Writers who take on architecture have it rough. From a two-dimensional page, they must conjure three-dimensional grandeur; their words must help readers envision spaces that were meant to be experienced, not described. This week, we’re bringing you some of The New Yorker’s best architectural writing, collected from throughout the magazine’s history. Writing in 1931, James Thurber ascends to the still incomplete spire of the Empire State Building: “This platform is where travellers from Europe by airship will first set foot, if dirigibles ever actually tie up to the mast,” he writes. Lewis Mumford encounters Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum shortly after its opening, in 1959: it strikes him as “a formidable, ponderous, closed-in concrete structure of almost indescribable individuality.” And Adam Gopnik spends a night in the Glass House, or Maison de Verre, the architectural enigma built by Pierre Chareau, in 1931: “It was as though everything charming and lovable that modernism had ever produced had been brought together into a single secret storeroom in the middle of Paris.”

In other pieces, Calvin Tomkins follows Frank Gehry during the construction of his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; Amy Waldman meets Jeanne Gang, whose designs bring natural wonder to the urban landscape; and John Seabrook profiles Zaha Hadid, the Baghdad-born architect whose buildings verge on the abstract. Rebecca Mead enters the world of Santiago Calatrava, whose twisting, flowing skyscrapers begin as watercolor sketches. Finally, in a piece from September, 2001, Paul Goldberger reflects on the architectural meaning of the Twin Towers. We hope you enjoy these pieces—and the buildings they describe.


“Ever Higher”

“One day this winter, we got to the eighty-first floor of the Empire State Building, and felt very high up. You had to clamber over scaffolding to get that far then. Now lovely elevators with modernistic lighting fixtures take you to the eighty-sixth floor.” Read more.


“What Wright Hath Wrought”

“Once you come close to the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright has you in his hold. From the time you scrape your feet on the unmistakably Wright grating in the vestibule and grasp the bronze bar that, serving as handle, stretches from top to bottom of the glass door, you are under his enchantment.” Read more.


“The Ghost of the Glass House”

“It was only after my wife and I returned to New York that we came to understand that what had felt like a revelation was really a vogue. When we talked to people in New York who knew about modern houses, we realized that a cult had grown up around the Glass House and its architect, Pierre Chareau.” Read more.


“The Urban Wild”

“Jeanne Gang wants to restore wildness to nature in urban settings. But she also believes in using design to make nature “legible,” as she puts it.” Read more.


“The Maverick”

“Frank Gehry wants his buildings to be accessible and unexpected and provocative, on the inside as well as on the outside, and to the degree that they are all these things they can be seen to reflect their creator.” Read more.


“The Abstractionist”

“Zaha Hadid rarely uses the word “space” in talking about her designs, preferring words like “energy” and “field” and “ground conditions”; the dynamism of the city, rather than the static forms of buildings within it, is her source of inspiration.” Read more.


“Winged Victories”

“For Santiago Calatrava, who is one of the world’s most successful architects, sketching with watercolors is an essential part of his creative process. He does not work with a computer or with drafting equipment; each of his buildings begins with a sheaf of paint-dappled pages.” Read more.


“Building Plans”

“Now that the World Trade Center has become a martyr to terrorism, I suspect that architectural criticism of it will cease altogether. It has become a noble monument of a lost past.” Read more.