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Franziska Barczyk

21 First Drafts, a Look at the First Projects of Famous Architects

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First Drafts is a series exploring the early work of our architectural icons, examining their careers through the lens of their debut projects. Each profile focuses on an architect's first finished building—often surprising, always insightful—as a solo practitioner. From early works by a rookie that may presage stylistic revolutions, to simple structures that represent the first full-fledged payday, these articles will tell the stories behind the initial steps towards forming their own practice and honing their own style. Within the vast field of great building design, we aim to uncover the significance of first acts.

The featured architects, in alphabetical order:

Alvar Aalto
David Adjaye
Shigeru Ban
Luis Barragan
Santiago Calatrava
Le Corbusier
Jeanne Gang
Frank Gehry
Zaha Hadid
Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Philip Johnson
Louis Kahn
Rem Koolhaas
Oscar Niemeyer
Jean Nouvel
I.M. Pei
Renzo Piano
Mies van der Rohe
Paul Rudolph
Eero Saarinen
Frank Lloyd Wright

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1. Alvar Aalto's Alajärvi Youth Center

Copy Link
Sairaalatie 9
62900 Alajärvi, Finland

This small project fit neatly within an early period of Aalto's work that may best be described as "Nordic Classicism," according to scholar Richard Weston. Initially a small, U-shaped building, the Youth Center is a functional structure topped with a cupola, a small feature that provided a bit of personality. It gives the impression of a squat schoolhouse, a comparison that rang especially true when it was first built and painted red.

2. David Adjaye's Elektra House

Copy Link
84A Ashfield Street
London E1 2HA, UK

A budget-conscious project built on the site of a former shoe factory, the two-story, 1,400-square-feet Elektra House, named after the clients' daughter, was conceived of as both a live/work space and a theoretical lightbox, a means to maximize space and allow for an art display inside a multi-story home. Roof lights set above the back of the home provides overhead lighting for the rest of the boxy structure, which exudes a rich sheen on the exterior due to the dark, phenolic resin that treats the layered timber panels. When images of the projects were printed in the RIBA Journal, one of the numerous letters that came in response said putting children inside a windowless home was akin to a form of abuse.

3. Shigeru Ban's Villa TCG

Copy Link
Japan, 〒384-2307 Nagano-ken, Kitasaku-gun
Tateshina-machi, Yamabe 県道147号線

A private home in Tateshina, a rural village near Nagano, the building finds its bearings due to a central brick cylinder that contains a kitchen, bathroom and fireplace, which Ban uses as an organizational tool. The home's layout also points to another of Ban's core influences, Alvar Aalto. Before graduation, the architect took a pilgrimage to Finland to see the icon's work, and was bowed over by his use of materials and emphasis on local context. TCG similarly mirrors the landscape, with a stone wall that not only provides views of a nearby abandoned kiln, but hugs the contours of the stream that splits the site in two.

4. Luis Barragán's Robles Castillo Houses

Copy Link
Avenida Vallarta Eje Poniente 1095, Americana, 44160 Guadalajara
Jal., Mexico

Before moving to Mexico City and creating works recognized worldwide, Barragán built a series of villas for the Guadalajaran elite, finishing 17 homes between 1927 and 1929. Beginning with his first job, an expansion of the Emiliano Robles Leon Villa, the architect began toying with a kind of colonial romantic style, a conservative start informed by the Mediterranean-ism he picked up from Bac. His first renovation even included a Moorish fountain and pergola. The Robles Castillo Houses, two buildings located at the corner of Calle Argentina, a main residence for Adolfo Robles Castillo and a smaller unit for rent, were his first start-to-finish design. Wrapped in white exterior walls, luminous roof tiles, and windows with wooden shutters, it wouldn't stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. But there were subtle influences, such as the loggias and living rooms, that show a European influence.

