Archive for September, 2010

Modern architecture in Seoul

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Seoul is filled with modern structures and some very finely detailed buildings. Visiting a design district, we came upon the Hermes Museum, located appropriately in the basement of the Hermes building.

At the entrance to the museum, one feels they are in a surreal forest, a la Alice in Wonderland. No actual products can be seen among the blue-tinted “trees.” At the back of the space, you can then see each tree has a void in which a product history showcase sits. The low key artistic approach of Hermes was a wonderful experience. The use of tinted glass, reflections, and excellent detailing is worth studying. It was in the past mostly in Japan that this finely detailed glazing was done. Now, Korean architects do great work within these modern buildings.

The opulent U.S. Capitol Visitors Center

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The U.S. Capitol Visitors Center opened a couple years ago at a cost of over $700 million to construct the entire sub-terranean space. It is an amazing space akin to the reception of the Louvre in Paris. It uses the same materials as the Old Capitol, which is constructed of polished Virginia sandstone, flame-cut (see the shots of the lower level columns below). The space accommodates large crowds, up to 17,000 folks daily. I have not taken the actual tour in years, but recommend it highly.

Making our way upstairs to the rotunda the space continues to be awesome. The sculptures in both this space and the one below change every couple of years. Seeing statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis was a surprise. Each state can pick a new person every two years, made of either white marble or cast bronze. The newest bronze ones are Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower, both of which are not well proportioned or posed compared to the white marble specimens.

The ceiling of the rotunda has a god-like image of Washington in heaven, surrounded by the other inhabitants. He is like Zeus on Mt. Olympus.

The visitors center exhibit was designed by Ralph Applebaum & Associates. It shows the evolution of the Capitol itself in model form during each time period of its evolution. The entrance to the exhibit is quite beautiful, anchored by a model of the Capitol’s front face, with large white marble walls nearby, featuring incised quotes.

The entire space is very much like the presence of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but, in this case, conveys a civic statement instead of a religious one.

Washington, D.C. Metro

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The Washington D.C. Metro stations were designed by Harry Weiss of Chicago with suburb graphics by Massimo Vignelli. Together, they are a powerful civic statement in the nation’s capital.

They created a series of great civic spaces that owe their design to the ancient bath vaults of Ancient Rome. That said, the system has been done in a very crisp, modern way. All of the stations are identical, most notably the details of the ceilings. The lighting cries out for some studies, with all of the different colors of light: there are shades of pink, yellow, green, and bluish tones.

The intersections of the vaults in the ceiling are expressed quite beautifully, and the insets appear to have some sound containment panels. It is a beautiful cast-in-place detail and very elegant.

This is an example of how modernism can be a neutral field to the entire city and surrounding areas that the Metro serves.

In Atlanta the MARTA system has taken the position of designing each station to be individual which costs more and looses the look and feel of the identity that the DC metro has.

A cathedral of learning

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The original Library of Congress was just that: a library for Congress. In 1814 the British used the small number of books in this library to begin the fire at the Capitol, which destroyed it largely. Later, when Thomas Jefferson was having major financial problems, he offered his large library of books to the Congress, who paid him $23,000 for 6,500 volumes (about a quarter million dollars in today’s money).

In 1851 another fire destroyed 35,000 of the 55,000 volumes held, many of those being from Jefferson’s original library. Many were later replaced with the same vintage editions and are now on exhibit.

The new–and current–Library was planned in the late 1880s and finished in 1889. The outside is a mixture of classical architecture, with fountains reminiscent of those in Rome.

It’s a cathedral of learning, containing narratives of all types throughout the library in the form of sculpture, architecture, and painting. The little babies up the stair-rail speak of the different professions. Paintings speak of early man in the cave and how communication evolved. The main lobby contains the last book written by a German monk, and one of the mint condition Guttenburg Bibles. The main reading room–viewable in whole from the upper lobby–is amazing, encircled with key figures in literature and learning. It’s a heroic room.

This place is an amazing working library and an amazing piece of America that we all can share.

Outside the National Building Museum

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The old Pension Building has long been the National Building Museum. It has a freize along the entire fa├žade that portrays the Union soldiers for whom it was made. They’re classically-inspired, and have been maintained well.

Many great exhibits are inside, and SEGD–an organization to which I belong–used to have its offices there. One unique feature inside: the stairs inside are shallow to allow horses to climb them with minimal trouble.

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I must have missed this each time i have been to D.C. It reminded me of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, in fact it features some of the same artists, making me wonder if someone transferred to D.C. and had an easy job to make this one.

It is a wonderful place for modern sculpture, anchored by Hector Guimard’s Metro station entrance and the restaurant building. The main focus is a huge fountain that shoots water, creating sound that allows one to escape the D.C. mall noise and tourists.

It is a place for respite.

The spider alien figures are similar to what I saw in Korea at The Leeum. I also recall seeing some of these pieces in Chicago’s Millennium Park a couple years ago.

The proverbial Claus Oldenberg upsize element is its main piece.

The landscape is a wonderful foil to the space, allowing each sculpture to have its own “organic shaped” room. This is a contrast to the carefully designed spaces of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Visit this place the next time that you are there–it is a national treasure.

The Pentagon’s Wispy Air Force Memorial

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Driving past the Pentagon last weekend, we saw these three wispy blades of huge metal grass. It the Air Force Memorial, easily missed while driving 60 miles an hour on the highway nearby. Just uphill from the Pentagon, it overlooks the city. I believe it used to be located at the center of the Pentagon itself before being relocated.

The memorial appears to be one of those designed-by-committee memorials, full of text, typical military figures (not well done), and text all over (likely because they could not agree on a single copy set). The design of the three blades of grass is like a broken St. Louis Arch by Earo Saarinnen (which McDonald’s now owns). The flow is like the upward thrust of three Blue Angels, ascending together and splitting off. The underwritten award was sponsored by Boeing and the United Arab Emirates Airforce among others. I’m sure this was easy to fund, but, sadly, not so well crafted unlike the simplicity of the Vietnam Memorial. That said, it was certainly dramatic to stand in the middle of the three upward triangular forms.