Monthly Archives: September 2013

People, People Who List People…

We often hear that one person can make a difference.  I suppose that belief underlies the latest meta-list I’ve created: The Most Influential People of All Time.  Individuals whose actions, ideas, and beliefs have made a significant contribution to the world we live in.  In fact, while most of the 20 lists I found were called “Most Important People” or “Most Influential People”, some of them were called “People Who Changed The World.”  (Note that there is no moral judgment here – for better or for worse, the changes led us to where we are now.)  But as I collected the lists of kings, queens, sultans, politicians, generals, scientists, inventors, authors, activists, revolutionaries and philosophers, I began to question this emphasis on the individual.  The general may be a strategic genius, but it is his troops who do most of the fighting and dying.  The scientist may have made a crucial discovery, but only because of the many earlier discoverers that laid down the path where she took the next step.  Then there is the bizarre phenomenon that throughout history, many important discoveries or inventions occurred simultaneously in multiple locations, completely independent of one another.  There are also changes brought about by communities and cultures, the leaderless masses.  Every individual is affected by these amorphous generalities – community, culture, nation – in countless specific ways that affect the products of his or her mind and hands.  I hope you enjoy the list of influential individuals, but before you give them all the credit or blame for their accomplishments, think about the individuals, communities and cultures that influenced them.

Before you click over to the list, here’s a sneak peek.  I’ve organized the big list chronologically by date of birth, with the rankings tucked away in parentheses at the end of each entry.  For those of you more into rank than chronology, I’ve listed the top 28 most influential people below.

  1. Albert Einstein
  2. Karl Marx
  3. Marie Curie
  4. Mohandas K. Gandhi
  5. William Shakespeare
  6. Sir Isaac Newton
  7. Napoleon Bonaparte
  8. Abraham Lincoln
  9. Charles Darwin
  10. Thomas Alva Edison
  11. Adolf Hitler
  12. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  13. Buddha
  14. Confucius
  15. Aristotle
  16. Alexander the Great
  17. Jesus of Nazareth
  18. Christopher Columbus
  19. Leonardo da Vinci
  20. George Washington
  21. Nelson Mandela
  22. Plato
  23. Galileo Galilei
  24. Louis Pasteur
  25. Sigmund Freud
  26. Henry Ford
  27. Winston Churchill
  28. Mao Zedong

Here is the big list: The Most Influential People of All Time

Best Buildings in Boston and Cambridge?

Because I’ve been spending so much time on architecture lists these days, I decided to collect some “best buildings” lists for my local environs, specifically Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I was shocked to discover that the building on the most “Best Boston Buildings” lists is almost universally reviled by the general public: Boston City Hall.  What do the experts see in it that the average person is missing?  Or is it a case of the Emperor’s New Architecture?

Also, despite Boston’s reputation for being a city with a lot of history (at least by American standards), there are very few old buildings on the list – and nothing before 1700.  

5
Boston City Hall, Boston, MA: Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles (1963-1968) – BrutalistThe much-maligned Boston City Hall topped the charts.
The much-maligned Boston City Hall topped the charts.

4
Massachusetts State House, Boston, MA: Charles Bulfinch (1795-1798); Charles Brigham (1895); Sturgis, Chapman & Andrews (1917) – Federal
Paul Revere covered the dome with copper roof after the wood one began to leak.  The gold came later.
Paul Revere covered the dome with copper roof after the wood one began to leak. The gold came later.

Trinity Church, Boston, MA: Henry Hobson Richardson (1872-1877) – Romanesque RevivalA gem in Copley Square.
A gem in Copley Square.

Boston Public Library, Boston, MA: McKim, Mead & White (1887-1895) – Renaissance RevivalPhilip Johnson's modernist addition didn't make the cut.
Philip Johnson’s modernist addition didn’t make the cut.

Baker House, MIT, Cambridge, MA: Alvo Aalto (1947-1948) – ModernBaker House is a dormitory for MIT students.
Baker House is a dormitory for MIT students.

MIT Chapel, Cambridge, MA: Eero Saarinen (1955) – Modern
Theodore Roszak's spire and bell tower were added in 1956.
Theodore Roszak’s spire and bell tower were added in 1956.

The interior.
The interior.

John Hancock Tower/Hancock Place, Boston, MA: Henry N. Cobb/I. M. Pei & Partners (1968-1976) – Minimalism
At first, the windows were falling out, but the problem was fixed eventually.
At first, the windows were falling out, but the problem was fixed eventually.

3
Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA: John Smibert (1740-1742); Charles Bulfinch (1805) – GeorgianFaneuil Hall, in a slightly smaller iteration, was the site of many Revolutionary activities.
Faneuil Hall, in a slightly smaller iteration, was the site of many Revolutionary activities.

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard, Cambridge, MA: Le Corbusier (1961-1964) – Modern
Harvard's Carpenter Center is the only Le Corbursier in the United States.
Harvard’s Carpenter Center is the only Le Corbursier in the United States.

Simmons Hall, MIT, Cambridge, MA: Steven Holl (2002) – ModernSimmons Hall at MIT.
Simmons Hall at MIT.

