architecture

Posted by Ellen

With shopping bags, at the new town hall building in the Palaio Faliro district of Athens.

Posted by Ellen

Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station in 1927 for his city of the future, to be built in the Buffalo, New York, area.  The city never did get built, but the gas station became a reality in 1958, in Cloquet, Minnesota, near Duluth.

It is believed to be the only Frank Lloyd Wright–designed gas station in the world. It's still in operation today, though it was recently put up for sale.

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As part of a recent downtown revitalization project, the city of Skopje, capital of the Balkan Republic of Macedonia sponsored an international design competition for a new multi-story parking garage. The call for submissions specified that the garage should hold 315 parking spaces and must be designed in a "baroque, classic, neo-classic, romantic, and neo-romantic style."

Clearly, the Skopje city fathers were looking for something fancy, but apparently there was also a political agenda. That long list of architectural styles they were interested in all point to a Western, Christian, bourgeois European history for Skopje–which never really existed. Also, the list is notable for its omissions: no hint of the oriental and Islamic traditions with which Macedonia was associated for many centuries, and of course also no hint of the country's recent Communist past. In other words, the government wanted a politically correct parking garage.

Winning architect Milan Mijalkovic, of the Viennese firm PPAG,  went neo-baroque in his design. He started with a snapshot taken by a young girl, Andrea Popelka, showing a bit of the baroque architecture typical of streetscapes in Vienna. The image was repeated, distorted, and abstracted to wrap around the garage in a multi-layered facade. Where there were windows in the streetscape, there are openings in the facade to allow light into the parking levels.

Parking garages have a history of their own in Skopje. After a devastating earthquake in 1965, Japanese architect s were invited in to help plan for recovery. They noticed that the city had few cars and little infrastructure for dealing with automotive traffic, and they suggested that this might be the city's opportunity to plan for the traffic that surely would someday fill the streets. They built numerous garages around Skopje's apartment towers. But it took several more decades for the cars to come to Skopje, and in the meantime, the garages were repurposed to store vegetables for the city's markets.

Posted by Ellen

Also taxidermiferous! Displaying life that is no longer with us, at the Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

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In Harvard Yard, Cambridge, MA. Surely buried in snow at the moment.

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Before the earthquake, Christchurch had two cathedrals: the Gothic-style Anglican Christ Church Cathedral on the city's central square and the Italianate Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament nearby. Both were ruined in the quake.

In the aftermath of the quake, both the Anglican and the Catholic establishments became notably secretive about their plans for rebuilding and/or repair. The Anglicans were sued over insurance payouts and municipal maintenance funds. The Catholics spirited away all the decorative elements and artwork from their cathedral and hid everything at a still-undisclosed location.

Both cathedrals sit in ruins today, not yet demolished, propped up by flying buttresses made of steel I-beams and stacks of shipping containers filled with concrete.

Meanwhile, the Anglicans have built a new cathedral, allegedly for temporary use, on the site of a nearby church that was also destroyed in the earthquake. The new cathedral, with its cardboard-tube roof beams, was designed pro bono by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who has achieved worldwide acclaim for his post-disaster structures, many of which are built from inexpensive and readily available materials, including paper, cardboard, plastic crates, and shipping containers.

The new Cardboard Cathedral opened last August. It can hold 700 people for church services and also serves as public meeting space.

Posted by Ellen

 

Roman mosaic floors (plus one freize), mainly from Pompeii.

This image is a reproduction of one page from Heinrich Dolmetsch's compilation of craftsmanship and design in ancient and modern civilizations, first published in 1887. There is more.

Posted by Ellen

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change opened a few days ago in this brand new convention center in Doha, capital city of the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. The venue is "ironical," according to a columnist for India Today in Mumbai, because "talks about cutting down fossil fuel emissions and sustainable development are being held in the mecca of opulence and fossil fuels."

Qatar has the world's highest per capita income and also generates the world's largest per capita carbon footprint.

The "high-level" work of the conference is set to begin Tuesday, with attending nations each being given three minutes to address the group on climate-change and carbon-dioxide control issues. The conference banquet is set for Tuesday night; although the new building is said to offer banquet seating for 10,000, the climate change banquet will be held at Qatar's Islamic Museum in downtown Doha.

The name Doha is Arabic for "big tree," a theme much in evidence in the conference center architecture. In its central hall is French-American artist Louise Bourgeois's largest spider statue, Maman.

Posted by Ellen

More than four millennia ago, people who called themselves Sicels built a town atop this hill, 300 meters above small streams in the steep-sided limestone valleys of southern Sicily.

Then came the Greeks and briefly the Carthaginians, then the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and finally, in the eleventh century, the Normans. The town had its name by then, Ragusa. As part of the Kingdom of Sicily, it slipped out from under control of the Norman duke Geoffrey and became a fief of the Chiaramontes, the most powerful family in Sicily.

At first glance, Ragusa's many centuries, particularly its medieval times, appear plain in the architecture and plan of the town clinging to the hill. But that's an illusion; almost everything here postdates a severe earthquake in 1692, which killed thousands of people and destroyed almost all the buildings, including a very large Gothic cathedral.

What we see today is Ragusa rebuilt, in the early eighteenth century, in the style known as Sicilian baroque. We also see Ragusa stratified; the rich people moved over to the next hill to rebuild their homes and churches–Ragusa Superiore–while the poor stayed where they were, rebuilding in the rubble– Ragusa Inferiore, known today as Ragusa Ibra.

Of the two Ragusas–essentially identical in age and architectural style–the poor folks' town, featured in this photo, attracts more attention from twenty-first-century tourists and is generally considered the more picturesque. The replacement for the ruined cathedral, however, is in Ragusa Superiore.

As an American, I have my doubts about places that look like this; I sniff Walt Disney and/or Hollywood and/or Colonial Williamsburg in the so-called Sicilian air. I fear this is a town populated by characters in costume whose main role in life is to get me to part with my money. But you know what? I'll take the risk. And if I ever get to Sicily . . . I can't promise I'll come back.