TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT April 2013

TOP TEN

Kjetil Trædal Thorsen

Norwegian architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen is a founding principal of Snøhetta, an Oslo- and New York–based practice that has designed such renowned structures as the Oslo Opera House and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Current projects include the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York; the International Center of Cave Art at Lascaux IV in Montignac, France; the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s 235,000-square-foot expansion.

  1. THE CHURCHES OF LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA

    In the late twelfth century, with the route to Jerusalem blocked, King Lalibela set out to represent this holy city in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. Anchoring his plan were monolithic churches formed not by building skyward but by carving down, requiring the craftsmen radically to rethink space and form. As the workers chipped away at the mountain, the positive shape gradually appeared, the gap between mountain and structure articulating the church’s facade. The structure’s inner spaces then had to be carved, too, with the rock’s center cored to create rooms, passageways, and doors. These single masses are breathtaking—architecture as simple as it is ingenious and profound.

    The church of Bet Giyorgis (St. George), ca. 1150, Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo: Andrew McConnell/Corbis. The church of Bet Giyorgis (St. George), ca. 1150, Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo: Andrew McConnell/Corbis.
  2. TIKAL, GUATEMALA

    Mayan pyramids, howler monkeys, jungle roof, morning fog. Coffee has never tasted better than from atop the millennia-old stone structures that this complex contains. Endless inspiration, endless forests, intense sound. Tikal is where my eyes are now.

    Mayan temples, ca. 400 BC–900 AD, Tikal National Park, Guatemala. Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Wikicommons. Mayan temples, ca. 400 BC–900 AD, Tikal National Park, Guatemala. Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Wikicommons.
  3. HILMA AF KLINT

    A pioneer of early abstraction (her contemporaries Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian would follow), af Klint (1862–1944) made art with a mind to accessing other dimensions. This spring, Moderna Museet in Stockholm has mounted a major retrospective of her work, some of which has never been seen before (and was featured in these pages in January). Just now discovering her practice, I’m surprised how completely of the present her abstractions still appear.

  4. OLAFUR ELIASSON

    Perhaps more than any other artist active today, Eliasson has given me insight into why we have to continue creating. Working with him on the Oslo Opera House, which opened in 2008, and London’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion the year prior, I came to understand that human evolution can no longer be described as a biological phenomenon; it is now predominantly a cultural one. Eliasson has taught me that scientific knowledge is inseparable from intuition.

  5. FLANN O’BRIEN, THE THIRD POLICEMAN (MACGIBBON & KEE, 1967)

    I have read this novel in English, German, and Norwegian, just to be sure of all the different possible interpretations of O’Brien’s conception of space and time. In doing so, I realized I was experiencing just what the book describes—the ways in which ostensibly objective observations may lead to any number of conclusions, some often quite abstract. Perhaps my favorite example is when, in the footnotes, O’Brien’s (fictional) philosopher de Selby explains how the picture you see of yourself in the mirror is, in fact, an infinitesimally younger version of yourself, given the speed of light: If mirrored enough, you would in theory see yourself as a child.

    Cover of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (Picador). Cover of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (Picador).
  6. JIM JARMUSCH, DOWN BY LAW (1986)

    There are many reasons I’ve always liked this film, but it’s on account of Robby Müller’s camerawork that it comes to mind again and again—especially the conversations between characters inimitably played by Roberto Benigni, John Lurie, and Tom Waits that Müller brilliantly shot, in black-and-white, against the architecture of a colorless New Orleans.

  7. LE CORBUSIER, CHAPEL OF NÔTRE DAME DU HAUT, 1955 (RONCHAMP, FRANCE)

    The structure that compelled me to take up architecture, it’s also the one that keeps me practicing today. With window penetrations cutting through walls that swell to ten feet thick (thereby creating not just openings but near-corridors in the exterior) and a biomorphic, shiplike roof, Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp demonstrates with incredible grace that mass is not absolute; that its relationship to volume is described not only by its presence but equally by its absence.

    Le Corbusier, chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut, 1955, Ronchamp, France. Interior. Photo: Rory Hyde/Flickr. Le Corbusier, chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut, 1955, Ronchamp, France. Interior. Photo: Rory Hyde/Flickr.
  8. JACQUES RANCIÈRE, THE POLITICS OF AESTHETICS (CONTINUUM, 2004)

    Within the art of architecture, the connections between aesthetics and politics are especially open to rethinking, and doing so can lead to fundamental conceptual shifts. This book greatly helps the cause, arguing that new kinds of spaces galvanize new forms of the social. For Rancière, the limitations of conventional logical categories become secondary when confronted instead with the broader notions of “the possible” and “the impossible.”

  9. NYSNØ

    There is nothing quite like a fresh layer of beautiful new powder snow—the result of billions of unique hard crystals gathering to form a seamless, homogeneous surface that is astonishingly soft.

  10. CAIRO

    One of the largest, still unbridled arenas for human interaction, Cairo is a city like a world. Its panoply of social and cultural layers floods your unconscious with specters of ancient civilizations while forcing you to deal with the very tangible crosscurrents of the current day. Cairo is past, present, and future in the flesh.

    View of Cairo, January 6, 2011. Photo: Luc Legay/Flickr. View of Cairo, January 6, 2011. Photo: Luc Legay/Flickr.