13 Things About Architecture You May Not Have Known

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Architecture has always been a mysterious profession, but due to lack of awareness in the profession, many things about Architecture have been unknown to the public. To start with a few facts which are surprising to know are as follows:

  1. 9/11 World Trade Centre Attack leader was an Architect

New York City thought it was the end of 9/11, after the attack but after 20 long years of World Trade Centre, New York thrives for every individual lost. Mohammed Atta, a pilot, who crashed the first plane into the North Tower, had a degree in architecture and urban planning. He blamed the construction of high-rises in Cairo and other ancient Middle Eastern cities a shameless embrace of the West that would destroy their character, thus questioning the future of vertical architecture.

  1. The architecture was Once an Olympic Sport

In the first four decades of the modern Olympic Games, around 151 medals were awarded to the creative arts of music, painting, sculpture, literature, and architecture. The only criteria caveat: every submission had to be sports-related.

De Coubertin wrote at the time, “In the high times of Olympia, the fine arts were combined harmoniously with the Olympic Games to create their glory. This is to become reality once again.”

The first architecture competition, held in 1912 at the Stockholm Games had all entries in specific categories of the artistries, they were required to draw links between art and sport. The architecture competition allowed both built work and speculative designs to evaluate along with designs for the urban and town planning aspects.

  1. LEGO used to make special bricks for architects

Usually, kids who play with Legos are speculated to become engineers and architects of the future, but this company lead to a revolutionary idea of making a brick out of plastic just like in the game for real architectural practice. The name for this Lego architecture block was Modulex. In the times of 1963, the company began selling a slightly different version of its eponymous modular plastic bricks called Modulex, which were intended to enable ambitious Lego fans to construct structures that closely resembled human architecture, by allowing for greater detail and a more precise scale.

Modulex was somehow an interesting attempt but it failed due to its structural durability.

  1. “The Sims” was originally designed as an architecture simulator

Yes, you heard it right! The sims video program was initially designed as an architectural stimulator with the Sims there only to evaluate the houses. However, during development it was decided that the Sims were more interesting than originally anticipated and so the game was built around them, thus leading to development towards the game aspect.

  1. Frank Lloyd wright’s son invented Lincoln logs

John Lloyd Wright, the son of the famous architect ‘Frank Llyod Wright’ observed interlocking timber beams used to make the structure “earthquake-proof” a design which was later tested by 1923’s Great Kanto Earthquake. It left most of the city destroyed but the Imperial Hotel stands due to its structural design. So, the younger Wright acted along with inspiration to invent the similar interlocking Lincoln Logs, which quickly proved its use to a vast market.

  1. It took longer to finish construction on The Great Wall of China than the start of Christianity today!

Great Wall of China, an extensive bulwark erected in ancient China is one of the largest building-construction projects ever undertaken, which consists of numerous walls many of them parallel to each other built over two millennia across northern China and southern Mongolia. The most extensive and best-preserved version of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) which often traces the crest lines of hills and mountains as it snakes across the Chinese countryside, about one-fourth of its length consists of natural barriers such as rivers and mountain ridges. Although lengthy sections of the wall are now in ruins or have disappeared completely, it is still one of the more remarkable structures on Earth. The Great Wall was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

  1. Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret designed a car, which inspired the now famous Volkswagen Beetle.

In 1936, Le Corbusier and His cousin set to design an automobile and called it Voiture Minimum. They designed it with the concept of a minimalist vehicle for maximum functionality. Thus, serving its true purpose of modernism and minimalism together. The car was never, actually, manufactured, but the architect was persistent that it inspired the Volkswagen Beetle. Thus, his dream became true and the car can be credited for being visioned by Pierre Brothers.

  1. The City of Cincinnati, Ohio Has an Abandoned Subway System Which Was Never Used

The people of Cincinnati voted to fund the construction of a subway in 1916 which would revolutionize the city’s public transportation network to something new and efficient. A few years later, all that remains is a two-mile stretch of abandoned tunnels running below the declining city. Then the state of Ohio deemed the tunnel a “confined space,” thus making it unsuitable for public purposes, and the only entrance is through a hatch in the median of a busy street. The only utilitarian purpose the tunnel serves today is housing water mains and some fibre-optic cables which now defies the purpose far from what early 20th-century planners had hoped for the subway.

  1. A French Postman Spent 33 Years Building the “Ideal Palace” With Stones He Collected During His Daily Round

Ferdinand Cheval (19 April 1836 – 19 August 1924) was a postman who spent thirty-three years of his life building Le Palais idéal (the “Ideal Palace”) in Hauterives, which is regarded as an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture. He spent the first twenty years building the outer walls. At first, he carried the stones in his pockets, then he switched to a basket ending to a wheelbarrow. The palace materials mainly consist of stones (river washed), pebbles, porous tufa, and fossils of many different shapes and sizes. The decoration resembles aspects of both the Brighton Pavilion and Gaudí’s Sagrada Família.

