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

Out my hotel window, Detroit, Michigan

Westin Book Cadillac, downtown Detroit. The airshaft might be a better sight than a view of greater Detroit...

Monday, June 18, 2012

LACMA: Levitated Mass

Still under wraps at LACMA: Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, a 340-ton granite boulder that rests atop a 436-foot concrete slot. Once it opens to the public, you'll be able to walk through the slot beneath the boulder, which should be interesting.

Hipstamatic Munich: BMW HQ

Hipstamatic Munich

Munich by numbers

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salk Institute

Speaking of Allan Temko, the late architecture critic for the SF Chronicle was a great fan of Louis Kahn, and he always spoke reverentially about Kahn's groundbreaking work on the Salk Institute in La Jolla. It's hard to get a real feel for the place from outside the gates, and I hate to be too critical without knowing what it's like to experience this building from within, or even inside the courtyard, but I can't say I really liked it. There's a lot to admire, of course, but the need for thermal stability within the labs and for security dictated a great deal of how this building looks, especially from without. And it's hard to look at it without seeing the prototype for so much bad institutional architecture that followed, and which copied its fortress-like poured-concrete exterior without achieving any of the grace that this building exhibits, or incorporating natural elements like wood so elegantly.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On architecture in (much of) America

My two posts from Florida reveal the banality of what passes for architecture in much of the U.S. As Allan Temko once remarked, "There's architecture, and there's building."
Architecture is thoughtful, deliberate, and ideally beautiful while serving a practical function. Building is merely purposeful, and any aesthetic or experiential concerns are peripheral to the task.
That most of America's buildings fall into the category of having been "built" rather than "designed" seems to me almost tragic, because I believe that beauty elevates the human condition while ugliness diminishes it, especially where the built environment is concerned. To care too little for the aesthetic quality of buildings - those which surround us, and with which we surround ourselves - seems to indicate an emptiness that goes far deeper than mere surface. This stuff is important. Beauty feeds the soul.

Out my hotel window, Amelia Island, FL

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
Florida in general seems to lack good architecture beyond South Beach, but this building seems exceptional because it really should be much better. Instead of blending in with or even acknowledging the landscape, it's been imposed upon it, on a scale that's grotesquely out of proportion to everything around it. Was land really so expensive that it couldn't have been spread out a bit rather than built as a blocky, eight-story monolith?
It's nice inside, of course, and the rooms are comfortable, but it's amazing that a Ritz-Carlton hotel could be so ugly.

Out my hotel window, Fort Lauderdale, FL

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from The Courtyard by Marriott, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.