The Art of Structure, September 25, 2010–January 17, 2011, The Heinz Architectural Center
Pittsburgh, PA… The Art of Structure explores radical works of 20th-century engineering that are now in the canon of Modernist design. These projects, presented primarily through three-dimensional models, range from bridges spanning vertiginous valleys in the Swiss Alps to extraordinarily thin shells sheltering public markets in mid-century Mexico.
The Art of Structure brings together two exhibitions organized by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University and originally presented at the Princeton University Art Museum. Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structural Artist focuses on concrete shell experiments in Mexico by the Spanish-born architect Félix Candela. The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy examines the work of four Swiss engineers, three renowned for bridge design, and the fourth for concrete shell construction.
The exhibition features approximately 20 models complemented by original drawings, notebooks, and photographs. Notable projects include the Los Manantiales restaurant near Mexico City, the Bacardí Rum factory in Mexico, Salginatobel Bridge in rural Switzerland, and the George Washington Bridge connecting Manhattan and New Jersey.
“The show highlights practical structures that are designed with remarkable economy and elegance and that significantly enrich civic life,” said Raymund Ryan, curator of the Heinz Architectural Center and organizer of The Art of Structure. “This exhibition provides the opportunity for Pittsburghers, understandably proud of our city’s unique collection of bridges, to view this heritage of Swiss bridge design.”
The four Swiss engineers featured in the exhibition are Robert Maillart (1872–1940), Othmar Ammann (1879–1965), Heinz Isler (1926–2009), and Christian Menn (b. 1927). All four were educated at Zurich’s prestigious Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), where mentors included Wilhelm Ritter and Pierre Lardy. Maillart and Menn designed some of Switzerland’s most dramatic bridges, while Ammann immigrated to the United States and was responsible for public works projects like the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan and the Bayonne Bridge that connects New Jersey to Staten Island. The fourth Swiss engineer, Isler excelled at designing concrete shells such as those for the Heimberg Indoor Tennis Center near Berne, Switzerland, and the Grotzingen Outdoor Theater in Germany.
Another seminal designer of concrete shells, Félix Candela (1910–1997) is universally recognized as one of the great structural artists of the 20th century. Trained as an architect, Candela was exiled to Mexico in the late 1930s after Spain’s Civil War. It was in Mexico that he constructed concrete shells that exploit hyperbolic paraboloid or “hypar” geometries. This method allows for complex curved structures to be formed using simple straight boards as formwork.
The Art of Structure examines Candela’s key works: the Bacardí Rum bottling plant; the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; the Cosmic Rays Laboratory at Mexico City’s Ciudad Universitaria (in places its roof is as thin as 5/8 inches); the chapel at Lomas de Cuernavaca, an exaggerated hypar; and Los Manantiales restaurant, consisting of four intersecting hypars on the banks of picturesque canals at Xochimilco to the south of Mexico City.
The objects on view not only reveal an understanding of engineering principles and the construction process, but also convey the emotive power of structure. According to David P. Billington in his monograph on Candela co-authored with Maria E. Moreyra Garlock, Candela was “a structural artist—that is, an engineer who has all the qualities of a master builder and possesses aesthetic motivation.”
Billington and Garlock, professors of engineering at Princeton University, co-curated Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structural Artist. Billington is the original curator for The Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy.
Billington has noted in his introduction to the Swiss Legacy catalogue that “structural forms came exclusively from the engineering imagination, and for each designer, aesthetic sensitivity was central to his thinking…. [T]hat imagination can operate only after substantial formal education and practical experience.”
This examination of engineering grew from “Structures and the Urban Environment,” a renowned course taught by Billington and Garlock that introduces students to structures that improve public life, blending elegance with minimal waste of materials. Princeton graduate students constructed the models exhibited in The Art of Structure.
“Through functional and brave design, engineering can result in architecture and in infrastructure of lasting beauty,” said Ryan.
The Art of Structure was organized by the Department of Engineering at Princeton University. The programs of the Heinz Architectural Center are made possible by the generosity of the Drue Heinz Trust. General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Carnegie Museum of Art
Located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European works from the 16th century to the present. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the physical environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit our web site at www.cmoa.org.