Beautiful Public Buildings Preserved on the Plains

My wife and I recently took a motorcycle trip with some friends through parts of the Great Plains Region.  We saw a great deal of Nature’s beautiful handiwork from glacier-created lakes in western Iowa to the sacred pipestone quarries in western Minnesota, to sweeping expanses of grasslands that once teemed with buffalo (more correctly referred to as the American bison).  These natural wonders caused us to park the bikes and spend some time exploring.  What I didn’t expect, however, was experiencing that same sense of awe and appreciation over some man-made wonders!  Even more amazing, the buildings that gave us pause were county courthouses from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

rock county minnesota courthouse luverne minnesota

The Rock County Courthouse, Luverne, MN.

The first courthouse that pulled us in was the Rock County Courthouse in Luverne, Minnesota.  According to their website, “[This] three-story Romanesque building was built in 1888 of Sioux quartz rock mined from a quarry located in nearby Blue Mound State Park (one of the natural wonders I mentioned earlier).  It was renovated to its current condition in 1988 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

This beautiful building adorns a square two blocks north of the main business district.  Next to it, and also built with Sioux quartz, is the Veterans Memorial Center.  The Veterans Memorial building houses the Chamber of Commerce/Visitors’ Information Center and Brandenburg Gallery (home to many original works by National Geographic photographer and native son, Jim Brandenburg) along with a Veterans Museum (with artifacts and videos covering the Civil War to WWII).  We spent an entire morning feasting on these two beautiful architectural wonders and their historical and cultural contents.  View Slideshow of Both Buildings

Our other courthouse stop was about two hours south and east in the city of Spencer, Iowa.  The Clay County Courthouse has some similarities to Rock County’s.  Both buildings have a reddish hue, and both buildings feature a dome or tower with an open viewing area beneath their domes.  Like many buildings from this era, they also feature quality workmanship and beautiful architectural details.

Courthouse Clay County Iowa

The architectural styles, however, are different.  Clay County’s building, built twelve years later (begun in 1900), is Classic Revival while Rock County’s is Romanesque.  And unlike the Rock County Courthouse that still houses county offices, the Clay County Courthouse is only used for court cases and related judicial offices.  Since no cases were being held at the time we were there, we were able to tour the building and see the beautiful interior details such as stained glass windows, decorative ceilings, wonderful woodwork details, tile floors and other architectural touches that are often missing in today’s buildings (or are not done with the same quality of craftsmanship or materials).

There are several takeaways here.  Both these communities care about preserving the past.  Also, quality of craftsmanship, quality of design and material quality equal sustainable buildings that can still be functional and beautiful more than one hundred years later.  Finally, beautiful architecture is not confined to major metropolitan areas.  View Slideshow

Architecture, Environment and H2O

What do you get when you combine environmental awareness, educational opportunities and historical understanding – The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium!  Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, the facility is a mecca for those interested in all things aquatic.   My wife and I had a chance to explore it when we spent a day in Dubuque during a recent fall motorcycle trip.

The center consists of two main buildings as well as an assortment of boats and other outdoor learning stations and is located in the old Ice Harbor area on the west bank of the Mississipi River near downtown Dubuque.  The first part, the William Woodward Mississippi River Center, opened in 2003.  Designed by EHDD Architecture of San Francisco, the structure houses multiple aquariums and exhibits.  According to EHDD’s website, the client wanted a structure that fit with the 19th Century riverfront and industrial architecture of the city.  Local materials like limestone and wood frame windows were chosen so the structure would blend seamlessly with the surrounding buildings.

The new portion of the facility (seen on the left side of the photos 1-3 below) was combined with the old Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works factory (the low-slung structure at the right in photos 1-3).  At the time of its closing in the 1970s, the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works company was the second-oldest ship builder in the country.  During its operational life, the company built everything from steam-driven riverboats to naval sub chasers and mine layers.

Inside the main facility are eight aquariums with fish, amphibians and reptiles from all ecosystems along the 2,552 mile-long Mississippi.  There are also many historical displays to explore.  You can step inside a riverboat, explore life on a flatboat, and view the natural habitat of the Mississippi on a boardwalk trail; these are just three of the many educational opportunities available to visitors.  There is also a hands-on learning center with a touch-tank and many animal specimens.  You can even partake in outdoor environmental presentations like a river otter show and step aboard a real Mississippi riverboat, the William M. Black, as well as a tug, the Logsdon.

