"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus
When it was gifted to the United States by the French, the Statue of Liberty was meant to be a symbol of freedom and democracy. Everything from the broken chains around her feet to the torch she holds in her hand, are messages to the world that the United States is a place of liberty and enlightenment.
Soon, the Statue of Liberty became a beacon of hope to all of the persecuted and oppressed. As thousands of ships filled with immigrants passed by her stoic face, the Statue of Liberty was the first thing that many early Americans saw before they started their new life. And, as Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus was emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, she assumed her place as an emblem to all of the people of the world, who were no longer allowed to express themselves in their own country.
As the symbol of refuge for creativity and expression, the United States has benefited from this moniker. Throughout U.S. history, we have provided a safe-haven for artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals, alike. These creative minds come to the U.S. with volumes of innovation and insight.
Below are just a few immigrants in American architecture and design, who have influenced the aesthetic landscape of this country:
1. Benjamin Latrobe (1764–1820) - Oftentimes called the "Father of American Architecture", Latrobe began his life in a small town in England. He soon became a prominent social and architectural figure in England. However, his wife’s death would send him to the U.S. in 1796. His talent was soon recognized and he was asked to design the William Pennock House, the Virginia State Penitentiary, the Green Spring mansion, the Mill Hill plantation, the Bank of Pennsylvania, and many other beautiful buildings. Latrobe was also one of three architects to design and oversee the construction of the U.S. Capitol. In 1805, Latrobe designed the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore, Maryland, often referred to as the most beautiful building in North America.
2. Sophia Hayden Bennett (1868-1953) - Bennett, born in Santiago, Chile, immigrated to the United States when she was six years old. The first female graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology four-year architecture program, Bennett had trouble finding work as an architect. Then in 1891, she entered a design competition for the Woman’s Building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. At just 21 years old, Bennett’s Italian Renaissance design won first prize and she began construction. Unfortunately, Bennett was forced to defend her competency amongst her male colleagues and also fend off demands of the Board of Lady Managers, who insisted that Bennett incorporate other women’s work. Bennett never built another building and lived the remainder of her life quietly as a painter.
3. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969) - Regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, Mies was a German architect who moved to the United States in 1938. Mies began creating in his father’s stone carving shop in his hometown Aachen, Germany. He rose to great fame in Germany and eventually became the last director of the famed Bauhaus. However, after Nazi occupation, Mies emigrated to the United States in 1937. Soon, Mies accepted a position at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he was commissioned to design the majority of the campus buildings; including Alumni Hall, the Chapel, and the S.R. Crown Hall. The S.R. Crown Hall is considered his crowning accomplishment and a true symbol of his design, which emphasized enclosing open and adaptable "universal" spaces with clearly arranged structural frameworks. During his time in the U.S., Mies also designed the residential towers of 860–880 Lake Shore Dr, the Chicago Federal Center complex, the Farnsworth House, and the Seagram Building in New York.
4. I. M. Pei (1917 - ) - Born in Guangzhou, China, I.M. Pei immigrated to the U.S. in 1935 to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He soon transferred to MIT and graduated with an architecture degree in 1940. Bored with the Beaux-Arts at both schools, Pei longed for access to a more International style. His wish was granted when Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (“Le Corbusier”) visited MIT in 1935 and spent two days with Pei. Pei described this time as, "the two days with Le Corbusier, or 'Corbu' as we used to call him, were probably the most important days in my architectural education." Although Pei didn’t see his work come to life immediately, he eventually saw an explosion in his popularity with the corporate building for Gulf Oil, Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall, 16th Street Mall, Kips Bay Towers, Society Hill Towers, Green Building, Mesa Laboratory, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, the Sundrome terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and dormitories at New College of Florida. Probably his most famous work in the United States, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was completed in 1979 and Pei was handpicked by Jackie Kennedy, herself. Eventually, Pei would go on to design some of the most famous and iconic buildings in the world, including the Louvre’s pyramid. To this day, Pei has won countless awards, including the Arnold Brunner Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1963), the Gold Medal for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1979), the AIA Gold Medal (1979), the first Praemium Imperiale for Architecture from the Japan Art Association (1989), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and the 2010 Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1983 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of architecture.
The list above includes just a handful of the thousands of artists around the world, who have sought refuge in the creative bosom of the United States. Whether they were born here or in another country, we salute artists, designers, architects and all creators’ contributions to the American landscape.