Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Hints of Bohemia in China

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Outside Hong Kong, Shanghai is arguably the center of Western culture in China.

You can see in these shots that Bohemia has finally made its way over the Great Wall, both in the eclectic Western styles of the shops and the disarray of the surrounding neighborhood.

Magnificent Shanghai Bund

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The Bund area of Shanghai is my absolute favorite. It lies along the river, occupying the land formerly reserved for foreign customs houses and other European missions. Historically, however, it was primarily British.

A modern Peninsula Hotel was built a few years ago, yet it has a sophisticated art deco look. The canopies are well done, and the lanterns stand off nicely.

The dramatic lighting is generally fantastic.

I took pictures of the hotel and the larger area using my new iPhone. It takes pretty good pictures. You can see downtown Shanghai with its skyscrapers in the background in some shots.


A would-be masterpiece in Guangzhou falls short

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Like Atlanta for the 1996 Centennial Olympics, Guangzhou aimed to to show its progressive face to the rest of the world during last year’s Asian Games in the city. Guangzhou hired Zaha Hadid to dream and actually build one of her architectural impossibilities.

Just as Corbusier and Wright designed buildings before their time and before appropriate techniques had been invented, Hadid designed the Guangzhou Opera House, which had no place being built in such a short timeframe by unskilled labor. Take a look at these images. Any close examination of this building reveals significant faults. The seams are already warping, and the detailing is extremely wanting.

The city rushed to realize this masterpiece of contemporary architecture, and now we have a building that is going to fall apart in the next decade–it’s already falling apart. It already looks like it is 20 years old. The concrete is a fluid material and was done well, but the cutting of granite tiles (applied in a way resembling tiles on the space shuttle) in compound curves was not supposed to done in a hurry with inexperienced staff.

The low quality of the building is also present in the surrounding park. Everything here was done as quickly as possible, and is suffering for it.

It’s a sin to spend this kind of money and get this kind of slop in a city deserves much better.

While returning from China, I visited the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I experienced great gratitude that America has such great architects and sympathetic clients to execute their visions correctly. People and organizations like the Getty Museum, which let Richard Meier build his UN compound-esque, curved buildings on the hillltop in L.A. It took 10 years and lots of money, but it brings tears to my eyes how one organization can project such a beaming example of civilization to the world through this building.

The Guangzhou Opera House could have been something much grander than it is.

FLW’s vision for the Arizona Capitol

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright had a vision for the Arizona State capitol building, topped by a wonderful spire. It was never realized as a building, but, in the past few years, the city of Scottsdale built this wonderful spire in Wright’s honor, along with an associated shaded plaza.

The plaza contains some of Heloise Crista’s sculptures that are also in Taliesin West. Given Wright’s part-time life in Arizona, some of the surrounding buildings have been inspired by his architecture. (They’re not as good as FLW, but close.)

The sun plays with the tower as does inner lighting . I have seen it internally lit and will try to find some of those shots in the future–it’s wonderful. The corner posts that hold the overhead cover are also inspired by the wonderful wheat patterns that Wright created in the Midwest. Even the bus stop is FLW-inspired.

The plaza is a great tribute to one of Scottsdale’s finest and the greatest American architect.

St. Xavier Mission in Tucson

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Discovered by Jesuit missionaries from Spain in the late 1600s, St. Xavier Mission was first established as an outpost. The Jesuits were later kicked out and the Franciscans took their place.

The mission is a wonderful relic of old Spanish Arizona. The site almost looks as I would imagine it in the 1600, with little development. When the Spanish left due to absence of gold, they left their missions in ruins, but this one has been well taken care of and was recently refurbished inside and out. The art inside depicts Catholic saints and, of course, pays homage to the Virgin Mary. Some statuary has what looks like Franciscan friars.

The door handles and the details of the architecture are wonderful examples of a Spanish mission. Now I want to see similar sites in Mexico and California.

Our firm is working on a project for the Native Indian tribe that has their reservation there. They were called Papago and now called Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation: People of the Desert. Their reservation spans an area into Mexico and I believe they can cross easily from the Mexican area to the U.S. area. They are very proud of the mission, its history, and its people. A book in the gift shop showed how they lived here in a peaceful fashion till today.

A visit to Taliesin West

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Taliesin West is the Arizona branch of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s school based in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Wright came to Arizona in 1937–while in his 60s–to establish this experiment in the desert to teach students about architecture.

Wright’s students built Taliesin West. He wanted them to live in the open air to learn about building architecture that reflected and complimented nature.

One of the things to know about desert architecture is that it is an icon. There is nothing like a forest or verdant landscape to distract from human creation. That said, he was very keen on using indigenous materials to integrate architecture and nature. (Taliesin itself means “shining brow” in Welsh, the language of Wright’s mother.)

The rock with Native American symbols was the inspiration for Wright’s personal logo, which you can see it in the symbol on the tower and on the gate to Taliesin West. He used it as a signature for his studio on his homes.

Wright was influenced by Japanese prints and design for many years after living in Japan while designing the Imperial Palace hotel. (Unfortunately, the hotel was demolished in the 1970s to make room for something benign and uninteresting. It had survived two earthquakes and would have made it through the most recent one, too.)

Wright worked with many artists and sculptors. The original sculptures on site are the work of Heloise Crista–now in her 70s–who studied architecture with Wright but became a sculptor. I love the spirit of her pieces and how they show the inner soul of the person. Some were influenced by art deco, and others were more organic. The Asian sculptures on display came from a sale that Wright found in San Francisco. I saw almost an identical dragon sculpture in Japan. The sculpture garden at Taliesin makes for a wonderful spot in the sun. Notice how wonderful the sun reflects the highlights.

Little details in Old Town Alexandria

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Keeping your eyes open can result in seeing the world afresh. It can allow you to see the subtle colors and textures present in the places you live or visits. In Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, if you look at the ground, you can see a series of paving that evolved over time: from stone to brick.

It’s especially interesting the way one claims ownership of a townhouse with color demarcation not across a joint line or material change but, rather, a paint line.

Alexandria is older than the U.S. It has many treasures in texture and color and shade and shadow. Take a walk around the old town and look at the details. You’ll find a great variety of forms and materials, some of which are next to one another.

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.