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Architecture is a choral art, but winds around individual trajectories. The 20th century saw the emergence of modern architecture as a product of technical changes, social transformations, and aesthetic mutations: steel and glass, the elevator, or the air conditioning modified the way of building, in a similar way of how cars revolutionized urbanism; the importance of the collective in the labour market and in the daily life, fostered the creation of new buildings, and altered the organization of uses and functions in homes; lastly, artistic vanguards brought a major twist to the way of conceiving interior space and exterior aspect in architectonic works. Nevertheless, these powerful material and cultural forces happened thanks to the talent of singular creative architects, whose work was configured by the circumstances that surrounded them, but who also contributed directly to the intelectual and artistic climate of their time. The four figures chosen here are the key representatives pointed by historiographic canons, and are also considered priority figures by the international organisms in charge of heritage preservation.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) began his career in Chicago, the birthplace of skyscrapers, but he changed the course of architecture through his houses, which broke the usual volumes and opened up to nature -Fallingwater is an extraordinary example-, and finalized his incredible creative journey with the sculptural spiral of the New York Guggenheim Museum, inaugurated half a century ago, and probably the most iconic and popular work of modernity.

Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) introduced from his study in Berlin the constructive rigor of steel or glass, as well as the flowing spaces that can be seen in the Barcelona Pavilion -constructed in 1929, and reconstructed recently- until the totalitarian storm of nazism obliged him to be exiled in the USA, where he built with his exquisite elegancy of "less is more" residences such as the Farnsworth House, and exact skyscrapers that still nowadays are being imitated.

Le Corbusier (1887-1965) lived in Paris a plastic passion that took him to combine Picasso's cubism with the technological shapes of cars or boats in order to design "habitable machines" like Villa Savoye, where he combined the concrete of his constructions with the persuasive rhetoric of his books to publicize a new architecture, which late in his life acquired archaical and monumental echoes in works such as the lyric chapel of Ronchamp, or the buildings of Chandigarh, the city he designed in India.

Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) became a symbol of Finland and Nordic design when he moved from the white modernity of the International Style -coined by the influential germanic Bauhaus- towards a more organic architecture, built with vernacular and warm materials like brick and wood, and softly integrated in nature with curves, like in Villa Mairea or in his leaf-shaped auditoriums.

With the loss of these four great masters, the adventure of modern architecture was closed and gave way to postmodern and deconstructive reviews, but in their four vital and artistic paths we find the tangled threads that weave the intelectual and formal tapestry of the 20th century. Which may strictly speaking be the "past century", but from which we can still nurture due to its experimental clash -mixed with the persistence of a stubborn traditionalism-, especially in the current time of uncertainty. Although we should also remember some atrocious disorientations that should serve us as warnings.  These modern architects, which have already become classics, are an inseparable part of our history and lives. The world in which we live was imagined or dreamed by them, and it is in them where we should also seek the origin of some of our nightmares. Fertile and multifaceted, meeting these architects is equivalent to seeking the sources of our present, of their promises, and their risks.

Luis Fernández-Galiano   

Fundación Juan March
Castelló, 77 – 28006 MADRID – Spain
+34 91 435 42 40 – Fax: +34 91 576 34 20