Thursday, February 7, 2013

Michaelerplatz, Vienna

You'd never guess it to look at them, but the two buildings that face each other (obliquely) across Vienna's Michaelerplatz were erected within 20 years of each other. A late addition to the rest of the Hofburg palace, the Baroque-style entrance is an extravagant concoction of Imperial Austria, which at the end of the 19th century was as archaic as the Baroque, although it didn't know it. The antidote to all that ornament and artifice is found across the street, in the building that now houses the Raiffeisenbank. Created by Adolf Loos in 1910 as the Goldman & Salatsch Building, it's known colloquially as the Looshaus. Naturally, the Viennese were scandalized by Loos' affront to not just the palace's Baroque tradition but also to the floridity of the Secession movement. What's striking today is how the Hofburg looks almost preposterous, an expensive puffery, yet the Looshaus is still a really nice building. Its aspirations were considerably more modest, of course, but it remains clean and functional, capturing the eye with its elegant yet assertive proportions and high-quality materials. I think Loos would declare himself the victor in the Viennese architecture wars, and so would I. We'd both have to admit, however, that the old Imperial buildings are still the big draw for most visitors. And why not? It's fun to be amazed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Valencia, Spain: A bit o'Calatrava

The City of Arts and Sciences played a big role in the financial crisis facing Valencia, Spain (along with the money spent to accommodate Formula One and the America's Cup), but the buildings themselves are quite nice. Santiago Calatrava is clearly paying homage to Antonio Gaudi, echoing his predecessor's way of using forms from the natural world to create fascinating buildings. He's even got a stylized conical chimney…

Monday, September 24, 2012

Paris: Start here

Any visit to Paris has to start with Notre Dame, one of the most beautiful things mankind has ever created, as well as perhaps the most impressive, from a technical standpoint. Begun in 1163, the building's scale is almost unimaginable until you're standing next to it, and it was in fact inconceivable (and unbuildable) prior to the advent of the flying buttresses that support the sides of the building. Beyond mere achievement, however, Notre Dame will always startle with its beauty, and with the wealth of details that delight (and sometimes frighten) the viewer at every turn.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Beverly Hills-EUR connection

The first time I drove past 9720 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills, I couldn't help but think of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in EUR, that section of Rome commissioned by Mussolini and captured in all its eeriness by Giorgio di Chirico. (Photo of the Palazzo by Blackcat, via Wikipedia.) I don't know what inspired architect Edward Durrell Stone to adapt that theme to his design for the building that now houses the Pacific Mercantile Bank, but he also drafted a similarly strange building for 2 Columbus Circle in New York City. That, too, had a touch of EUR about it, at least until it was reconfigured a few years ago into something that has none of the original's weird grandeur, or sense of secrecy. His Busch Stadium in St. Louis -- which featured similar colonades on a much larger scale -- was also torn down. Maybe it's the negative associations with Fascism, which Stone seems to have had no affinity for, or perhaps there's just something about these shapes that disturbs the eye. Me, I'm fascinated and repelled at the same time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Italy

Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Italy

The Atrium, the central hall inside Villa Erba.

Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Italy

Lake Como from within Villa Erba.

Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Italy

One of my favorite houses in the world, the Villa Erba sits along Lake Como in Cernobbio, Italy. Originally a convent, it was purchased by the Erba family in 1882 and remained in the family until 1986. One of the heirs to the property was film director Luchino Visconti, who shared it with his brother and lived here until his death in 1976. The Visconti family sold it to a consortium who turned it into an event center, restoring the villa in 2003. Splendid job, I'd say, and a great place for a party.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Out my hotel window, Cernobbio, Italy

Technically, it's a lake view room at the Grand Hotel Imperiale, Lago di Como.

Out my hotel window, near Davos, Switzerland

Hotel Garda Val, Swiss Alps