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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chihuly's Glass Garden in Seattle

The art of glass is a place where artistic vision, exquisite craftsmanship and landscape design come together.  Currently, there's an exhibition of Chihuly Glass at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, which may be a distance to go see, but worth it!  It's the third major installation in a US Museum, following exhibitions in San Francisco and Boston. One can expect huge crowds and colorful visions that are full of surprise.

Chihuly's Garden of Glass opened last spring in Seattle. 
The Seattle museum is adjacent to the Space Needle and Frank Gehry's Experience Music.   Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of going to Seattle when it wasn't raining, thanks to my niece for choosing the right time to have her wedding on Bainbridge Island.

September is lovely in Seattle, and when the sun is out, the full spectrum of the colors can be appreciated.  It may not be as bright in winter, but if I had to live there through the rainy winters, the colors  probably would give me some solace.  Chihuly is a native of Tacoma and it is a wonder that he developed such color and technique in this climate. Chihuly studied glass blowing on the island of Murano, near Venice, Italy, one of the few places known for making exquisite glass. Glass blowing techniques go back to the Egyptians, and the Romans learned from them.   Surprisingly, there are many other glass artists and craftsmen working today, but we really have to credit Dale Chihuly for bringing back artistry, craftsmanship and popular interest into the art of glass.

Radiant complementary colors abound.The Garden of Glass includes outdoor and indoor spaces.
One time I had gone to the Chihuly's Bridge of Glass in Tacoma on a rainy winter day.  I tried, but it was impossible to appreciate the array of colors through the gloom of a rainy winter day.  From November to April, the rain is constant in Washington.

There are many rooms and sections of the indoor museum, including a section of Native American weavings which have influenced the artist.  To me the Glass Forest, below,  is the most impressive interior room.  Circles, swirls, and organic shapes compete for attention against a black background.

Before leaving the building, flowers of glass hang from the ceiling.     Light, color and reflection give a endless array of design.

The Chihuly Garden of Glass is permanent but the Virginia Museum exhibition will last until February 10th.  Going along with its exhibition, the museum made and recently this video of Dale Chihuly in his studio.  He obviously needs a host of workers in the Walla Walla Studio to make these magnificent organic visual wonders. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Roofs, Towers and Balconies in Gaudi's Barcelona

The rich and fertile imagination of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is seen all over the city of Barcelona.  Gaudí was a part of Modernista in Barcelona, a Romantic design movement related to Art Nouveau    His curved lines and organic shapes were probably inspirations to the Surrealist painters from Catalonia, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.

Two homes at the entry to Parc Güell are sometimes described as Hansel and Gretl Houses
                  Gaudí designed a expansive public park in Barcelona, Parc Güell, originally to be like English gardens and to include a housing development which did not sell.  His curves and points are a delight to explore, as I did in a visit several years ago.  The colorful lizard tiles adorning a huge staircase doubles as a fountain.   There are several pavilions, gates, curving walls and benches.   The Gaudí House Museum, where the architect once lived,
is also in this park. 

       Gaudí worked consistently on La Sagrada Familia from 1883 until his death, even living in a room within the building.  It has been taking more than 130 years to build and is expected to be completed by  by 2026--a hundred years after his death.  When I was there 7 years ago, much of the exterior shell was done.  In the end, it will have 18 towers and will rise 568 feet (170 meters) high. Its style combines the Gothic style with curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.
Gaudí was not only a great sculptural designer, but he was a genius of mathematical calculations.  He designed pointed arches for the Sagrada Familia, as in the Gothic style, but he figured out how to do it without the need for buttresses.   A modern computer program was able to determine that Gaudí arches are in the shape of parabolas.   
Gaudi's apartment buildings are fascinating for their shapes.  The Casa Milà, above, is said to imitate the waves of the sea, but locals have nicknamed it "La Pedrera,"  (the quarry).  Nature is the major inspiration.   

There is no better place to explore the fertile imagination of Antonio Gaudí then by looking from the rooftops. Whimsical biomorphic shapes at Casa Milà actually hide the building's utilities (pipes and ductwork) sculptural and cast iron designs.  The rooftop of Casa Milà becomes like a sculptured landscape to climb up, down, around and explore. Torre Agbar, the city's newest architectural icon by Jean Nouvel, is visible in the distance from inside an arch on top of that roof.

Whimsical faces, left, are vent covers pointing into the sky from the roof Casa Milà in Barcelona, perhaps Gaudí's most famous apartment building, left.

Gaudi's animation continues in another apartment building, Casa Batlló, below, where the balconies form masks........Casa Batlló has a rich surface of tiles, multicolored on the facade, but shaped like the scales of a dragon on the roof. Next door is Casa Amatller, by modernista architect Puig i Cadafalch.