5. Santiago Calatrava's Ernstings Warehouse

Copy Link
Industriestraße 1
48653 Coesfeld, Germany

Calatrava's design was severely restricted by the rectangular requirements of the client, so he was really only able to shape the exterior cladding. He infused the potentially bland commission with a creative, rippling curtain wall of aluminum, forming waves along the exterior that gave the box-like building a line of curving columns. Alexander Tzonis, who wrote about the building in Santiago Calatrava: The Complete Works, compares its final form to Greek temple architecture. Calatrava didn't stop there; he also fashioned unique, flexible doors for the service entrances from aluminum slats that, when fully opened, swoop down in a curved canopy. These wing-like structures showcased the complex analytical work he'd labored over for his dissertation. It's the first of many projects that, by dint of long hours spent studying complex mathematics, allowed him to turn engineering problems into sculptural exercises.

6. Le Corbusier's Villa Fallet

Copy Link
Chemin de Pouillerel 1
2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

Built on a slope, Villa Fallet was meant to be a mirror to the surrounding Alpine scenery and Pouillerel forest, a reflection of the 'Folklore of the Fir Tree,' according to architectural historian and author William Curtis, an ideology and regional focus espoused by L'Eplattenier. Polychrome patterning on the facade referenced the grooves of a fir cone, the lines of the balcony were meant to refract the look of fir branches heavy with snow, and even the post-and-beam supports suggests trunks sunk in the sloping ground. Corbusier recruited classmates to help design ornaments and decorations for the home's interior, and a watercolor he completed during the planning phase of the project shows how he arranged the different motifs and ideas.

7. Jeanne Gang's Belden Loft

Copy Link
2650 West Belden Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647

The 2,200-square-foot former industrial space, which owner Susan Craig said they nicknamed the bra house because the building was once home to an undergarment manufacturer, needed a complete conversion. Gang designed and helped build the space pro bono as a favor for a friend (and an early resume piece). The result, an open, multi-level living space, features an atrium with a domed skylight that retracts with the push of a button like a garage door, providing the loft with an interior courtyard and connection to the outdoors. A towering wooden book shelf offers space for Craig to display her huge art collection, and retractable steel screens, set on tracks like barn doors, help frame and divide the space. The centerpiece may be a custom staircase, a spiral of Douglas fir and exposed steel railings that was based on a Lina Bo Bardi design, according to Craig. The open bathroom also contains a sentimental touch, drapery swen by Gang's mother.

8. Frank Gehry's David Cabin

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Northridge Drive
Idyllwild, CA 92549

The 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom summer home, clad in redwood siding and set on a sloped wooded lot 6,300 feet above sea level, fits in with a neighborhood filled with cabins and vacation homes. A straightforward design hidden from view in this alpine village, "you have to dig deep" to recognize it's a Gehry design. It's also near another famous cabin by a noted architect, the Pearlman Cabin, which John Lautner built on Middle Ridge a year prior.

9. Zaha Hadid's Vitra Fire Station

Copy Link
Charles-Eames-Straße 2
79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany

If done today, the project would have looked very different, according to Hadid, since she had so much time to break down and refine her ideas. Working with her associate Patrik Schumacher, Hadid decided to create a building that treated the setting, a long road through the middle of the Vitra campus, as a linear landscape. The station had to reflect the brand's promise of precision ("like a clock") while also navigating fire regulations and the site's layout. The resulting mass of vectors and shapes, a prism of reinforced in-situ concrete with a pointed roof that some have said is an homage to Koolhaas, exemplifies movement. The pointed exterior, with a dramatic overhang, converges above the entrance, and gives way to an interior just as angular and sharp; lighting is provided by florescent strips embedded in the ceilings and walls, and the design of the locker room was influenced by Richard Serra. While the large garage for the fire trucks illuminates the vehicles from below, no effect can compete with the drama of the building itself. Hadid has said the structure is almost like a piece of Land Art due to the way the slim profile defines a narrow corridor.

10. Hugh Newell Jacobsen's Roberts Residence

Copy Link
River Rock Road
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

The simple wooden Roberts Residence looks very different from the gabled, minimalist, mostly white structures that would become Jacobsen hallmark. Clad in California redwood, it's an elegant take on a cabin, a simple structure elevated above the sloping ground near the Potomac River.

