What is the most important piece of architecture built since 1980? Vanity Fairâ€™s survey of 52 experts, including 11 Pritzker Prize winners, has provided a clear answer: Frank Gehryâ€™s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. But parsing the votes, which also anointed Renzo Pianoâ€™s Menil Collection, Peter Zumthorâ€™s Thermal Baths, and Sir Norman Fosterâ€™s HSBC Building, among other significant structures, Matt Tyrnauer examines the complex legacy of Modernism and the impact of its greatest renegade.
…In February 1998, at the age of 91, Philip Johnson, the godfather of modern architecture, who 40 years earlier had collaborated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the iconic Seagram Building, in Manhattan, traveled to Spain to see the just-completed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
He stood in the atrium of the massive, titanium-clad structure with its architect, Frank Gehry, as TV cameras fromÂ Charlie Rose captured him gesturing up to the torqued and sensually curving pillars that support the glass-and-steel ceiling and saying, â€œArchitecture is not about words. Itâ€™s about tears.â€ Breaking into heavy sobs, he added, â€œI get the same feeling in Chartres Cathedral.â€ Bilbao had just opened its doors, but Johnson, the principal apostle of the two dominant forms of architecture in the 20th centuryâ€”Modernism and Postmodernismâ€”and the design establishmentâ€™s ultimate arbiter, was prepared to call it on the spot. He anointed Gehry â€œthe greatest architect we have todayâ€ and later declared the structure â€œthe greatest building of our time.â€