Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Barcelona, La Pedrera

La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà) was built from 1906-1912, much later than the Palau Guell seen below, which dates from 1895-1890. Gaudì is working in a more fanciful style here, using more thoroughly organic, flowing forms interpreted from nature. Again, the rooftop is a magical space of chimney-top soldiers and staircase towers that resemble the forms created in windblown sand.

Barcelona, Park Guell

Originally intended to be a housing project, Park Guell failed to find buyers and remained uncompleted. It was eventually given to the city of Barcelona for use as a public park, and it quickly became a symbol of the city itself thanks to Gaudi's marvelous amphitheatre set above a series of columns, none of which appear to be actually vertical. The ceiling of the columned area is like the floor of the sea above one's head, executed in mosaic tile.

Barcelona, Palau Guell

On the roof of Palau Guell, Gaudî created a magical space with his fanciful chimney tops and staircase towers, all covered in trencadis, or broken pieces of tile.

Barcelona, Palau Guell

Built by Antonio Gaudî for Eusebi Guell, Palau Guell was one of Gaudî's first commissions for a private home on a grand scale. He designed the doors to follow the parabolic form of a suspended chain turned upside-down; as you can see, he did a lot more with the entrance than model a pair of parabolas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Place/Setting: The Getty Center/LA

Ai WeiWei at LACMA

Ai WeiWei's bronze sculpture of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. According to LACMA, "The Zodiac Project is Ai Weiwei's first major public sculpture. For this monumental new work, Ai has recreated the famous twelve bronze animal heads that once adorned the Zodiac Fountain in Yuan Ming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing. Cast around 1750, the original heads were looted by Anglo-French troops who took part in the destruction of Yuan Ming Yuan in 1860 during the Second Opium War."
To that, I'd add that the sculptures are as witty as anything Ai has ever done, and he does have a great sense of humor. As always, however, there's more to this work than meets the eye. Ai is engaged in a fascinating exploration of how the past and the present interact and intersect, and much of his work engages in a potent critique of our (and specifically China's) failure to honor the past, and culture in general. Brilliant stuff on an intellectual level, and impressive as form, too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

’41 Ford, Golden Gate Bridge

The ’41 Ford, parked in what must be one of the most overused photo locations on the West Coast, if not the U.S. or even the world. Given that the car's brakes would fail completely about 50 miles south of here, this photo represents what might be our last truly happy moment together. Note to self: Conduct thorough mechanical inspection and rigorous test-drive prior to start of 1,000-mile road rally.

’41 Ford at Alice's

After decades of riding sportbikes and a driving sports cars through the Santa Cruz Mountains, I never imagined I'd park a ’41 Ford Coupe at Alice's, nor that I'd drive it up Highways 9 and 35 to get there. I'm not sure I've ever made such slow progress up those roads, but the challenge was certainly entertaining.
The history of Alice's itself eludes me, but the area around it has an interesting past, primarily as a locus of the counterculture. During Prohibition, the Santa Cruz Mountains hid a number of illegal stills, and in the 1960s Ken Kesey lived in cabin just down the road in La Honda. This was during the epoch of what Tom Wolfe characterized as "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," though as Michael T. Lynch points out, none of the actual "Acid Tests" took place in La Honda.
Forty years on, the Santa Cruz Mountains retain their hippie-ish vibe, and I wouldn't be surprised to stumble upon a pot farm in the midst of the vineyards that are sprouting up here and there. These mountains also have some of the world's best driving roads, though they're better enjoyed in virtually anything other than a ’41 Ford.

Founding Fathers

Commemorated in bronze outside the Lucasfilms studios in the Presidio of SF: Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, and Edweard Muybridge, creator of the first moving images. Suffice to say, these two men made modern entertainment possible. Without them, I'd never have been able to while away my childhood watching reruns of Gilligan's Island and Bewitched.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Out my airplane window, somewhere over the U.S.

Out my hotel window, Sevilla, Spain

Room 125, La Boticaria, Sevilla, Spain.

A series of courtyards

Located near Sevilla, Spain, La Boticaria is comprised of a series of porticoed courtyards. It's a building technique brought to Spain by the Moors, who certainly knew how to create a cool, calming environment in the midst of a blazing hot climate like that of the Andalusian plain.
Lovely, too, albeit a bit hard to navigate at first!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A thought on 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 came and went yesterday, the same thought occurred to me as did in 2001: Do we define ourselves, as individuals or as societies, by what we build, or by what we destroy?
It seems a crucial distinction.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Midcentury Modern, San Francisco

One Bush Street, San Francisco. Another fine work by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, this 1959 steel and glass skyscraper was the first new building erected in San Francisco after the Great Depression, and it's a beauty. At twilight, its glass curtain walls reflect the fading blue of the sky and reveal the building's steel structure. If you look closely, however, you'll notice that the solid part of the structure isn't concrete as it appears from a distance but thousands of tiny, iridescent Italian tiles. At the street level, the building is a delightful composition that leads pedestrians up to and inside the building in a manner that's welcoming at the same time it impresses with style and grandeur. (The design for the garden was originally assigned to Isamu Noguchi, but that didn't work out and it was done by SO&M instead.) There's also another surprise in the beautifully polished wood railing that encloses the lobby from without, and which alludes to the building's original purpose as the headquarters for Crown-Zellerbach, the forest products company.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Midcentury Modern, Los Angeles

A classic American diner on La Cienega whose signage echoes the shape of its roof. The food doesn't look half-bad, either, if you like club house sandwiches and meat loaf.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Altes Schloss, Baden-Baden

Built in the 11th century, destroyed by fire in the 15th century, the Alte Schloss was in the interim the seat of the Margraves of Baden, who maintained military power in the region.
Not much of the structure remains, but the engineering achievement of building at such a high elevation is still impressive. A few of the Gothic touches are still intact, too, hinting at what must have been quite a lovely building despite its military purpose.
After this castle was destroyed, a new castle was built at a much lower elevation, and much closer to the town. Interestingly, the New Castle is owned by the Mubarak family and is being renovated as a hotel. I wonder if they'll get to keep it once they've been put on trial and their assets scrutinized by the Egyptian courts...

Altes Schloss, Baden-Baden

It's a good hike up to the ruins of the Alte Schloss, Baden-Baden. Once you've climbed the 1,000 feet or so, you can climb all over the old castle walls and explore the interior, such as remains.

Altes Schloss, Baden-Baden

The path to Baden-Baden, marked by painted stones.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Repetition, San Francisco

Levi's Plaza, another wonderful public space by Lawrence Halprin.

San Francisco, the Financial District

The Alcoa Building on the right, the Embarcadero towers straight ahead.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The screenprinting nun

Some cool screenprints by Sister Mary Corita Kent are now on display at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. (Thanks to Henrik for the tip, and for doing pro bono screenprinting work at the opening!)
Sister Corta studied under Charles Eames and later taught in (and eventually chaired) the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. She's best known for creating the "Love" stamp for the US Postal Service in 1985, but the earlier work on display here is even better at showing her strong graphic style as well as her sense of social justice.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Trona, CA

At the western edge of the Mojave Desert, Trona, California is situated along Searles Dry Lake, one of the many dry lakes that remain from the time when much of California was an inland sea. As one would expect, it's rich in minerals, particularly borax and potash. Back in the 19th century, borax was brought out of the Mojave on wagons pulled by twenty-mule teams. Like any good American, I had the image of those wagons imprinted on my consciousness forever thanks to the ads for "20-Mule Team Borax" cleanser that ran on TV in my childhood. The Trona Pinnacles are calcium carbonate (tufa) formations that were left behind when the sea evaporated.