            When lit at night, Casa Batlló's roof forms the body of a dragon, while a cross-shaped tower suggests the triumph of St. George over the dragon, or a victory of the cross over death and sin.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cross-Culturalism: Symbols of Mt. Fuji and the Eiffel Tower

Some of Henri Riviere's "36 Views of the Eiffel Tower." are in the Phillips' exhibition, Snapshot: Paintings and Photography, from Bonnard to Vuillard.  Five Metro stops away, the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery is hosting an exhibition of Katsushika Hokusai's "36 Views of Mt. Fuji."   The Cherry Blossom Festival just celebrated the100th anniversary of Japan's gift of cherry trees  to Washington, DC, a capital city based on French urban design patterns. These exhibitions coincided with that event.

The top of the Eiffel Tower seen beyond the leaves is from Henri Riviere's 36 Views of the Eiffel Tower, its Frontispiece,
                           published in 1902.  Hokusai's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji, 1830-1832, inspired him.  The scene below, Mt. Fuji 
                                                     from Goten-yama has Spring cherry blossoms opening to a distant view of the peak.

The Sackler exhibition has selected the most vivid images available of Hokusai's woodblock prints and the colors are vibrant.  Blues predominate, but most  prints have at least 4 other hues.  Riviere's images are printed as color lithographs with more neutral color harmonies.  French artists admired Japanese woodblock prints and Riviere owned at least 800 of them. The Phillips' exhibition--definitely worth the visit--also has small paintings and many photographs by Post-Impressionist artists such as Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, George Hendrik Breitner, Henri Evenepoel and Felix Valloton.

Both artists create different atmospheric effects, including the effects of wind, snow and various cloud formations. In many prints by each artist, the subjects, Mt. Fuji or the Eiffel Tower, are subordinated to other scenery.  Yet, Riviere used Hokusai's examples as inspiration rather than imitation.

Through rooftops and chimneys of Paris' many buildings we vaguely see the Eiffel Tower. A cat pokes through the diagonal zigzag of lines in the foreground as a dog runs away. Their silhouettes remind me
that Riviere did shadow plays for
 Le Chat Noir (the Black Cat).
Warehouses line a canal to form diagonal lines which lead  first, to Edo Castle, then to  Mt. Fuji, on the upper left corner,  (No 31 - Nihonbashi at Edo)

A large Mt. Fuji dominates the upper left, as a strong wind blows.  In this Autumn view, the people look
small compared to the force of the wind  (No. 18 - Sunshū Ejiri, in Suruga Province). Both
Hokusai and Riviere take the viewers through a yearly cycle of changing
weather conditions.  Hokusai's work dates to 1830-32.

Riviere also creates the sensation of Autumn wind surrounding a lonely man on a park bench. The
 Eiffel Tower stands directly above him.
Riviere spent a year watching the building of the Eiffel Tower.  During that time, he was able to go up into the construction and take photographs from the inside out.  Twelve of these photos are in the Phillips' 
exhibition, along with the lithograph above based on one of those pictures
The Phillips' exhibition compares these prints to photographs Riviere shot of workers constructing the Eiffel Tower. Riviere's primary profession was as a theatre set designer for Le Chat Noir, where he created shadow plays. As an artist, he is less well-known than Hokusai, although there is something magical about his style, perhaps a reflection of his work with silhouettes in the theatre and with photography. His prints were published in 1902 several years after he had taken the pictures of the Eiffel Tower. 

Hokusai is one of Japan's greatest artists.  There are two more exhibitions of paintings and screens by Hokusai in the Freer Gallery of Asian Art, which holds the world's largest collection of Hokusai and is attached to the Sackler Gallery. The rarely-seen Boy Viewing Mt. Fuji, ink on silk, is in a medium too fragile for continuous display, but it is included with the Hokusai paintings. 

It is an interesting to see that Hokusai, as an eastern artist, identifies with the power of pure nature, a volcanic mountain which dominates the Japanese landscape, while the western artist's symbol is a man-made construction, built for the World's Fair of 1889 and still a dominant symbol of Paris today.  

Hokusai's Boy Viewing Mt. Fuji, 1846, is a peaceful painting which expresses the grandeur of Mt. Fuji in color and ink on silk.  It is part of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Asian art and will be on view until June 24, 2012 . 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Beacon of Light for Ivy City

There will be new light for an old building. A project is in the works for
Crummell School in Ivy City, Washington, DC.
Abandoned for about 30 years,
the 100-year old landmark will get new life soon.