11. Philip Johnson's 9 Ash Street House

Copy Link
9 Ash Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

When approached from the street, one lined with otherwise traditional designs from colonial to shingle-style, Johnson's first work teases, hidden behind a high fence with no suggestion of what lays behind. The home at 9 Ash Street was both an open courtyard home based on Miesian principles of simplicity as well as a secluded suburban escape, lined with 9-foot-tall walls that frame the yard and join with the building itself. Where the Glass House celebrated the surrounding unencumbered landscape, the home at 9 Ash Street turned away from its dense Cambridge neighborhood, hiding behind its own walls like a turtle retreating to its shell. That's not to say this is an unsightly piece of work; viewing the courtyard through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows from atop the Mies Barcelona chairs that originally graced the living room, it offer the closest thing to the Glass House experience as you can get a short walk from Harvard Yard. Essentially a dry run for his signature work, Johnson's first private home may make an even more intriguing statement about transparency, since it attempts to create openness where none existed.

12. Louis Kahn's Ahavath Israel Synagogue

Copy Link
6737 North 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19126

A solid, cube-like mass that sticks out from the adjoining row houses, the structure has a Modernist bent and simple layout, an industrial shul with a two-story prayer hall, dark metal stairs, an upper floor balcony and caretaker's apartment out back. A row of glass bricks near the top of the rear wall projected lights onto the bimah (reading platform) and ark. According to George H. Marcus, a Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Houses of Louis Kahn, the rectangular, brick industrial-style building has been altered quite a bit since it was originally constructed, and as far as scholars know, was never photographed in its original state. He theorizes the gig may have been handed off by another architect, but there aren't many details, and the project seems to have had no real influence.

13. Rem Koolhaas' Almere Police Station

Copy Link
Bivak 1
1353 AA Almere, Netherlands

OMA's own description of the project—"It is not blessed with a beautiful site"—seems to offer little more than resigned acceptance. After the town's old station burnt down, construction of the new building was rushed during the last six months of 1985, diverting OMA from their Netherlands Dance Theater Project, one they felt was more worthy of champagne and celebration. Still, the 2,600-square-meter (28,000-square-foot) single-story structure with light blue towers, a blue brick front facade and pink terrazzo porch does suggest how the architectural rebel was able to feel comfortable creating a symbol of the state. Confined between a highway, parking lot and set of flats, the cramped location falls within a planned town set on land reclaimed from the sea. The station which cost $700,000 to build, isn't much to look at from the outside. But the interior shows a thoughtful arrangement meant to downplay any air of authoritarianism, boasting an airy central courtyard and Japanese rock garden that illuminate and space that emphasized police-public interaction.

14. Oscar Niemeyer's Grande Hotel Ouro Preto

Copy Link
Rua Vereador Rodrigo Tófolo, 2, Cidade Ouro Preto - MG
35400-000, Brazil

While Niemeyer's design for the hotel triumphed, it's important to give credit to the architect's mentor, Lucio Costa, whose suggestion to replace the steel brise-soleil with ceramic tiles and a wooden roof placated members of the committee who were looking for a design with some connection to the past. The tweak, along with a horizontal alignment that hugged the landscape, stood out among the raised terrain, and gave every room a view of the historic square, turned Niemeyer's original blueprint into a fusion of the modern and traditional, perhaps the perfect calling card for a radical architect looking to gain work in a conservative country (remember, one of Niemeyer' signature early works, the Igreja da Pampulha, was called "the devil's bomb shelter" by a local archbishop).

15. Jean Nouvel's Maison Delbigot

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Le Guillentou
Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, France

Designed for a retired couple, family friends living in the southwest of France, Nouvel's first built project has a certain Blade Runner/Death Star appeal to it, a brutish wedge of concrete that looks more appropriate for the blackness of deep space than the French countryside. The slanting, angular exterior appears to suggest an uncomfortable interior, but it actually smooths out the irregular, sloped site, making for a livable, if unorthodox, floor plan.

16. I.M. Pei's Gulf Oil Building

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131 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30308

The brief called for a gleaming new office space for the Gulf Oil Company built for just $7 a square foot, a minuscule budget that Pei stretched with a combination of Modernist design and masterful negotiations. The Miesian layout was due in part to a prefab construction plan; a series of identical bays were assembled into a skeletal frame in two weeks, creating the outlines of a central, open workspace ringed with executive offices. The entire 50,000-square-foot building took just four months from start to finish. Marble and fixed glass panels, installed from inside and caulked from the outside, made building the simple rectangular box even easier. The designer also bargained for materials, convincing the nearby Georgia Marble Company to cut him a sweetheart deal in exchange for having his product showcased in the new Gulf Oil offices.

