Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to architecture and whether they are true or false.
ARCHITECTURE LEGEND: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was originally designed as a school project at Yale!
In 1980, Maya Ying Lin was a senior at Yale University studying to be an architect when she, and seven other students, embarked on a senior seminar about funerary architecture (architecture about stuff like gravestones, tombs, etc.) Yale gave students the option of either doing a senior thesis or have a senior seminar, if they could persuade a faculty member to teach it. The students convinced Professor Andrus Burr to teach the class.
Towards the end of the year, there was an announcement made about the creation of a memorial for veterans of the Vietnam War. The architect for the memorial would be decided by a contest. The students felt that it would make for a great assignment to have each student design a memorial – that certainly would fit in with funerary architecture, after all! So the students traveled to Washington D.C. to look at the space where the memorial would be, and Lin came up with the idea of what would essentially be a rather large tombstone, that would dig into the earth almost like a black scar.
She sketched out her design and attached her description of what the memorial was meant to evoke in visitors to it (basically, a sense of sadness) and she handed it in for her class grade AND she, like most of her classmates, entered her design into the competition for the design of the memorial.
A very interesting aspect of the contest was that it was a blind competition – there were no names attached, each entry was simply numbered. Really, that was the only way a college senior could possibly have a chance at winning such a contest.
And, sure enough, while she was getting ready for her graduation from college in the spring of 1981, at 21 years old, Maya Lin discovered that she had, indeed, won the contest (by unanimous decision, I might add!)!
Among those competitors that Lin beat out? Her Professor, Andrus Burr!
The memorial drew quite a bit of controversy, as some folks felt that the memorial should not be so sad – in fact, Burr actually chided Lin for the bleakness of it all, questioning why a family member would ever come to see such a memorial. Also, sadly, there was a bit of blowback over the fact that Lin was of Asian ancestry (her parents had come to Ohio from China a year before Lin’s birth).
Eventually, a compromise was reached by the installation of a traditional statute of some soldiers along with an American flag at the entrance to the memorial.
A remarkable beginning to a career that has been acclaimed ever since!
ARCHITECTURE LEGEND: Architects William Van Alen and H. Craig Severance engaged in a cloak and dagger race to see whose skyscraper would be the tallest in the world.
H. Craig Severance and William Van Alen were partners in an architecture firm for almost two decades, but by the late 1920s, the pair’s relationship had become strained, and they ended their professional relationship at the end of the decade.
The former friends then became bitter rivals, especially as they each began a competition to design the tallest building in the world.
The tallest building during the 1920s was the Woolworth Building in New York City, which was built in 1913 and stood 792 feet tall.
Both Severance’s building, the Bank of Manhattan Trust building (which is now more commonly reffered to as its address, 40 Wall Street) and Van Alen’s building, the Chrysler Building, were designed to be a good deal taller than the Woolworth Building.
The Chrysler Building was designed to be 925 feet tall, and the Bank of Manhattan Trust building was designed to be just short of that.
So the buildings began construction in 1929 with that being the case – the Chrysler Building the top and the Bank of Manhattan Trust building being a little shy. However, at the end of April 1930, with both buildings seemingly done, Severance delivered his secret coup – a lantern and flagpole that, once added, would make the Manhattan Trust Building 927 feet tall, exactly two feet taller than the Chrysler Building.
As the Chrysler Building neared completion, Severance felt pretty pleased about trumping his former partner. However, upon learning of Severance’s trick, Van Alen (with the full cooperation of Mr. Chrysler, who surely wanted to have the tallest building in the world) began construction on a spire to be added to the Chrysler building – however, the spire was constructed inside the building, so no one could see it being made!
So at the end of May, they raised the spire and suddenly the Chrysler Building went from 925 feet to 1,046 feet!!!
Of course, all the cloak and dagger was made moot when less than a year later, the Empire State Building became the tallest building in the world at 1,472 feet, a record it held for many years!
ARCHITECTURE LEGEND: The campus at the University at Albany in New York was originally designed to be used in Arizona.
The campus at the University at Albany in Albany, New York (one of the four major state universities in New York State) is a striking looking design during the summer months, particularly the foliage and the beautiful fountain and water pool.
However, during the WINTER months, it can be practically torturous, as the enclosed design of the campus almost aids an already blustery climate by turning the campus into a bit of a wind tunnel.
It is so noticeable of a defect that it has become a university legend that the campus was originally designed for Arizona (or another warmer climate), where it would serve to amplify the meager winds there.
That is not true.
The campus was designed by the acclaimed architect Edward Durell Stone.
Here’s a similar design Stone did for the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
In any event, Stone specifically did not design it for a warmer climate, as he himself, at the time of the design (1965), announced that the outdoor roofs were designed specifically FOR Albany’s climate – by protecting students from rain and snow.
Granted, the end result was not what he hoped for, as the campus is not very good for walking around in the winter months (which is why it also has an indoor tunnel system similar to many schools in Buffalo), but that WAS his intent at the time.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org