Today we honor the late Gunnar Birkerts.
Some sad news this week- the legendary postwar modernist Gunnar Birkerts passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. The Latvian-American architect’s big geometric forms still seem surprising and fresh nearly a half century after their conception, and some of his most notable work, including St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus, Indiana, the South Wing of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the University of California San Diego Library expansion, pushed the boundaries of Modernism, adding bold angular forms and light-flooded spaces to the architectural vocabulary of the late twentieth century.
After emigrating to the United States in 1949, Birkerts worked predominately in Detroit and the Midwest, first under Eero Saarinen and later as chief designer for Minoru Yamasaki. In 1963, Birkerts started his own firm in Birmingham, Michigan, where he designed buildings defined by bold geometry, monumental interiors, and gutsy engineering.
In 1973, Birkerts produced maybe his most recognizable work, the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Designed during a period when the Federal Reserve looked to abandon the traditional neoclassical style for dramatic architectural statements, the daring bridge-like structure established the architect as a modern innovator capable of producing unexpected, expressive forms. Using suspension technology, the Federal Reserve Bank with its luminescent exterior and giant catenary arch was an unprecedented experiment in technique and philosophy. Fearless in mass and metaphor, Birkerts' design explored the structural possibilities of glass and metal, interpreting the late Modern aesthetic to meet his client's needs. Today, the Federal Reserve Bank (now Marquette Plaza) functions as a multi-tenant commercial building (with the prestigious LEED platinum certification) and remains one of downtown Minneapolis' most iconic pieces of Modernism.
You can read more about Birkerts here, but in the meantime, take a look at these stunning photographs of the Federal Reserve Bank. Even from the stark black and white photography, you get a sense of Birkerts' creative dynamism, his unabashed manipulation of light and form, and his monumental vision for the built world.
All images are part of the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress. You can see the collection here.
Historic American Buildings Survey. Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, 250 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, MN. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, mn0558.
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