17. Renzo Piano's Italian Industry Pavilion

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Expoland, 1 Senribanpakukōen, Suita-shi
Ōsaka-fu 565-0826, Japan

"At the beginning of my career, the piece-by-piece attitude gave me the opportunity to study, experiment and understand the logic of materials," said Piano. This temporary pavilion was no exception. The square structure stretched out his previous small-scale, experimental work, such as the barrel vaulted miners pavilion, while including subtle curves in every square grid that looked like petals waiting to bloom. Packaged and transported overseas in 15 shipping containers, the tent-like structure was also a prefab experiment that presaged the exposed suspensions, external supports and intricate jointing that would be seen on later Piano projects, especially the Centre Georges Pompidou. Construction of the pavilion, a steel skeleton with reinforced polyester cladding and panels, was also a family affair; his late brother Ermanno assisted with assembly.

18. Expo Commemoration Park, Suita, Osaka Japan

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Spitzweggasse 3
14482 Potsdam, Germany

Decidedly quaint, the two-story cottage would seem like a clear outlier in an oeuvre defined by glass-and-steel temples. The rectangular home with a steep tiled roof and stucco walls featured two main alcoves along with built-ins in the kitchen and bookcase. The restrained interior, done in a style many have compared to traditional English design, also drew inspiration from Paul's previous work, especially a dining room for a 1906 Dresden Exhibition. Two separate gardens set upon the sloping yard, both a French-influenced, more manicured upper level and a more unkempt, natural green space below, helped frame views of Lake Griebnitz, just 500 feet away. The Riehls were thrilled with the finished design, nicknaming their new home the "Klösterli" (little cloister).

19. Paul Rudolph's Atkinson House

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628 East Samford Avenue
Auburn, AL 36830

Coming out of a school pushing a Beaux-Arts curriculum, the 21-year-old still dived headfirst into the modernist movement with his first independent project, attempting to provide an airy, open floor plan for the 1,364-square-foot home while staying within his limited budget. While it was far from a radical design, notable flourishes—including built-in furniture, contemporary features such as central heating, and material experimentation—showed him looking toward the future. The layout not only foreshadowed future work, especially his string of Modernist residences in Sarasota, but it also demonstrated that he was rooted in the Southern vernacular and the concept of open-air living. One touch that showed both a strong vision, as well as perhaps a nod to Art Deco, was the exotic six-by-ten-foot mural he carved over the fireplace. Cut out of Homasote, a fiberboard material, the almost mythological image of a fisherman struggling with netting has been seen as both a nod to past styles and, potentially, a homoerotic design with a slight sexual undercurrent, a sign of the architect's self-expression.

20. Eero Saarinen's J.F. Spencer House

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8634 Nadine Avenue
Huntington Woods, MI 48070

Saarinen's first solo project, the J.F. Spencer House, a 2,000-square-foot, two-story brick building in suburban Detroit, didn't incorporate many of the more forward-thinking elements that had begun to show up in Saarinen's sketches at the time, such as the radical "Combined Living-Dining Room-Study, Designed for the Architectural Forum," which was as academic as the title suggested. Boasting a hipped tile roof and attached garage, it's straightforward, unassuming and a lesser-known project that's briefly mentioned in Saarinen's body of work, if at all. To be fair, Saarinen was building for the upper-class subdivision of Huntington Woods, then an area filled with business execs who appreciated the proximity to Detroit as well as the Rackham Golf Course, designed by famous Scottish-born course architect Donald Ross.

21. Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School

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6590 Wisconsin 23 Trunk
Spring Green, WI 53588

Done in the shingle style that his mentor, Silsbee, was known for, the "Home Building," as the structure was initially called, showed Wright's budding talents, though it didn't necessarily foreshadow his unique vision. A 33-room building set on the school's 100-acre plot, the structure was built to a very domestic scale and had modern conveniences such as steam-heating. An extension was added the following year, which some have taken to mean Wright's initial design was too small. Wright would later publish drawings of the building plans in his uncle Jenkin's magazine, Unity. Not much has been written about this project, which would be replaced 15 years later by a new building designed by Wright.