A friend and former student, Christina Ditto, chose, as part of an MFA graduate project in Interior Design at the George Washington University, a proposition to redesign the 100-year-old Alexander Crummell School into a community center. This architectural gem of a building, located in Ivy City on the Northeast side of Washington, DC., closed as a school in the 60s and was eventually abandoned in 1980. It sits on 2.5 acres amongst a pothole-ridden parking lot.Crummell School was the first complete building of the city's first municipal architect, Snowden Ashford. The decorative details of this centrally-planned building, its large windows and elements of good design are a treasure we would hope not to lose in the future. City First Enterprises, DC's Architecture for Humanity and another foundation have committed to build a new community center within its walls. In supporting rehabilitation of the building, Jeffrey Stoiber of Stoiber and Associates in Washington, DC, has committed to work on the project. Christina's ideas and drawings, based on the concept of connectivity, are presented here.

Designer Christina Ditto's plan calls for a two-story Great Hall to be opened in
with a skylight in the center and extended to the east and west wings. This space
would facilitate connectivity and be used for events.

Christina talked to residents and asked them what they would like. Their answer is a community center and more green space. Her project gives residents more landscape, workable gardens, meeting space, classrooms suitable for all ages and an underground parking lot.

Living walls, also called
vertical gardens, would rise two
stories of f the east and west
sides of the skylit Great Hall. Seating
is intended to support connectivity.

Christina's plan for the building keeps the center open as the Great Hall. This central space extends 2 stories high into the east and west wings which are covered with vertical gardens. An 8-foot circular skylight in Christina's design sits in the center of the Great Hall and is reminiscent of a cupola that was once there. Although the existing building already features large windows, in this design the windows, skylight and vertical halls function together to keep the central area filled with natural light.

The floor plan has a radiating, open arrangement. The Great Hall would have
a tree and organic floor designs made of pennies donated
and put into place by residents of Ivy City.

The concept of this design is connectivity, connecting Ivy City residents to others, the community and the environment. Seating arrangements throughout the building support the idea of connectivity. Existing stairways remain in place, while the corners of the building on the main and second levels contain various types of classrooms, including an arts studio, fitness studio and computer lab.

The second floor would include arts and fitness studios. Both floors have a Greek cross plan
within a square, reminiscent of a Palladio design.

I am reminded of the radial design of Andrea Palladio's Villa Capra, "La Rotonda" in Vicenza, Italy. The school itself and Christina's design have a similar beauty in simplicity and harmonious proportions. Like many of Palladio's designs, this plan considers vistas of light and unifying interior and exterior spaces. The school never had the grandiose quality of a Palladian house and porticos would be inappropriate to the purpose, but the floor plan is similar.

Andrea Palladio's Villa Capra, called La Rotonda, has inspired much
architecture since the 16th century, including Jefferson's Monticello

The ground floor, below the main level, would house two kitchens, one for the café and another as a teaching kitchen. For the most part Christina's designs go along the building's original plan, but she added two doors opening out to two terraces on the lower level and flow into the landscaped grounds.

As in Palladian designs, the main floor of the Crummell School is raised
A lower level, where the kitchens are located, would open up to terraces.

Consistent with residents' wishes,
Christina's site plan called for the parking lot's redesign to hold two basketball courts and horseshoe pits, in addition to park and garden space. By moving the parking lot underground, more green space is created. Several garden plots would be available for community residents to grow vegetables for themselves, for the café or classes held in the building, and to learn about healthy food and cooking in the teaching kitchen, accessible from those ground-floor terraces.

There's new hope for the future of the 2.5 acres on which Crummell School sits. Gardens
and basketball courts could replace the parking lot with broken-down buses and potholes.

In 2003, Crummell School was put on the National Register of Historic Places, thereby protecting it from being torn down. In August, 2011, the city asked developers to come up with a project for development, hoping they would see its potential as a charter school, but the 20,000- square-foot building is small by today's standards. Crummell School was named after Alexander Crummell, an important abolitionist and African- American minister, who was the rector St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Washington from 1875 to 1894. The school itself has sentimental value to the lifelong residents Ivy City who fondly remember it. It's a remnant of segregation in Washington DC schools, but it kept the community together and was a true neighborhood school, as long-time residents recall.

Crummell School was built in 1911, and is a remnant of

of the past period of segregation, not only by race. A lintel

above a door shows that girls and boys used separate entrances.
Snowden Ashford supervised all building in Washington between 1895 and 1921, but he was most proud of his schools, which also include Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown and Jesse Reno School. He was the architect of several fire stations and an addition to the Eastern Market, built in 1908 before Crummell School.

We don't seem to have community schools any longer, but with a new community center Ivy City can have its neighborhood feeling once again. Crummell School is on 1900 Gallaudet Road, NE, just off New York Avenue, and near Gallaudet University.Christina is proud of her role in providing the stimulus for giving the neighborhood a community center, and new life to a significant building by Washington's first municipal architect. Stephanie Travis, Director of the Interior Design program at the George Washington University, brought in the involvement of charitable foundations.