architecture


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…another place I haven’t been to in a while (other than posting here) is Italy, so given the opportunity, along with facing my (ahem) five-oh-ieth, I decided to carpe-diem my way to St. Peter’s to make it a jubilee.  And in the true spirit of a pilgrimage, we made it a journey:   starting in Venice, through Florence, Siena, and capping it off, literally, in Rome.  What a treat!  I can’t think of a better way to take on a birthday that marks the season of “middle-age” than contemplating the Renaissance.

Ave Marisa!

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That’s me!  I’m channeling Kurt Cobain and playing the power chords to Teen Spirit.  I’m at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle thanks to John’s conference there.  The evening also included a trip up the Space Needle too.

I loved Seattle.  It’s my favorite (American) city yet.  It’s walkable, I relished the daylight to well after 9 p.m. (summer solstice), Pike Place Market gives it a lively focal point, it possesses a wealth of beautiful old buildings (visit the Seattle Architecture Foundation for guided and self-guided tours), and I LOVE their library by Koolhaas (much to my dismay).  AND we were treated to amazingly bright, comfortable, summery weather.  It was the “perfect storm” that left me sufficiently entertained.

I’m definitely going back.

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In my recent posts, an unintended theme has sprung in reference to Talking Heads / David Byrne: concert, songs, lyrics. This time, as a matter of circumstance, I allude to one more of their song titles upon learning the calamitous news: the historic (Huning) Castle Apartments in Albuquerque were gutted, if not totally destroyed by fire. Fortunately no one was hurt. Nevertheless I’m disheartened over the loss of this beautiful building and edifice of my own history. I used to live there.

View from living room overlooking courtyard, April, 2000

View from living room overlooking courtyard, April, 2000

...amidst architecture school work (and clutter).

...amidst architecture school work (and clutter).

John in front of the courtyard, December at the Castle

John in front of the courtyard, December at the Castle

The Castle Apartments is where John and I made our first home together. Although we were renters, it was a dream home to us with higher ceilings, wood floors, a surround of windows, big kitchen, lots of storage, best heating ever (radiators so warm we could open the windows in the winter and noisy in a good way like a John Cage piece), downtown to the right, Old Town to the left, Dairy Queen across the street, work was 5 blocks away (I worked at FMSM which was housed in the renovated Breece Mansion. I swear I felt like a princess walking from a castle to a mansion everyday). It was in that building (the Castle) that I labored to earn my masters degree in architecture and it was from our apartment we would hear, almost every Saturday, the sound of car horns honking – racing up “Route 66” from Old Town Plaza or its cathedral – celebrating and announcing the “just married’s.” One day that sound was our own as we left our Old Town wedding and headed back to our place.

I’m grateful to have such fond memories and the images that capture this gracious place and time and my heart goes out to those who lost their ‘now.’

One of our last evenings living at the Castle before moving to LA:  our "chandelier" over the dinner table as seen from Central Ave. "Route 66."

One of our last evenings living at the Castle before moving to LA: our "chandelier" over the dinner table as seen from Central Ave. "Route 66."

 

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You may ask yourself-well…how did I get here? I had a free ticket from Southwest Airlines and wanted to maximize the value – so, from LA, we weren’t squandering it on a trip to San Francisco. I was thinking more along the scale of Boston, Manhattan, or Washington D.C. But a recurring thought was I really wanted to see the Kimbell Museum designed by Louis Kahn. So off to Fort Worth we went for a long weekend. I wondered what else we would do to fill the rest of our weekend over and beyond seeing the Kimbell and half-heartedly shook out a few more leads. It turns out we had a great visit.

