Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

elkin, the ballard estate

I am in North Carolina again until July 3, basking in southern humidity and parental hospitality while I parse the infinite and profound lessons of my ongoing international investigation. Since the sorting has so far been the frustrating opposite of instantaneous, I try to spend as much time outside as possible QT'ing with my dog and reveling in the bliss of a perpetually available washing machine. This image is of an interim project to the north of my parents' house: bounding some previously planted bushes and roping our arbor into the gently rising hillside.

Monday, June 25, 2007

selected video segments

Some colorful cuts culled from a couple of the more cogent clips I could collect since cutting out of the country...

View toward Monaco's Grand Prix from just above Corbusier's Petit Cabanon in Cap Martin, France

Portici di San Luca in Bologna, Italy

Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany

Queen's Day in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Stepwell in Ahmedabad, India

Monument to the Open Hand in Chandigarh, India

Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan

Sunday, June 24, 2007

selected sketchbook pages

A few of the more legible (to me, at least) European sketchbook pages, freshly scanned and occasionally relatable to the grand scholarly scheme.....

Corbusier's cabin and gravesite in Cap Martin, France

Villa Savoye in Poissy, France

Notre Dame au Haut in Ronchamp, France

Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy

Laurentian cloister and sculpture in Florence, Italy

Artwork from Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and from Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria

Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice, Italy
Ca' d'Oro in Venice, Italy

The Peristyle in Split, Croatia

Wiessenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart, Germany
Olympic Park in Munich, Germany

Saturday, June 16, 2007

north carolina, lake norman

The joys of coming home: a typical conversation with my best friend's son, Penn.

expense list, pages 8 - 11

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

poissy, villa savoye

A final Corbusier project before heading home for a spell....

paris, promenade plantée

*This map, scanned from National Geographic of October 2006, plots Paris' extensive park system. I have highlighted my objects of inquiry, Place des Vosges and the Promenade Plantée, in red.

Designed by Jacques Vergely (landscape architect) and Philippe Mathieux (architect), the promenade is a 2.8 mile elevated park in Paris’ 12th arrondissement that extends from Opera Bastille to the eastern city limits. It reinhabits a 19th century railway viaduct abandoned since 1969 and has inspired several United States parks-in-progress including the High Line in New York, the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, and the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia.

I took the three images above from the promenade’s primary section, called Viaduc des Arts. Here the park perches above broad supporting arches filled with arts and crafts workshops, visible in the image at right. The image at center captures the typical condition above: a wide, paved path with periodic resting points engulfed in an overwhelming explosion of greenery whose novel vantage surrenders cinematically screened city views. Panoramas appear when a wider street must be spanned and the viaduct section correspondingly thinned, as on the image to the left. Note that, in the right and left images, the smaller promenade plants naturally conform to the street trees’ height, reinforcing the raised relationship to and urban unity with the Parisian street life below.

paris, place des vosges

*the place and its context cropped by a 1,500' x 1,500' frame. Lines in red represent building plans I have collected thus far.
The plaza, originally Place Royale, was designed by Baptiste du Cerceau under Henri IV and completed in 1612. Behind a unified façade punctuated by the king and queen’s axial personal pavilions, individual properties were given loose rein. Hence, a host of architects participated in the development’s realization despite its single-hand appearance.

In Collage City, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter refer to Place des Vosges as a “stabilizer”, a spatially-centering structured enclave anchoring a larger locale. The square’s grand geometric void stands out against the small-scale row houses and small palaces of the surrounding Marais district, grounding and centering small-scale landowner and home-owner operations in a clearly ordered pattern.

Though the Place is not connected to a major urban artery it does yield one of its sides to a minor throughway, shown in the image to the left. Here, to the north, the place’s façade lies flush with the Parisian fabric, its residential depth embedded and its loggia capped by flanking storefronts. Without the three other walls off-camera to the left, this royal construction could seem to be but a pleasant private development.

The image to the right shows two of those other walls and the family-friendly park space they surround, chaperoned by fountains and foliage. Green seems to do more in Paris than it does elsewhere. Here, a dense, nearly continuous belt of green three trees deep buffers encircling traffic, shelters park benches, and renders the communal dimension more intimate without interrupting the ground plane or obstructing the facades’ rhythm beyond.