  1. Girih Tiles, Used by Islamic Architects for Hundreds of Years, Are Mathematically Similar to Penrose Tiling, Discovered in the 1970s

Medieval Islamic designers used elaborate geometrical tile patterns, 500 years before Western mathematicians developed the concept. The geometric design, called “girih”, was widely used for aesthetic purposes of decorating Islamic architecture but the advanced mathematical calculations within the patterns were not recognized, until now. Physicist Peter Lu at Harvard University, US, realized the 15th-century tiles formed so-called Penrose geometric patterns when he spotted them on a visit to Uzbekistan.

Scholars had thought the girih was created by drawing a zigzag network of lines with a straight edge and compass. But when Lu looked at them, he recognized the regular but non-repetitive patterns of Penrose tiling a concept developed in the Western people in the 1970s.

Simple periodic patterns can be generated easily by repeating a unit cell of several elements, a technique widely used in tile patterns, but the rotational symmetry possible is limited. In the 1970s, Roger Penrose at the University of Oxford in the UK showed, for the first time, that “thick” and “thin” rhombus-shaped tiles could cover a plane, creating a non-repetitive pattern with five-fold rotational symmetry.

  1. The Aurora Ice Hotel in Alaska was made entirely of ice. Ice walls, ceiling, beds, bar, even martini glasses were made of ice. It was closed by the fire marshall for not having smoke detectors

The Aurora Ice Hotel was made entirely of ice and had a short-lived existence, but the Aurora Ice Museum replaced it. The museum uses geothermal technology to keep it at 25 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) all year, despite summers which can reach more than 90 degrees, thus making it liveable all around the year. It took more than 1,000 tons of ice and snow to create the museum, which resembled a church. The designed ice crystal chandeliers that change colours to depict the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. Features of the museum include a two-story observation tower, kids’ fort, jousters on horseback, a giant chess set, a Christmas tree bedroom, a polar bear bedroom, an ice outhouse, and a wedding venue.

  1. Celebrated architect Zaha Hadid was known for never designing a building containing a right angle.

While Hadid had a successful practice for decades, it took the architect years to turn her drawings into physical forms with many disregarding her designs as pure fantasy-driven architecture. With perseverance though, she soon became known by many as the “queen of the curve”, never compromising on her ideas. Though Hadid didn’t subscribe to one school of thought when it came to her designs, many have attributed her style of architecture to movements including Deconstructivism, Parametrises, and Abstraction. It’s clear the architect had a tendency to play with the geometry of buildings, having once said about her projects: “The idea is not to have any 90-degree angles”.

  1. The Cooper Union Foundation Building in NYC Included an Elevator Shaft, Even Though Modern Elevators Hadn’t Been Invented Yet

The Cooper Union’s Foundation Building in Lower Manhattan was completed in 1859. This large six-story brownstone building of Anglo-Italianate style featuring heavy, ornate, round-arched windows was the first building in the world that was designed to accommodate an elevator—four years before such an invention became available for passenger use. At that time, New York was growing vertically and Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science—one of America’s leading private colleges today—believed that soon people would need elevators to reach the higher floors. Indeed, the development of skyscrapers would not have been possible without elevators. Many architects and engineers of the time must have felt the same, but Peter Cooper—an inventor himself—was one of the first to act.

Cooper instructed his architect, Fred A. Petersen, to build a hollow shaft running the entire height of the building, accessible by doors on each level. The design might have appeared unsafe to many, but Cooper was confident that sooner or later someone would make a functioning elevator.

Cooper definitely had the foresight, but he was not prophetic. Elevators have been around for a long long time, used to hoist goods and cargoes onto ships and up tall buildings. They were just not safe enough for hauling passengers yet. Winches failed regularly and cables snapped sending the load crashing to the ground. What was needed was a safety mechanism that would arrest the fall of the elevator if the cable was to break. Such a demonstration was made by Elisha Otis in 1854—a year after the Cooper Union’s Foundation Building broke ground—at the Exhibition of Industry of All Nations in New York.

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Rutuja Sahane
Rutuja Sahane
Rutuja is an architecture aspirant and studies architecture with art and psychology in keen interest. She’s a magician of sorts, turning her thoughts of wonderment into pieces of originality. She marches to her own beat, and vividly transfer it to her own rhythm. She dramatically extends her boundaries to evolve her perspectives towards her work. She is an avid researcher and finds creative interest in expressing her ardent thoughts in different fields of architecture.

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