We stayed at a B&B called Azalea Plantation. It’s such a treat not to be an anonymous ghost in some cookie-cutter institutional building of a hotel. We really enjoyed our breakfast visits (and the great, home-cooked breakfasts too) with our hosts / “innkeepers” Martha and Richard and other guests as well. It was a chance to learn some Texas history, get leads on where to dine, hear about a local quirk – the customary blue-bonnet flower photo-ops., and tornado stories

kimbell_outsidegroveGot to the Kimbell. The outside of the building, formally, was a little lackluster for me – a bit coffin-like. But beautifully scaled down with a water feature and grove of trees at its upper-level entry. This is the same grove of trees Kahn intended for the courtyard of the Salkkimbell_daylight Institute (good thing Barragan’s response at the Salk won out – see October 21 post). Given the Kimbell’s scale and context, the grove idea works here and creates an inviting outdoor room with cooling shade and draws the visitor into the museum. The Kimbell’s interior is the soft underbelly to its otherwise stalwart exterior. The building was designed in section to bounce and spread daylight into its galleries and so its interior is graciously daylighted – not only casting the artwork into a true-color reading, but rendering the concrete of the building itself into soft, subtle colors of skyblue, rose, and amber – which means Kahn is not just a great architect, but a great Kahn-crete salesman too. I’ve never seen concrete cast this warm and colorful – except at the Salk. As for that radiant daylight though, the effect is radiant thermal warmth too. I wondered what kind of demand the daylighting puts on the cooling requirements in the summer.

(Digression: also worth mentioning, the film “My Architect” is a great documentary film by Louis Kahn’s son, Nathaniel Kahn, about his journey to learn about his architect-father. It’s a “must see.”)

mod_riffThen came The Modern. The Kimbell is an appetizer-size museum so when we ducked out of its lower-level gallery, we were presented by the main course: the Modern Art Museum. What a gem! Designed by Tadao Ando, the building riffs off the rhythms of concrete galleries that comprise the Kimbell, scales it up to 2- stories and organizes it around a reflecting pool contiguous with the floor of the museum itself. Much like the MOMA mod_contredesign in New York, also by Ando, the visitor gets a sense of procession and progress through the building with long views that connect back into distant galleries or out of the building – providing a sense of phrasing to the galleries and rest for the visitors’ eyes from the constant close-ups. The exhibits presented some refreshing surprises too: drawing studies by DeKooning illustrating his process of abstraction, and, a personal fave, one of Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic. I’ve managed to see a handful so far. This was one of the sharper renditions. Also among artists’ series: a Serra sculpture punctuates one of the building’s corners outside – a daunting vertical mode of his oeuvre. mod_dineAdditionally, the cafe there was one of the better museum cafes I’ve been to – good food, and hospitable staff. We went back a second day just for lunch (day one was just a wine & cheese pick-me-up).

Another highlight was the Fort Worth Water Gardens (designed by Phillip Johnson). Every city should have one of these. The “Bilbao effect” has nothing on this.

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Ah!…

…ah-ha!…: that one pixel; that one bright spot!

my3_all3John and I braved LA’s dreary downtown to attend Postopolis Saturday night (April 4) to rub elbows with our comrades in art, architecture, and blogs. It was on the rooftop of (relatively speaking in terms of scale: the diminutive) Standard Hotel. I have to admit I was appropriately distracted (from the presentation about “aesthetics and protest”) by the chilly breeze and the bounce of light at sunset as the surround of downtown’s loomingly-large building’s created this magnificent urban room for cocktails and conversation.

Thanks Postopolis peeps for a great urban experience!

Finally. Got away for the weekend. John and I took Friday off for a long weekend to explore San Diego and hang out in La Jolla to see the the Salk Institute. It couldn’t have been a better day. I think I’ll forever be biased by my first impression/experience of this place on an exquisitely cloudy day. The moody, gray-blue, palpable sky cast the architecture and its materials into its warmth and its blush – when everything is neutral or grey, the subtleties of color blossom. And no contrasty/distracty shadows either. The diffuse light of a cloudy day illuminated the building and courtyard into a clear rendering of its form which lent a better feel for its scale and proportion and connection to the ocean-scape. Much like the architecture of classical Greece and of the Renaissance – those eras in which (hu)-man is the measure – you feel that balance and connection with a larger pattern; that harmony.

Our architectural nightcap (literally) was our stay at The Bed & Breakfast Inn at La Jolla. Another architectural thrill as it was once the George Kautz House designed by Irving Gill -one of California’s prescient (early modernist) architects. I happen to know this especially because I have the book by Marvin Rand on Irving J. Gill: a compilation of Rand’s exquisite photography of the architect’s buildings; prefaced and edited by his wife Mary Ann Danin and, just to brag, signed by the both of them.

(Click here to get your own copy of the book)