*Top image scanned from Leonardo Benevolo's The History of the City, pg. 655

Sunday, June 3, 2007

ronchamp, notre dame du haut

Playing my Corbusian cards like they’re going out of [international] style, I visited Ronchamp today. I intended to spend half a day there and half a day at a canal lock he designed—what with trying to stay within my fundamental underlying initial infrastructural framework and all—but there was only one bus to the lock at noon, sans return. So I was proud to dedicate a day to the chapel, which turned out a fitting move on account of its richness and relatively remote location. I’m showing the chapel in its classic contrapposto here because it encapsulates several features in one go . . . and because it was one of the few sunny photographs managed to snatch. At the same time, it strikes me that such a faux-totalizing view tends to construe the masterpiece as more of a toadstool or clog-stand, dispensing with the roving complexity that marks its true genius. There is a lot to this building that the photograph doesn’t show, and even if I couldn’t see it (said with brow-furrowed gravitas), I at least got to take a gander.

firminy, firminy-vert

I paid a visit to Corbusier’s Firminy complex—about 45 minutes outside of Lyon by regional train—and spent most of my time out of the rain in the church of Saint Pierre, which was begun in 1961 and only completed in 2006. I was suitably awed. As always in a Corbusian construction, I caught frequent whiffs of his students…this time most strongly Koolhaas and Miralles. The concrete’s modern smoothness only enhanced the intended effect and rendered the project that much more relevant to a contemporary architectural sensibility. Brightly colored daylighting and sculpturally canted prisms puncture a deceptively complex curvilinear cavern, which in turn envelopes a raised ground constantly evolving between topography and floorscape as one processes around and through. I’m including an interior and exterior view here, with the incising green lightbox as a hinge between the two.

lyon, vieux de lyon

Since I first saw them last summer I’ve been interested in the system of corridors and courtyards, called “traboules,” that intersperse Lyon’s dense old city blocks. Apparently they were developed during heavy involvement in the silk trade, when it paid to have quick access to the riverfront…..but I must say, that explanation absolutely pales before the architectural phenomenon it supposedly spawned…so I’ll have to get back to you. Regardless of their impetus, the traboules are a coy, internalized attraction; virtuoso stereotomic displays that usher light, air, and dynamism to the block’s internal microcosm and whose only external traces are the periodic narrow doorways dotting each block.

Those doorways presented a considerable frustration until I made the brilliant discovery (i.e. some French guy showed me) that the “service” button opened each and every one without the least bit of resistance. Instant gratification from there on out. In the narrow streets I was jowl-to-jowl with tourists, schoolchildren, and miserably oversized delivery trucks … but once each door closed behind me I entered my own magical world of spiral stairs and anthropomorphic vaulting.

I chose one particularly rich block, which I’ve colored red in the top two pictures above, to bound my investigation. Note its breadth and spiky heterogeneity, marked as it is by multitudinous chimneys and stair towers. One particularly agile traboule courses completely through but twenty or so others inject themselves an average of forty or fifty feet in before turning vertical and dissipating around their courtyards’ perimeter.

As was the case with Bologna’s porticos, Lyon’s traboules find their apotheosis into high design through the hands of an esteemed architect—in this case, Philibert du l’Orme. The first two images depict two tight traboule courtyards in the same block. The image on the left depicts the bottom of a projecting gallery (upper right), the intersection of a spiral stair and a corridor (straight ahead), and double squinches supporting a complexly vaulted gallery to the left. The central image shows a stack of broad galleries abutting the circular tower of a spiral stair. These are two elegant but typical examples of the traboule typology, which du l’Orme digests and redeploys in the courtyard to the right. In the upper tiers du l’Orme applies the classical orders with Bramante-esque precision, while in the lower sections he hops and skips around pre-existing conditions with geometric and curvaceous acuity. The result is a remarkable site-specific flexibility and organic articulation gleaned from the problem-solving methods previously employed in the surrounding urban tissue. Incidentally, Du l’Orme’s design sensibility, thus developed, set the norm for next generation of French architects.

