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Berenice Abbott

One of the major figures of 20th Century photography, Berenice Abbott was best known for her striking photographs of New York City architecture and streetscapes of the 1930s.

Originally from Springfield, Ohio, she dropped out of Ohio State University after two semesters and moved to Europe to study sculpture in Paris and Berlin. During a 1923 apprenticeship with surrealist painter and photographer Man Ray, she became captivated with photography. She later wrote about this experience, “I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else." Shortly after her experience with Man Ray, Abbott opened her own photography studio in Paris.

In 1925, Man Ray introduced her to French artist Eugène Atget’s photographs – atmospheric, contemplative views of Paris street scenes and interiors. She became interested in Atget’s work and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait in 1927, shortly before he died. Abbott acquired a portion of Atget’s archive, and quickly started work on its promotion. Abbott wrote essays about Atget and published multiple books of his work. In 1968 she donated his archive to the Museum of Modern Art. Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain international recognition.

Abbott moved to New York City in the early 1930s, and began photographing the rapidly changing metropolis that was capturing the world's imagination. She purchased a Century Universal camera that produced oversized, 8”x10” negatives, and created artistically composed, exhilarating portraits of the city’s spectacular architecture, evolving streetscapes, and diverse citizens. Abbott’s work has been called “the greatest collection of photographs of New York City ever made.”

"Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past."

–Berenice Abbott

In her later years, Abbott made important contributions to scientific photography. From 1958 to 1960, she produced a series of photographs for an educational project based at MIT to improve secondary school physics teaching. Her work included images of wave patterns in water and stroboscopic images of moving objects. While effectively illustrating scientific concepts, these photographs were also thoughtfully composed, artistic compositions that have since been exhibited in art museums to much acclaim.

Throughout her career, Abbott’s photography was shaped by her interest in technological progress and her enthusiasm for a rapidly-evolving society. Her choices of subject matter and her visual expression were all guided by her belief that a modern-day invention such as the camera should be used to document modern life — accurately and honestly.

Abbott was a “proud proto-feminist”– someone who was ahead of her time in feminist theory.  She once said, “the world doesn’t like independent women. Why, I don’t know, but I don’t care.” She identified publicly as a lesbian,  and lived with her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland, for 30 years.



Louis Kahn

Renowned for his distinctive architectural style that was monumental and monolithic, Kahn's volumetric buildings for the most part do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled. Famous for his meticulously-built works, his provocative proposals that remained unbuilt, and his teaching, Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal and the RIBA Gold Medal, and at the time of his death he was considered by some as "America's foremost living architect."

"We are born of light. The seasons are felt through light. We only know the world as it is evoked through light."

– Louis Kahn

Louis Kahn was born into a poor Jewish family in Estonia. His birth name was Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky, but family changed their name to Kahn after they emigrated to the United States in 1906.

Khan studied architecture with a traditional Beaux-Arts focus at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, he made a European tour, where he was particularly interested in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, France, and the castles of Scotland, rather than any of the strongholds of classicism or modernism. 

Kahn's distinctive architectural style was not solidified until he was in his fifties. His most celebrated works infused the International style with a fastidious, highly personal taste, which some have called "a poetry of light." He was known for his ability to create monumental architecture that responded to the human scale.His built projects, while few in number, reflect his deep personal involvement with each. Isamu Noguchi called him "a philosopher among architects."

In 2003, Kahn's son Nathaniel released a documentary about his father entitled My Architect: A Son's Journey. The Oscar-nominated film provides insights on Kahn's design philosophy and interviews with such renowned architectural contemporaries as Frank GehryPhilip JohnsonI. M. Pei, and Robert A. M. Stern. It also examines Kahn's unusual and complicated family relationships.

Some of Kahn's most prominent works include: 
• The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California (1959-65)
• Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (1967-72)
• Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut (1951-53)
• National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh (1962-74)




While not as well known as some of the architectural stars of his era, William Kessler's bold and exciting architecture is being rediscovered and celebrated – garnering new stature in many circles.

Born in 1924 in Reading, Pennsylvania, William Kessler attended the Chicago Institute of Design (The "New Bauhaus"), graduating with a BA in architecture in 1948. He continued his studies at Harvard University's architecture program, under the direction of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius . After graduation from Harvard, he was recruited by the architect Minoru Yamasaki and moved to Michigan to work at Yamasaki's firm. (In the 1960s, Minoru Yamasaki would be chosen to design the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York.)