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1. Alvar Aalto's Alajärvi Youth Center

Sairaalatie 9, 62900 Alajärvi, Finland

This small project fit neatly within an early period of Aalto's work that may best be described as "Nordic Classicism," according to scholar Richard Weston. Initially a small, U-shaped building, the Youth Center is a functional structure topped with a cupola, a small feature that provided a bit of personality. It gives the impression of a squat schoolhouse, a comparison that rang especially true when it was first built and painted red.

Sairaalatie 9
62900 Alajärvi, Finland

2. David Adjaye's Elektra House

84A Ashfield Street, London E1 2HA, UK

A budget-conscious project built on the site of a former shoe factory, the two-story, 1,400-square-feet Elektra House, named after the clients' daughter, was conceived of as both a live/work space and a theoretical lightbox, a means to maximize space and allow for an art display inside a multi-story home. Roof lights set above the back of the home provides overhead lighting for the rest of the boxy structure, which exudes a rich sheen on the exterior due to the dark, phenolic resin that treats the layered timber panels. When images of the projects were printed in the RIBA Journal, one of the numerous letters that came in response said putting children inside a windowless home was akin to a form of abuse.

84A Ashfield Street
London E1 2HA, UK

3. Shigeru Ban's Villa TCG

Japan, 〒384-2307 Nagano-ken, Kitasaku-gun, Tateshina-machi, Yamabe 県道147号線

A private home in Tateshina, a rural village near Nagano, the building finds its bearings due to a central brick cylinder that contains a kitchen, bathroom and fireplace, which Ban uses as an organizational tool. The home's layout also points to another of Ban's core influences, Alvar Aalto. Before graduation, the architect took a pilgrimage to Finland to see the icon's work, and was bowed over by his use of materials and emphasis on local context. TCG similarly mirrors the landscape, with a stone wall that not only provides views of a nearby abandoned kiln, but hugs the contours of the stream that splits the site in two.

Japan, 〒384-2307 Nagano-ken, Kitasaku-gun
Tateshina-machi, Yamabe 県道147号線

4. Luis Barragán's Robles Castillo Houses

Avenida Vallarta Eje Poniente 1095, Americana, 44160 Guadalajara, Jal., Mexico

Before moving to Mexico City and creating works recognized worldwide, Barragán built a series of villas for the Guadalajaran elite, finishing 17 homes between 1927 and 1929. Beginning with his first job, an expansion of the Emiliano Robles Leon Villa, the architect began toying with a kind of colonial romantic style, a conservative start informed by the Mediterranean-ism he picked up from Bac. His first renovation even included a Moorish fountain and pergola. The Robles Castillo Houses, two buildings located at the corner of Calle Argentina, a main residence for Adolfo Robles Castillo and a smaller unit for rent, were his first start-to-finish design. Wrapped in white exterior walls, luminous roof tiles, and windows with wooden shutters, it wouldn't stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. But there were subtle influences, such as the loggias and living rooms, that show a European influence.

Avenida Vallarta Eje Poniente 1095, Americana, 44160 Guadalajara
Jal., Mexico

5. Santiago Calatrava's Ernstings Warehouse

Industriestraße 1, 48653 Coesfeld, Germany

Calatrava's design was severely restricted by the rectangular requirements of the client, so he was really only able to shape the exterior cladding. He infused the potentially bland commission with a creative, rippling curtain wall of aluminum, forming waves along the exterior that gave the box-like building a line of curving columns. Alexander Tzonis, who wrote about the building in Santiago Calatrava: The Complete Works, compares its final form to Greek temple architecture. Calatrava didn't stop there; he also fashioned unique, flexible doors for the service entrances from aluminum slats that, when fully opened, swoop down in a curved canopy. These wing-like structures showcased the complex analytical work he'd labored over for his dissertation. It's the first of many projects that, by dint of long hours spent studying complex mathematics, allowed him to turn engineering problems into sculptural exercises.