*Top image scanned from Raymond Chevallier's France from the Air

l’abresle, couvent sainte-marie-de-la tourette

Today I dug further into my sack of architectural self-indulgence by visiting La Tourette, Le Corbusier’s Dominican monastery. Walking through it I felt inverted echoes of the scores of buildings it has inspired—from the Elkin Public Library, through Koolhaas’ Kusthal, and deep (if depth is possible) into the very core of Richard Meier’s raison d'etre. Simultaneously mass, landscape, and volume, the monastery conforms to a simple programmatic diagram and a liberally collaged composition. It was a visceral visit and I spent the day wrestling with the building’s awareness of ground, its interplay of darkness and light, and its pervasive material irregularity. The building is a messy, sloppy masterpiece, if for nothing else than the pure ballsiness of its sculptural maneuvers.

monaco, grand prix

Come for the Corbusier, stay for the Grand Prix, I suppose. The engines’ whine was clearly audible from the cabin’s front door (I’ve placed a red rectangle around Monaco in the previous blog entry) so in the evening, after the race had ended, I snuck in to see how the city had adjusted itself to the spectacle. The Gran Prix is unusual because it takes place on the city’s streets rather than on a race track. I didn’t walk the whole course but I did explore the harbor, which the surrounding hillside cups like a grand natural amphitheater.

The top panorama pictures the cove toward the end of the evening. The water is filled with multi-million dollar yachts and the red cranes to the right are busy disassembling barriers and a huge television screen. I’ve placed a red rectangle around where I took the next panorama, just below, earlier in the evening. For me to walk on those bleachers a few hours earlier would have cost 750 Euros, because the race circled the harbor where the yellow moving van and red truck can be seen. On the other side of the road are the yachts, which comfortably replace the American skybox or the RV parked in the middle of a NASCAR competition.

The third image is taken from the opposite direction, standing alongside the track. I include it to reiterate the relationship between stands and yachts and to look with a little more depth at the road boundary mechanism. Here, barriers keep rogue formula 1 racecars in as much as they keep rambunctious spectators out. The setup consisted largely of highway guide rails, chain-link fencing, and lashed-together automobile tires (the chain-link fencing has already been taken down here). Tires struck me as slightly morbid but I suppose it’s a bit like the native Americans using every part of the buffalo.

Unlike other urban celebrations I’ve seen, the Gran Prix is decidedly non-participatory, at least for the duration of the race. It is a carefully regulated linear spectacle, with controlled viewpoints (120 Euros for standing room) and constructed seating. It paralyzes the city for a brief, spectacular, and incredibly lucrative spasm and then life continues and street traffic resumes….only in this case, street traffic consists of Lamborghinis and trophy wives and the life consists of gambling and martinis on the rocks. I thought I had it good to be paid to travel for a year but this event left me feeling absolutely insignificant in the socio-economic scheme of things.

cap martin, le petit cabanon and corbusier’s resting place

I visited Corbusier’s holiday cabin—the only house he ever built for himself—and hiked up the hillside to pay my respects to his gravesite. The design of the one seems to have informed the composition of the other. It was a powerful experience to inhabit the natural environment that so affected the greatest architect of the twentieth century: a steep, rocky landscape that gives way to the two shades of blue.

The cabin sits just above the sea, just below the railroad tracks, and along the aptly named Promenade Le Corbusier. Its door was locked and its windows shuttered but, registering with the Cap Martin tourist office, I was able to take a look inside the next day. After sketching my lodgings’ close quarters for the last few months I felt primed to take in Corbusier’s lessons in diminutive dimensions. That the exterior rusticity is but a self-conscious appliqué is belied by its selective, idiosyncratic fenestration. My excitement to step inside was well-rewarded, needless to say.

After some searching and a bit of charades with the locals, I found Corbusier’s grave in a local cemetery beside the medieval chateau. Understated, its concrete squre-and-golden-rectangle design is unmistakably his, with a cylindrical planter to represent his wife, Yvonne and a stylized shed for himself. Though it faces away from the sea instead of toward it, the resemblance to the cabin and its rounded retaining wall is unmistakable. I’m not necessarily keen on pilgrimage but I never feel as content traveling as I do when I’m off on a Corbusian tangent. Even his headstone is an instructive manifesto.