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Then and Now: How Present Day Public Architecture Stacks Up Against Mid-Century Greats

Contemporary vs. mid-century modern is really just a question of taste. Everyone has a different take on the matter, but exceptional architecture is beautiful no matter the year it was built. Today we take a look at examples of modern vs. contemporary in several different examples of public architecture. Which is better? We’ll leave it to you to decide.

Museums

Guggenheim Museum in New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943

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Photos courtesy of the New York City Minute.

Mumok Museum in Vienna, designed by Michael Wallraff in 2001

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Photos courtesy of the City of Vienna.

Libraries

Whittier Public Library in California, designed by William H. Harrison in 1959

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Photos courtesy of Mid-Century Modern Freak

Bishan Public Library in Singapore, designed by LOOK Architects in 2006

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Photos courtesy of Feel Desain.

Railways Stations

Kamlapur Railway Station in Bangladesh, designed by Robert Bouighy in 1961

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Photos courtesy of Skyscraper City.

Alicante Railway Station designed by Subarquitectura in 2007

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Photos courtesy of Homedit.

Banks

 Coachella Valley Savings & Loan designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1962

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Photos courtesy of Raincross Square.

PKO Bank in Warsaw, designed by Robert Majkut Design in 2011

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 Photos courtesy of E-Architect.

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Landscape as a Human Experience: The Work of Lawrence Halprin

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Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

First and foremost, Lawrence Halprin was a scholar. With two bachelor degrees and a masters in art, Halprin was still unsure of how to to use his years of education in the early 1940s. During his studies, he worked and studied alongside prominent figures such as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Philip Johnson. It wasn’t until he visited Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin that Halprin decided he was born to design.

Halprin opened his own landscape architecture firm in San Fransisco in 1949 and worked on many modest projects throughout the 1950s. It was his design for Ghirardelli Square at the the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, however, that gained him national acclaim.

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Photo courtesy of Calisphere.

After that, Halprin was commissioned to design countless parks, fountains, plazas, and estate grounds across the country. His work is marked by an unusual attention to the human experience. His fountains and plazas are often “playable” with various platforms and levels that can be climbed, stood upon, and experienced in different ways.

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Seattle Freeway Park, 1976. Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle.

Today, many of his works still exist, and are beloved by the local community. Unfortunately, in some cases, city officials and administrative personnel have neglected his public designs, allowing them to fall into disrepair. Capitol Towers, for instance, is an urban development he designed in Sacramento in 1965. Now it is under threat of demolition by city planners who feel the pedestrian-focused area is a waste of space. Read more about the pending catastrophe here: Sacramento Modern.

Whether his works survive the ages or not, this is one landscape designer who will go down in history.

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Lovejoy Fountain Park in Portland, 1963. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland.

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Lovejoy Fountain Park in Portland, 1963. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland.

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Lovejoy Fountain Park in Portland, 1963. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland.

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Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, 1968. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland.

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Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, 1968. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland.

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Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco, 1981. Photo courtesy of Design by the Bay.

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Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, 1966. Photo courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

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Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, 1966. Photo courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

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The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in D.C., 1997. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

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Seattle Freeway Park, 1976. Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle.

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Seattle Freeway Park, 1976. Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle.

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Seattle Freeway Park, 1976. Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle.

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Skyline Park in Denver, 1974. Photo courtesy of Downtown Denver.

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Bunker Hill Landscape and Gardens in Los Angeles, 1987. Photo courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.