Industriestraße 1
48653 Coesfeld, Germany

6. Le Corbusier's Villa Fallet

Chemin de Pouillerel 1, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

Built on a slope, Villa Fallet was meant to be a mirror to the surrounding Alpine scenery and Pouillerel forest, a reflection of the 'Folklore of the Fir Tree,' according to architectural historian and author William Curtis, an ideology and regional focus espoused by L'Eplattenier. Polychrome patterning on the facade referenced the grooves of a fir cone, the lines of the balcony were meant to refract the look of fir branches heavy with snow, and even the post-and-beam supports suggests trunks sunk in the sloping ground. Corbusier recruited classmates to help design ornaments and decorations for the home's interior, and a watercolor he completed during the planning phase of the project shows how he arranged the different motifs and ideas.

Chemin de Pouillerel 1
2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

7. Jeanne Gang's Belden Loft

2650 West Belden Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

The 2,200-square-foot former industrial space, which owner Susan Craig said they nicknamed the bra house because the building was once home to an undergarment manufacturer, needed a complete conversion. Gang designed and helped build the space pro bono as a favor for a friend (and an early resume piece). The result, an open, multi-level living space, features an atrium with a domed skylight that retracts with the push of a button like a garage door, providing the loft with an interior courtyard and connection to the outdoors. A towering wooden book shelf offers space for Craig to display her huge art collection, and retractable steel screens, set on tracks like barn doors, help frame and divide the space. The centerpiece may be a custom staircase, a spiral of Douglas fir and exposed steel railings that was based on a Lina Bo Bardi design, according to Craig. The open bathroom also contains a sentimental touch, drapery swen by Gang's mother.

2650 West Belden Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647

8. Frank Gehry's David Cabin

Northridge Drive, Idyllwild, CA 92549

The 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom summer home, clad in redwood siding and set on a sloped wooded lot 6,300 feet above sea level, fits in with a neighborhood filled with cabins and vacation homes. A straightforward design hidden from view in this alpine village, "you have to dig deep" to recognize it's a Gehry design. It's also near another famous cabin by a noted architect, the Pearlman Cabin, which John Lautner built on Middle Ridge a year prior.

Northridge Drive
Idyllwild, CA 92549

9. Zaha Hadid's Vitra Fire Station

Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany

If done today, the project would have looked very different, according to Hadid, since she had so much time to break down and refine her ideas. Working with her associate Patrik Schumacher, Hadid decided to create a building that treated the setting, a long road through the middle of the Vitra campus, as a linear landscape. The station had to reflect the brand's promise of precision ("like a clock") while also navigating fire regulations and the site's layout. The resulting mass of vectors and shapes, a prism of reinforced in-situ concrete with a pointed roof that some have said is an homage to Koolhaas, exemplifies movement. The pointed exterior, with a dramatic overhang, converges above the entrance, and gives way to an interior just as angular and sharp; lighting is provided by florescent strips embedded in the ceilings and walls, and the design of the locker room was influenced by Richard Serra. While the large garage for the fire trucks illuminates the vehicles from below, no effect can compete with the drama of the building itself. Hadid has said the structure is almost like a piece of Land Art due to the way the slim profile defines a narrow corridor.

Charles-Eames-Straße 2
79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany

10. Hugh Newell Jacobsen's Roberts Residence

River Rock Road, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

The simple wooden Roberts Residence looks very different from the gabled, minimalist, mostly white structures that would become Jacobsen hallmark. Clad in California redwood, it's an elegant take on a cabin, a simple structure elevated above the sloping ground near the Potomac River.

River Rock Road
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

11. Philip Johnson's 9 Ash Street House

9 Ash Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

When approached from the street, one lined with otherwise traditional designs from colonial to shingle-style, Johnson's first work teases, hidden behind a high fence with no suggestion of what lays behind. The home at 9 Ash Street was both an open courtyard home based on Miesian principles of simplicity as well as a secluded suburban escape, lined with 9-foot-tall walls that frame the yard and join with the building itself. Where the Glass House celebrated the surrounding unencumbered landscape, the home at 9 Ash Street turned away from its dense Cambridge neighborhood, hiding behind its own walls like a turtle retreating to its shell. That's not to say this is an unsightly piece of work; viewing the courtyard through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows from atop the Mies Barcelona chairs that originally graced the living room, it offer the closest thing to the Glass House experience as you can get a short walk from Harvard Yard. Essentially a dry run for his signature work, Johnson's first private home may make an even more intriguing statement about transparency, since it attempts to create openness where none existed.

