Archive

Curves

ztjacob6Students at Canada’s Trent University, a masterwork of 1960s modernism, lounging on Swan chairs by the great Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen.   Did they know how cool they were?

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An archival photo of one of the Trent lounges, graced by Jacobsen Swan chairs around an Eero Saarinen table. Built-in furniture and modular wood chandelier by Canadian great, Ron Thom.

img_4134As my homage to the vast collection of mid-century furniture that once flourished then disappeared at Trent, here’s a tribute with some of the chairs I’ve been collecting for a while, and the joy that they bring.

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E'Terra Samara Tree House Villa_image 2I’m flying across Canada this week to speak at the Wood Design Awards at the new green-roofed Convention Centre in Vancouver. My theme? It’s time to embrace wood as the building material of the 21st century. Too many of the world’s carbon emissions come from the manufacture of concrete and steel. (The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that for every 10 kilos of cement created, six to nine kilos of CO2 are produced.)  Wood speaks to our minds and our hearts, like this tree house  delicately suspended by cables without any tree-damaging nails.  Lyrically designed by Farrow Partnership Architects for the 5-star E’Terra eco-resort located in the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, near Tobermory, Ontario.
E'Terra Samara Tree House Villa_image 1Wood satisfies our deep, ancestral connection to nature’s beauty, which has been traced back to the magnificent acacia tree with its complex fractal geometry in the African Savannah.
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Wood is the most ancient building material.  But construction methods have stayed relatively primitive.  This is the log home built by my great grandparents, Barney and Sarah Griffith when they left Minnesotta and travelled on the C.P.R. to homestead in Saskatchewan.  That was back in the late 1800s.   That idea of basic wood construction (2 X 4 wood frame construction) still dominates the housing sector.
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Standing underneath the vaulted ceiling in our upstairs living room feels a lot like being suspended below a canoe.  Actually, oak flooring was applied piece by piece (by a patient and talented architect turned craftsman) to the ceiling – one member at a time – much like the construction method used by my great grandparents.
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It’s time to modernize the  wood building industry.   Cross-laminated timber can give plenty of structural muscle to civic and commercial architecture.  Designed by Montreal’s Saucier + Perrotte architectes this soccer field celebrates the power of wood architecture – and points to the future of spirit-warming, eco-friendly wood.
Stories_aaltoileva_sisakatto_11847Expect wood architecture – even all-wood towers – to start splashing out around the world.  This free-wheeling atrium is part of Wood City, an all-wood development sited on a former cargo harbour in Helsinki, Finland.  The client is the forest company Stora Enso;  Anttinen Oiva Architects are the competition-winning designers.  Looks like being inside the belly of a whale.  Or a canoe.

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Oscar Niemeyer rejected the square box. Instead, he honoured the curves of nature and the human body in his buildings in Brazil, France, Italy and the U.S. Here’s a blossom in his memory…dropped from the massive Hibiscus in front of Niemeyer’s studio in Rio overlooking Copacabana Beach.

203_oscarniemeyer_lehavreLifting off: Niemeyer’s joyous curves at Maison de la culture du Havre, France. P. Michel Moch

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Headquarters of the Communist Party, Paris, France.  Niemeyer was a life-long Communist who apparently waived his design fees to create this building with its sci-fi, ethereal interiors.

 IMG03598Inside the rain forest outside of Rio, Niemeyer’s house (1953) is part shelter, part sensuous sculpture.

 IMG03603At poolside, a sculpture by Alfredo Ceschiatti.  The female form inspired Niemeyer throughout his life. Obviously! When Frank Gehry visited him at his studio in Rio, Niemeyer showed him a series of pictures on his desk of beautiful women on the Rio beach…”one of her back, the next one of her stomach, the next one of her back, the next one on her stomach.”

IMG03587What every home should have: Bookshelves rolling around a curved wall.

IMG03585Niemeyer and I in his house…sadly, I had to leave Rio before his secretary returned my email confirming our meeting. Goodbye Oscar.  Boa Noite.