Stata Center, MIT, Cambridge, MA: Frank Gehry (2004) – ModernMIT sued Gehry when the building developed leaks, cracks and mold after heavy winters.
MIT sued Gehry when the building developed leaks, cracks and mold after heavy winters.

2
Old South Meeting House, Boston, MA: Robert Twelves (1729) – GeorgianIt was here that the American colonists planned the Boston Tea Party.
It was here that the American colonists planned the Boston Tea Party.

King’s Chapel, Boston, MA: Peter Harrison (1749) – GeorgianThe 18th Century congregation of Kings Chapel mostly opposed independence from Great Britain.
The 18th Century congregation of Kings Chapel mostly opposed independence from Great Britain.

Old City Hall, Boston, MA: G.J.F. Bryant & A.D. Gilman (1862-1865) – Second EmpireKnown as old City Hall, this building was erected on the site of the first public school in America.
Known as old City Hall, this building was erected on the site of the first public school in America.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA: Willard T. Sears (1903) – 15th Century Venetian Palazzo.
The courtyard of the museum, which was designed to look like a 15th century Venetian mansion.
The courtyard of the original museum, which was designed to look like a 15th century Venetian mansion.

Kresge Auditorium, MIT, Cambridge, MA: Eero Saarinen (1950-1955) – Structuralist ModernMIT's premier performance space bears some resemblance to Saarinen's famous TWA Terminal.
MIT’s premier performance space bears some resemblance to Saarinen’s famous TWA Terminal.

Holyoke Center, Harvard, Cambridge, MA: Josep Lluis Sert (1965) – ModernHarvard's Holyoke Center was designed by the-then Dean of the Design School.
Harvard’s Holyoke Center was designed by the-then Dean of the Design School.

Design Research Headquarters, Cambridge, MA: Benjamin Thompson (1969) – ModernBenjamin Thompson designed this building to house his company, Design Research, which went bankrupt in the 1970s.
Benjamin Thompson designed this building to house his retail store, Design Research, which went bankrupt in the 1978.

Christian Science Plaza, Boston, MA: Araldo Cossutta/I. M. Pei & Associates (1968-1974) – Brutallism
I.M. Pei's design for the Christian Science Church Plaza includes several buildings, fountains and a reflecting pool.
I.M. Pei’s design for the Christian Science Church Plaza includes several buildings, fountains and a reflecting pool.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA: Benjamin Thompson (1971-1976)The development of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market into a tourist-friendly area with shops and restaurants spawned imitators around the U.S.
The development of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market into a tourist-friendly area with shops and restaurants spawned imitators around the U.S.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA: Diller Scofidio + Renfro (2009) – ModernThe new ICA building in South Boston was almost universally lauded by the architectural community.
The new ICA building in South Boston was almost universally lauded by the architectural community.

More Lists About Buildings and Food (Actually, Just Buildings)

When I was compiling the “Best Works of Art” lists a few weeks ago, I noticed every once in a while that there would be a building on someone’s list.  I was focused on painting and sculpture, so I mostly ignored these references to architecture.  Until now.

In some ways, architecture is the crowning achievement of the visual arts, in that it incorporates aspects of painting and sculpture, but within the overall context of designed structure in space, so I decided that architecture needed some lists of its own.  As I collected over 20 lists of “Best Buildings” and “Best Architecture”, I found that most of the items on the lists met my common sense notion of architecture: Buildings that people use to live, work, play, worship and learn in.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the scope of architecture went beyond my original conception.  The first obvious exception was bridges – you don’t normally go inside them, like buildings – you travel over them.  Yet bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate and the Millau Viaduct are some of the most spectacular architectural achievements of the modern era.  But the listers also included the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which I thought of as giant sculptures (in fact, the Statue of Liberty is on my paintings and sculptures list).  At least those two items meet my first definition because they are hollow and people can go inside them.

So I revised my working definition of architecture to: Man-made structures that people can go inside, underneath or on top of.  But I saw an immediate problem: this definition was too broad: it would make roads, patios, empty refrigerator boxes and even cruise ships and automobiles into architecture.  Even more perplexing were two items that turned up on multiple “Best Architecture” lists that didn’t seem to fit any reasonable definition I could come up with: the Great Sphinx of Giza and the giant statues (called “moai”) of Easter Island. You can’t go inside them (unlike the nearby pyramids, for example); you can’t go underneath them and, unlike bridges, they are not designed for people to travel over them.

So I turned to my Internet resources.  The online Free Dictionary defines architecture, in part, as: (1) The art and science of designing and erecting buildings; (2) Buildings and other large structures.  The first definition is problematic because it excludes not only the Sphinx and the Moai, but also bridges, which are not normally thought of as buildings.  But the second definition, while simple, seems to do the trick, especially when we recognize that the word ‘structure’ is related to ‘construct’, which implies a controlling mind and would exclude natural arches or rock formations.  One hitch: my new working definition of architecture would include large structures made by animals (non-human animals) – giant termite mounds, for example – but that’s a list for another day.

Here they are,, the new “Best Architecture” lists – with lots of pictures:

Best Architecture of All Time – The Critics’ Picks (in rank order – best buildings first)
Best Architecture of All Time – Chronological (from Stonehenge 2000 BCE to Dubai 2010)