9 Ash Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

12. Louis Kahn's Ahavath Israel Synagogue

6737 North 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19126

A solid, cube-like mass that sticks out from the adjoining row houses, the structure has a Modernist bent and simple layout, an industrial shul with a two-story prayer hall, dark metal stairs, an upper floor balcony and caretaker's apartment out back. A row of glass bricks near the top of the rear wall projected lights onto the bimah (reading platform) and ark. According to George H. Marcus, a Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Houses of Louis Kahn, the rectangular, brick industrial-style building has been altered quite a bit since it was originally constructed, and as far as scholars know, was never photographed in its original state. He theorizes the gig may have been handed off by another architect, but there aren't many details, and the project seems to have had no real influence.

6737 North 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19126

13. Rem Koolhaas' Almere Police Station

Bivak 1, 1353 AA Almere, Netherlands

OMA's own description of the project—"It is not blessed with a beautiful site"—seems to offer little more than resigned acceptance. After the town's old station burnt down, construction of the new building was rushed during the last six months of 1985, diverting OMA from their Netherlands Dance Theater Project, one they felt was more worthy of champagne and celebration. Still, the 2,600-square-meter (28,000-square-foot) single-story structure with light blue towers, a blue brick front facade and pink terrazzo porch does suggest how the architectural rebel was able to feel comfortable creating a symbol of the state. Confined between a highway, parking lot and set of flats, the cramped location falls within a planned town set on land reclaimed from the sea. The station which cost $700,000 to build, isn't much to look at from the outside. But the interior shows a thoughtful arrangement meant to downplay any air of authoritarianism, boasting an airy central courtyard and Japanese rock garden that illuminate and space that emphasized police-public interaction.

Bivak 1
1353 AA Almere, Netherlands

14. Oscar Niemeyer's Grande Hotel Ouro Preto

Rua Vereador Rodrigo Tófolo, 2, Cidade Ouro Preto - MG, 35400-000, Brazil

While Niemeyer's design for the hotel triumphed, it's important to give credit to the architect's mentor, Lucio Costa, whose suggestion to replace the steel brise-soleil with ceramic tiles and a wooden roof placated members of the committee who were looking for a design with some connection to the past. The tweak, along with a horizontal alignment that hugged the landscape, stood out among the raised terrain, and gave every room a view of the historic square, turned Niemeyer's original blueprint into a fusion of the modern and traditional, perhaps the perfect calling card for a radical architect looking to gain work in a conservative country (remember, one of Niemeyer' signature early works, the Igreja da Pampulha, was called "the devil's bomb shelter" by a local archbishop).

Rua Vereador Rodrigo Tófolo, 2, Cidade Ouro Preto - MG
35400-000, Brazil

15. Jean Nouvel's Maison Delbigot

Le Guillentou, Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, France

Designed for a retired couple, family friends living in the southwest of France, Nouvel's first built project has a certain Blade Runner/Death Star appeal to it, a brutish wedge of concrete that looks more appropriate for the blackness of deep space than the French countryside. The slanting, angular exterior appears to suggest an uncomfortable interior, but it actually smooths out the irregular, sloped site, making for a livable, if unorthodox, floor plan.

Le Guillentou
Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, France

16. I.M. Pei's Gulf Oil Building

131 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30308

The brief called for a gleaming new office space for the Gulf Oil Company built for just $7 a square foot, a minuscule budget that Pei stretched with a combination of Modernist design and masterful negotiations. The Miesian layout was due in part to a prefab construction plan; a series of identical bays were assembled into a skeletal frame in two weeks, creating the outlines of a central, open workspace ringed with executive offices. The entire 50,000-square-foot building took just four months from start to finish. Marble and fixed glass panels, installed from inside and caulked from the outside, made building the simple rectangular box even easier. The designer also bargained for materials, convincing the nearby Georgia Marble Company to cut him a sweetheart deal in exchange for having his product showcased in the new Gulf Oil offices.

