A few months ago, I set up a Zoom call with the architects Toshiko Mori, Annabelle Selldorf and Vincent Van Duysen; the designer Tom Dixon; the artist and set designer Es Devlin; the critic and T contributor Nikil Saval; and Tom Delavan, T’s design/interiors director, to talk about postwar architecture. Our goal was to make a list — similar to ones we’ve done on influential rooms, protest artand contemporary art — of the 25 most significant buildings constructed after World War II. The word “significant” always inspires debate, and there was plenty of disagreement among those assembled, but we hoped to surface projects made over the last eight decades anywhere in the world, whether public or private — though we did limit our list to those that are still standing (which, if you consider various oppressive governments, imposed some geographical limitations) — and so we asked each of our panelists to nominate 10 or so entries ahead of time, from which we would mercilessly cull.
Modernists, of course, played an important role in this discussion, and a few of them — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Lina Bo Bardi, Luis Barragán — were named again and again on our individual ballots. There were also three buildings — Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951; Plano, Ill.); Kahn’s Salk Institute (1965; La Jolla, Calif.); Bo Bardi’s SESC Pompéia (1986; São Paulo) — that received three preliminary votes each, practically mandating their inclusion as finalists. From there, though, the conversation was as sprawling and high-spirited as the styles, countries, aesthetics, typologies and practitioners represented by the projects we narrowed in on below (which appear in chronological order, from their dates of completion), as our experts lobbied for or against architecture that they felt had not only reshaped the world and era in which it was introduced but also has endured and remains influential today.
Given the difficulties plaguing our current moment, it’s not surprising that the social concerns of architecture — the need to provide housing, for instance, or create useful civic and academic structures; the idea that beautiful cities and communities shouldn’t only be built for and by the rich; the urgency of sustainability, environmentalism and more careful materiality — were on everyone’s mind, and we attempted to be democratic in more literal ways, too, choosing projects from every continent except for Antarctica (though, spoiler alert, outer space makes an appearance) and considering the field’s historical inequities, especially in the West, and particularly when it comes to Black architects and women architects. That said, a different list would have emerged from a different group, or even from this same group on a different afternoon. As Selldorf pointed out in a brief moment of frustration with the assignment, “The real trouble is there are more than 25 important buildings.” Nonetheless, here’s our humble attempt. — Kurt Soller