Curves reign.  In Chicago this week, Canada’s Marilyn Monroe Tower was named best skyscraper in the Americas by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.  Applause to MAD Architects of Beijing, China for designing the highly-suggestive female forms, dropping these creatures of loveliness in the unlovely bedroom community of Toronto.

I happened to be in Mississauga yesterday when the announcement went public, so I took some shots of the stunning sweep, sashay and twist of the towers.  (The less-complex version of the 56-storey Marilyn Monroe sits slightly to the north on the development) in the heart of sprawling, unwalkable Mississauga.Mr. Salvatore, president of Fernbrook Homes and Mr. Crignano, a principal in Cityzen development, commissioned the multi-tower development, paying a premium of 20 per cent to construct the MAD-design. The design, engineered by Sigmund Soudack, makes concrete look plastic.  It features continuous glassed-in balconies, and a tower that rotates clockwise between one and eight degrees.  Supporting walls run longer or shorter depending on the configuration of the concrete floor plates.

Forty-five years ago, Mississauga was an unspoiled landscape of hayfields, but the countryside has since been replaced by strip malls, shopping centres and unwalkable high-rise neighbourhoods. A six-lane thoroughfare leads you through the ultimate in built banality…but even on a misty morning it’s possible to glimpse the outstanding archi-female form in the distance.

a surprising vista in Mississauga: nature and the sashaying condo towers.

Voluptuous design sells.  The Marilyn sold out in a matter of weeks.   For the record, the Marilyn Monroe, a term coined by the public, though the actual title – which nobody seems to know – is the Absolute.  Ninety-two firms from around the world competed to design the towers.  Obviously the jury picked a winner.

Holes open up a home to the outside world, making it seem extra enchanting. In a forested area of Japan where there’s plenty of rain, architect Kotaro Ide of ARTechnic decided to design with elliptically-shaped concrete forms rather than cladding the house with more traditional (and fragile) wood. Then he cut holes into the concrete to liberate the space.

Given the organic, seamless flow of the Japanese vacation home all windows and doors had to be custom designed.  The result: a sumptuous, all-embracing environment, one that’s now been published all over the world.

Just when you thought you couldn’t take any more concrete slab towers or steel-and-glass cliches along comes the O-14 Tower by Reiser + Umemoto Architects.  The 21-storey skyscraper rises like a latticework tower in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The perforated “superliquid” concrete skin measures only 15 inches thick, a remarkable achievement in high-performance, seemingly elastic concrete.  Given that most skyscrapers in North America are uninventive lookalikes, this is the kind of architectural daring worth applauding.  I’ve written about Reiser + Umemoto before.  Maybe somebody in Canada will commission them to design something intelligent and gutsy soon. S.V.P.

What the O-14 tower is to clothing design…Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. clothing line (named for her 2004 solo album Love, Angel, Music, Baby,) has been around for six years but her latest coat design rips apart conventional thinking about covering up.  For L.A.M.B.’s long, winter coat the wave of olive colour is heightened by hundreds of peek holes in the lower half.  It makes walking on the snow extra flirty.

 Punctured with openings, this chair (1952) was among the very first to depart radically from thick, brutishly heavy chairs to offer a lightweight sculpture to arrange yourself in.  Designed by Harry Bertoia in steel wire to be as much about sitting as it is about changeability of sculpture.  Something to curl into and watch the world go by.  

  

Brain coral, found on Coconut River Beach, once the site of a slave settlement in Nevis, a Caribbean island historically rich for its productive sugar plantations.

The random, organic pattern of a Favela in Medellin, Columbia.  Also known as a slum, or in polite academic circles, an informal settlement.

Baroque architects knew how to make great, seductive curves in architecture.  These ones festooned with pantaloon-like curtains at Cafe Florian, Piazza San Marco. Discovered one cold evening in November.  Before the annual flooding of Venice.