131 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30308

17. Renzo Piano's Italian Industry Pavilion

Expoland, 1 Senribanpakukōen, Suita-shi, Ōsaka-fu 565-0826, Japan

"At the beginning of my career, the piece-by-piece attitude gave me the opportunity to study, experiment and understand the logic of materials," said Piano. This temporary pavilion was no exception. The square structure stretched out his previous small-scale, experimental work, such as the barrel vaulted miners pavilion, while including subtle curves in every square grid that looked like petals waiting to bloom. Packaged and transported overseas in 15 shipping containers, the tent-like structure was also a prefab experiment that presaged the exposed suspensions, external supports and intricate jointing that would be seen on later Piano projects, especially the Centre Georges Pompidou. Construction of the pavilion, a steel skeleton with reinforced polyester cladding and panels, was also a family affair; his late brother Ermanno assisted with assembly.

Expoland, 1 Senribanpakukōen, Suita-shi
Ōsaka-fu 565-0826, Japan

18. Expo Commemoration Park, Suita, Osaka Japan

Spitzweggasse 3, 14482 Potsdam, Germany

Decidedly quaint, the two-story cottage would seem like a clear outlier in an oeuvre defined by glass-and-steel temples. The rectangular home with a steep tiled roof and stucco walls featured two main alcoves along with built-ins in the kitchen and bookcase. The restrained interior, done in a style many have compared to traditional English design, also drew inspiration from Paul's previous work, especially a dining room for a 1906 Dresden Exhibition. Two separate gardens set upon the sloping yard, both a French-influenced, more manicured upper level and a more unkempt, natural green space below, helped frame views of Lake Griebnitz, just 500 feet away. The Riehls were thrilled with the finished design, nicknaming their new home the "Klösterli" (little cloister).

Spitzweggasse 3
14482 Potsdam, Germany

19. Paul Rudolph's Atkinson House

628 East Samford Avenue, Auburn, AL 36830

Coming out of a school pushing a Beaux-Arts curriculum, the 21-year-old still dived headfirst into the modernist movement with his first independent project, attempting to provide an airy, open floor plan for the 1,364-square-foot home while staying within his limited budget. While it was far from a radical design, notable flourishes—including built-in furniture, contemporary features such as central heating, and material experimentation—showed him looking toward the future. The layout not only foreshadowed future work, especially his string of Modernist residences in Sarasota, but it also demonstrated that he was rooted in the Southern vernacular and the concept of open-air living. One touch that showed both a strong vision, as well as perhaps a nod to Art Deco, was the exotic six-by-ten-foot mural he carved over the fireplace. Cut out of Homasote, a fiberboard material, the almost mythological image of a fisherman struggling with netting has been seen as both a nod to past styles and, potentially, a homoerotic design with a slight sexual undercurrent, a sign of the architect's self-expression.

628 East Samford Avenue
Auburn, AL 36830

20. Eero Saarinen's J.F. Spencer House

8634 Nadine Avenue, Huntington Woods, MI 48070

Saarinen's first solo project, the J.F. Spencer House, a 2,000-square-foot, two-story brick building in suburban Detroit, didn't incorporate many of the more forward-thinking elements that had begun to show up in Saarinen's sketches at the time, such as the radical "Combined Living-Dining Room-Study, Designed for the Architectural Forum," which was as academic as the title suggested. Boasting a hipped tile roof and attached garage, it's straightforward, unassuming and a lesser-known project that's briefly mentioned in Saarinen's body of work, if at all. To be fair, Saarinen was building for the upper-class subdivision of Huntington Woods, then an area filled with business execs who appreciated the proximity to Detroit as well as the Rackham Golf Course, designed by famous Scottish-born course architect Donald Ross.

8634 Nadine Avenue
Huntington Woods, MI 48070

21. Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School

6590 Wisconsin 23 Trunk, Spring Green, WI 53588

Done in the shingle style that his mentor, Silsbee, was known for, the "Home Building," as the structure was initially called, showed Wright's budding talents, though it didn't necessarily foreshadow his unique vision. A 33-room building set on the school's 100-acre plot, the structure was built to a very domestic scale and had modern conveniences such as steam-heating. An extension was added the following year, which some have taken to mean Wright's initial design was too small. Wright would later publish drawings of the building plans in his uncle Jenkin's magazine, Unity. Not much has been written about this project, which would be replaced 15 years later by a new building designed by Wright.

6590 Wisconsin 23 Trunk
Spring Green, WI 53588