In 2010 the Diamond Jo National Rivers Center was added to the campus.  While the original facility, the William Woodward Mississippi River Center, is primarily focused on the Mississippi, the National Rivers Center designed by Christopher Chadbourne and Associates, deals with a wide variety of aquatic environments from oceans and seas to other major river systems and waterways.  There are four saltwater aquariums, one of which is the 32 by 15 foot, 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico aquarium.  This giant aquarium contains sharks, rays and moray eels.  There are also many historical displays covering everything from Native Americans and Voyageurs to famous people associated with river transportation and exploration.

We were impressed with the number of environmental displays in the National Rivers Center and of the abundance of environmental information.   One interesting fact I discovered was how much water can be saved by using a car wash instead of a hose; a car wash can cut water usage in half!  The Center is also a research facility, the National River Research Center, dedicated to learning more about the science and history of rivers.  There is also a library of books, paintings, documents, photographs and manuscripts of America’s river history.  One final feature of the new Rivers Center is the 3-D and 4-D theater.  Museum goers get a break on tickets to the films, but you do not need to buy a museum ticket to see them.  You can purchase tickets for the theater only.

If you are in the Upper Midwest, a trip to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium complex is a “must-see” opportunity for all ages.  Make sure you set aside at least a half-day, and I believe, you will find things to see and do there even if you choose to spend an entire day.  And, as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museums, you can be sure that you will receive a high-quality learning experience.

 

Daily Dose: Centre Pompidou

Add to TwitterLike the Guggenheim’s expansion from NYC to Bilbao, Spain, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is increasing the reach of its collection by installing a satellite museum in Metz, France. The original 1977 building contains one of the finest collections of modern art and is a notable aspect of Parisian architecture.

Centre Pompidou, Paris; Image courtesy of gothereguide.com

Pompidou-Metz; Image ©Roland Halbe

Shigeru Ban, the architect who designed the Pompidou-Metz, is known for his use of renewable materials and willingness to build for the public good; his cardboard and paper shelters provided relief for refugees following the 1996 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Ban’s newest creation is a bit more permanent in nature, and much more fanciful. Pompidou-Metz’s roof has a clean-cut, futuristic profile that gives way to intricate, wood lattice-work support pillars. The sensuously curved elements appear in stark contrast to the boxy, industrial look of the main portion of the museum, and while it’s certainly something new, it doesn’t necessarily make the mark for some.

Pompidou-Metz; Image ©Roland Halbe

Rowan Moore of Architectural Record is especially critical:

The theme of the building is the play of the monumental and the spontaneous, the permanent and the transient. However, instead of dancing together, these qualities entangle and trip. If it’s a tent, it’s a lugubrious one; if it’s a museum, it’s a shoddy one.

I must admit that I, too, am left confused by the building’s purpose and overall character based on its haphazard appearance. The roof drew me in and remains a strong point of interest (especially as it’s lit up – it seems so weightless and un-anchored), but the Pompidou-Metz as a whole can’t quite pass muster.

What do you think? Are we being overly critical of a structure that is “great before its time” or does Pompidou-Metz lack cohesiveness and relevancy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sources/Images:
http://archrecord.construction.com/projects/portfolio/archives/1007pompidou-metz-1.asp
http://www.gothereguide.com/pompidou+centre+paris-place/

Daily Dose: Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum

Add to TwitterThe Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum in Nanjing was winning awards before it was even completed, as early as 2006. More recently, it was chosen by ArchDaily as the 2009 Building of the Year. It is faced with travertine natural stone and a large glass roofed area links the two U-shaped buildings, providing a spacious and exposed entryway.

Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum; Image courtesy of KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten

Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum Entryway; Image courtesy of KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten

The light-colored stone and offset vertical windows lend an airiness to an otherwise solid structure. Designers KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten were also the minds behind the National Library of China in Beijing.

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Sources:
http://www.archdaily.com/52446/nanjing-art-museum-ksp-jurgen-engel-architekten/
http://www.ksp-architekten.de/
Images:
http://www.ksp-architekten.de/