Following a successful tenure with Yamasaki, Kessler and fellow architect Phil Meathe departed to form their own firm, Meathe, Kessler and Associates. In 1959, Kessler designed a house for himself and his family in Gross Pointe Park, Michigan, which has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Meathe, Kessler and Associates was dissolved in 1968, and Kessler established his own eponymous firm. Working mostly in Michigan and surrounding parts of the Midwest United States, Kessler created an array of thoughtfully designed single family houses, public housing, college and university buildings, and hospitals. Combined, they are the impressive legacy of a prolific, innovative talent whose work continues to delight and inspire to this day.   




One of the brightest talents of modernist architectural photography, Balthazar Korab's photos are true works of art. Korab created dazzling images of architectural masterpieces designed by the world's most celebrated architects, including Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Based in Detroit, Michigan, Korab also excelled at art and landscape photography.

Korab was born in Budapest, Hungary, and migrated to France after fleeing from Hungary's communist government in 1949. At the École des beaux-arts in Paris, he completed a diploma of architecture in 1954. For a time, he was a journeyman under the direction of leading European architects, including Le Corbusier.

In 1955, Korab arrived in the United States, and Eero Saarinen employed him to document and participate in his architectural design process, which included photographing architectural models at multiple stages of development, as well as photographing finished, built projects upon their completion.

"I am an architect with a passion for nature's lessons and man's interventions."

Balthazar Korab

The architectural community in Detroit embraced Korab's photographic talents, and many firms retained him to document their projects. In addition to Saarinen, Korab was recruited to photograph the work of many of the world's most prominent architects, including Marcel Breuer, Louis Kahn, and Richard Meier. In 1994, American President Bill Clinton presented a portfolio of Balthazar Korab's photography to Árpád Göncz, the president of Hungary.

Korab died in 2013.  His life and work is remembered in a fascinating and insightful book by John Comazzi – Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography.



Mies van der Rohe

German-born architect and educator Mies van der Rohe is widely regarded as one of the primary design figures of the 20th century. By developing a sophisticated visual language that emphasized open space, eschewed ornament, and revealed the industrial materials used in construction, he helped define a new era of modern architecture.

An innovative architect in 1920's and 1930's Germany, Mies was appointed the director of the Bauhaus, a seminal school in modern architecture and design. The Nazis' rise to power lead to the closing of the Bauhaus, and Mies emigrated to the United States. He accepted the position to head the architectural school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and soon after began his own architectural firm.

As twentieth-century society encountered a breathtaking array of new ways of thinking and living, Mies sought to establish a new architectural style that could represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic architecture did for their own eras. Expanding on ideas from the Bauhaus, Adolf Loos, and the De Stijl movement, he developed his own twentieth-century architectural style, visually expressed with clarity and extreme simplicity.

Mies' buildings were constructed of modern materials such as industrial steel, polished stone, and large expanses of plate glass. His architecture was defined by a rational, structural order, juxtaposed with the implied freedom of unobstructed free-flowing open space. He called his buildings "skin and bones" architecture that expressed the spirit of the modern era.  His architectural philosophy is summed up in two quotations he is often associated with: "less is more" and "God is in the details".

"Architecture is a language. When you are very good, you can be a poet."

– Mies van der Rohe

Mies opened his own studio in downtown Chicago and worked there for the rest of his career, designing elegant, refined modernist architecture that would influence generations of architects to come. His Chicago projects include several buildings on the IIT campus, the waterfront residential towers of 860–880 Lake Shore Dr and the three-building Chicago Federal Complex

As Mies' reputation and stature grew, he was commissioned to create projects around the world, such as the Toronto Dominion Center and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Mies' most important architectural projects also include:
• Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic
• Barcelona Pavilion
• The Seagram Building in New York
• Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois
• Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin

In addition to his innovative architecture, Mies is well known for his furniture design.  Often in collaboration with Lilly Reich, Mies used new industrial technologies to design pieces that have become modern classics, such as the Barcelona chair and table, the Brno chair, and the Tugendhat chair. His furniture is known for fine craftsmanship, combining traditional, luxurious fabrics with modern chrome frames, and a distinct separation of the supporting structure and the supported surfaces, often employing cantilevers to enhance the feeling of lightness created by delicate structural frames.




Initially rising to prominence for his key role in the development of the Sarasota Modern architectural style, American architect Paul Rudolph went on to become the chair of Yale University's Department of Architecture for six years. Later in his career, Rudolph became known for his use of concrete and highly complex spatial configurations. His most famous work is the Yale Art and Architecture Building (A&A Building), an imposing, fortress-like concrete structure that helped usher in the Brutalist architecture movement.

"An architect is a man concerned with building meaningfully. As opposed to someone who is interested in building efficiently, or sometimes even beautifully. We often apologize for being interested in meaningful buildings, but we do our profession an injustice in that way."

