of the world’s most exciting modern and postmodern structures

Buildings offer more than provide shelter, and the architects that create them shape the lives of individuals, families and societies. These 10 architectural pioneers are resposible for many of the finest.

Le Corbusier

Born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, Swiss-French Le Corbusier (pictured above) is one of the fathers of modern architecture. He embraced modular construction, and developed a philosophy based on the use of pylons, roof terraces, open-plan floors and ribbon windows, as seen in the use of curtain walls. Villa Savoye in France, several Unité d’Habitation buildings and the Palace of Justice in India count among his notable works. Le Corbusier is also an important name in urban planning, and devoted a large part of his work to addressing urban overcrowding.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Concerned with structures that are in harmony with their environment and humanity, which Wright called organic architecture, his concept is best exemplified by Fallingwater, a house built partially over a waterfall, which has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture”. He designed more than 1,000 structures, of which 532 were completed. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is one of his notable public works.

Antoni Gaudí

The Spanish architect is best known for his Catalan Modernist structures. Upon his graduation in 1878, the director of the Barcelona Architecture School is said to have declared: “Gentlemen, we are here today either in the presence of a genius or a madman!” Probably the former, as Gaudí went on to transform the city with his singular style, as seen in tourist attractions such as Sagrada Família, Park Güell and Casa Milà — all recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

IM Pei

The first foreign architect to work on the Louvre, the Chinese-American designer’s glass and steel Louvre Pyramid might be a landmark in Paris but still has its critics. Detractors oppose the modern structure as clashing with the classic French Renaissance style and history of the museum, and that the shape is a symbol of death from ancient Egypt. Known for his thoroughly modernist style with cubist elements, other notable buildings include the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the US National Gallery, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. In 1983, he won the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Sir David Adjaye

The Ghanian-British architect won his first award in the year he graduated. Influenced by everything from contemporary art, music and science to African art forms and the civic life of cities, Adjaye is one of the most prominent contemporary designers, with offices in London, New York and Accra. The $540 million Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture, his largest project to date, opened in Washington DC in 2016. Other notable works include Idea Stores in London, the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, the Sugar Hill social housing scheme in Harlem, New York, and the Aishti Foundation retail and art complex in Beirut. He was knighted in 2017.

Frank Gehry

The man behind the Bilbao effect, or the revitalisation of cities through innovative architecture, Gehry’s notable buildings include the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and the Dancing House in Prague. Despite his success, this contemporary architect has consistently rejected the “starchitect” label.

Jean Nouvel

Although he initially wanted to pursue a career in art, the Frenchman saw architecture as a compromise between that and his parents’ choice — education or engineering. That gamble paid off handsomely, as Nouvel was awarded architecture’s highest honour, the Pritzker Prize, in 2008. In the Middle East he’s best known for designing the Louvre Abu Dhabi, while the $434 million National Museum of Qatar is also under construction. The Arab World Institute in Paris earned him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Mies is best known as the last director of the Bauhaus, one of the most influential styles in modern design. He had a penchant for modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass, calling his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. Espousing a “less is more” philosophy, notable structures include Barcelona Pavilion, Villa Tugendhat in today’s Czech Republic and the S.R. Crown Hall in Chicago. Mies also designed furniture, including the leather and chrome on steel Barcelona chair he designed for the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Expo.

Norman Foster

One of the most prolific British architects of our generation, Foster was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1999. The named partner in high-end architect firm Foster + Partners, he’s known for restoring the Reichstag in Berlin, which houses the German parliament, “The Gherkin” in London, formally known as 30 St Mary Axe, the headquarters for Swiss Re, and Hearst Tower in New York. He’s also president of the Norman Foster Foundation, which promotes interdisciplinary thinking and research to help new generations of architects, designers and urbanists to anticipate the future.

Renzo Piano

Born into a family of builders, Piano has worked across the world, on such striking buildings as the New York Times Building, Maison Hermès in Tokyo and Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. The Italian architect and engineer is also known for designing the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, The Shard in London and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998, with the jury crediting him with “redefining modern and postmodern architecture”.

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