Wednesday 24 June 2015

Built To Last

Writing about Sergei Eisenstein’s father being an architect in my City Pride article of Riga last week got me thinking about what buildings have been designed by lgbt architects.

Art and design has many well-known lgbt contributors but architecture still seems to have a macho, heterosexual feel about it. This is despite the fact that my lgbt database lists over 50 lgbt architects in the last hundred years (including several Gay/Out/EuroGames medallists and a former Mr Gay Mexico). However, I suspect that because the general public just sees the buildings and doesn’t think about the architect makes them virtually anonymous. It’s only when the building creates some controversy or is especially significant that the architect’s name is remembered.

The diversity of styles and construction methods of buildings are as varied as the people who design them. To illustrate this here is a diverse group of lgbt architects and their designs which have influenced the world.

Let’s start in Ancient Greece. Many of the architects of the Greek temples and buildings will undoubtedly have indulged in the traditional mentor-student sexual relationships their culture favoured. One in particular is well known, mainly because one building he helped to create is an iconic example of Ancient Greek architecture – the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Although primarily regarded as a sculptor Phidias was the architectural supervisor on the project.

During my first weeks writing this blog games I wrote about Phidias and his contribution to Olympian architecture, and his young lover’s contribution to Olympic sport.

The Classical styles of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire became very popular after the Renaissance of the 14th century. As we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo this month we can picture the imperial architecture of the Napoleonic Empire with its Classical style triumphal arches and interior designs. The style is so distinctive. Among the triumphal arches is one built near the Louvre and the Tuilleries. It was designed by the two architects who created the Imperial Napoleonic style, Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) and Charles Percier-Bassant (1764-1838).

Some lgbt sites say Fontaine and Percier-Bassant were a gay couple. It is true that they spent most of their lives together, but it would be better if someone found proper confirming evidence.

In another part of Europe a generation later one gay monarch influenced the design of several fairy tale castles that would not look out of place in Disneyland. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) got his architects to create some of the most fantastic castles and grottoes. One castle, Neuschwanstein (pictured left), is so well known that most people call it the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” castle because it was a major location for that film.

Speaking of Disneyland – Cinderella’s castle was directly influence by Neuschwanstein. Over the years the Disney corporation has commissioned several world-renowned lgbt architects like Philip Johnson and Robert Stern to design various buildings.

Now we’ll move into just about every metropolitan city in the world. You can’t go anywhere in a city without seeing a skyscraper. The man often described as the “Father of the Skyscraper” is Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). The actual “father” should really be William LeBaron Jenney, the architect Louis worked for in Chicago, though Louis did pioneer a new method of constructing high-rise buildings which led the way for the skyscrapers we see today.

One neat little visual trick Louis used on most of his skyscrapers was to put vertical strips on the outside walls which made them look taller.

There was a time when the biggest buildings in any city, town or village in Europe was a church. The gothic architecture of Medieval churches is so familiar to us that we sometimes don’t realise that some Gothic architecture isn’t Medieval. Ralph Adam Cram (1863-1942) designed many churches in the Gothic Revival or New-Gothic style that became popular in the Victorian period.

Cram was a devout High Church Anglican. His contribution to the design and construction of so many churches in America earned him a place in the liturgical calendar of the US Episcopal Church. He is venerated as a saint with a feast day on 16th December, his birthday.

So far we’ve looked at public, commercial and ecclesiastical architecture. What about domestic architecture – people’s homes?

One of the few female architects pioneered several eco-designs. Eleanor Raymond (1887-1989) favoured the simple functional design of New England homes and avoided a lot of the fancy decoration that was popular when she opened her architectural office in 1928. Of particular importance in Eleanor’s work is her use of solar panels from the 1940s, one design element that only now seems to be considered an essential part of many building’s design.

This has been just a small cross section of the many lgbt architects. What they have in common is that they were influenced by, and were influences for, other architects to the present day. Even if some of their buildings no longer exist their architectural legacies show that their ideas were “Built to Last”.

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