Paul Rudolph

In the early 1940s, Rudolph studied architecture under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After graduating, Rudolph moved to Florida and partnered with architect Ralph Twitchell for four years before starting his own practice. Together, Rudolph and Twitchell were instrumental in developing an innovative architectural style called the Sarasota School.

Sometimes called Sarasota Modern, the Sarasota School of Architecture is characterized by its adaption of "International Style" architecture to the Florida climate. Large sunshades, natural ventilation systems, full-height sliding glass doors, single-depth floor plans (no corridors), and walls of jalousie windows characterize many of these buildings, mostly built between 1941 and 1966.

Rudolph's Sarasota buildings created a sensation in architectural circles and led to the second phase of his career, which included a move to New York and many high-profile commissions for universities, museums, and government buildings in the U.S. and parts of Asia. Near the end of his life, Paul Rudolph donated his archive, spanning his entire career, to the Library of Congress.  His bequest also helped to establish the Center for Architecture, Design, and Engineering at the Library of Congress.




Creator of some of the most dazzling architecture of the 20th century, such as the TWA Flight Center in New York and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Eero Saarinen left behind an impressive legacy that also includes some of the most iconic furniture designs of the modern movement. 

Saarinen's father was Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, who brought his family to the U.S. and became the dean of the Cranbrook Academy of Art., in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  In the 1930s, the younger Saarinen began taking courses in furniture design and sculpture at Cranbrook. During his time there, he developed friendships with three of his fellow students who would profoundly impact his life and career: the designers Charles and Ray Eames, who would become two of America's most successful modern designers, and Florence Knoll, who would create iconic designs for the furniture company she formed with her husband, Knoll. The Eames and Saarinen collaborated on innovative furniture designs that won major awards from the Museum of Modern Art and were soon put into production by Knoll. This led to a successful, decades-long collaboration that produced the Grasshopper lounge chair, the Womb chair and ottoman, and Tulip tables and chairs – classic designs that are still in production today,  

"The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man's life on earth. And to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence."

Eero Saarinen

After leaving Cranbrook, Saarinen studied at the Yale School of Architecture, graduating in 1934. Following a multi-year tour of Europe, North Africa and his parents' native Finland, Saarinen returned to the US to teach at Cranbrook and work for his father's architecture firm. The two developed modern corporate headquarters buildings for General Motors, John Deere, IBM and CBS. 

After his father's death, Saarinen set up his own architectural firm, called Saarinen and Associates. He created his most important projects during this period, including: 
• The Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri
• The TWA Flight Center at New York's Kennedy Airport
• The Miller House in Columbus, Indian (with interiors by Alexander Girard)
• Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC

In spite of Eero Saarinen's relatively short career (he died unexpectedly at the age of 51), he left behind a legacy of stunningly innovative designs that are studied and revered the world over. Today, he is considered one of the masters of 20th Century Architecture

In 2016, Eero Saarinen's filmmaker son Eric produced a beautiful, insightful documentary about his famous father's life and work. Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future,  which premiered on the PBS American Masters series.



Frank Lloyd Wright

It would be difficult to overstate the astonishing talents and achievements of Frank Lloyd Wright,  who was the single biggest architectural figure of 20th century America. Wright was also an interior designer, writer and educator, and his 70-year, prolific career included designing more than 1,000 structures, 532 of which were built.

Wright was committed to designing structures that were in harmony with their natural environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by the riverside residence Fallingwater (1935), which has been called the best all-time work of American architecture. 

Wright eschewed historical architectural styles and ornamentation copied from European cultures of antiquity, which he thought had little relevance to a post-Industrial age America. Instead, he sought to develop his own visual vocabulary inspired by timeless systems of geometry, music and –most of all– the beauty and order of the natural world.

Early in his career, Wright was the pioneer of what came to be called the Prairie School movement of architecture that was characterized by long, low structures with deeply-overhanging roofs and horizontal bands of windows. Wright also developed the concept of the modest Usonian home in Broadacre City, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States. In addition to his houses, Wright designed original and innovative offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, museums and other structures. He often designed unified, thoughtful interior elements for these buildings as well, including furniture and stained glass. Wright wrote 20 books and many articles and was a popular lecturer in the United States and in Europe. Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as "the greatest American architect of all time."

Wright's surviving buildings are American cultural treasures. An active community of preservationists and stewards are committed to maintaining these works of art for the ages, so they can inspire, instruct, and illuminate many generations to come.

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."

Frank Lloyd Wright

Some of Wright's most noteworthy architectural projects are also open to the public, including:
Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Guggenheim Museum in New York City
Hollyhock House in Los Angeles
Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California
Pope-Leighey House in Falls Church, Virginia
Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago
SC Johnson Building in Racine, Wisconsin
Taliesin in Spring Green, Wiscon
Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona
Wingspread, in Racine, Wisconsin