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Design Ectasy

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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Room with a view, at sunrise. Looking out over the Hauz Khas, a 13th-century Mughal complex of higher learning, with a mosque, madresa, college…

 and domed pavilions designed to inspire philosophic gatherings.

These days, students retreat to the Mughal-era ruins to escape the intense density of New Delhi. Views give out over an expansive, historic ‘tank’ of water.

Hauz Khas is a hip, designer-rich, walkable neighbourhood – a rare find in India.  Our apartment, rented via Air bnb, allowed views to the Mughal-era complex but also, at ground floor, to men hauling wooden carts travelling along the narrow streets along with school children in uniforms who would sometimes stop to say a prayer in front of the neighbourhood Hindu shrine.   This tea salon discovered up a steep flight of stairs, next to a bakery.

City with surreal views.

Monkey with a view.

Through the dust, heat and travelling at high speeds…view from a crowded rickshaw, en route to the Taj Mahal.

Room with an unparalleled view. The Taj Mahal, a love story.  Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s domed mausoleum in white marble for Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife and mother of their 14 children.

6 AM.  Floating on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India, where the current runs strong but time has stayed still.  A boy in a light wooden craft selling handmade wishing candles skims along the Ganges, considered by Hindus to be the sacred ‘mother’.

At sunrise, pilgrims descend the ‘ghat’ staircases to wash themselves vigorously at the edge of the holy river.

6:30 AM. At the main ‘burning’ ghat, some 300 bodies are turned to ash on open funeral pyres every day.  Masses of logs are brought to the famous Dashashwamedh ghat and hauled by men up the steep slope to the burning sites. The burning stench lies heavy in the air.  According to ancient dictate, those diseased with chicken pox, leprosy, holy men, children and pregnant women are not burned but lowered into the Ganges with the weight of stones.

Women bathe, immersing themselves fully in the river while wearing their saris. Vendors put out their jewellery beneath the “chhatris”, timeworn parasols made of thatched bamboo and clad in patchwork.

Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, is renown for its ancient design of saris. But try choosing one in the heat, when the vendor keeps pulling more and more exotic colour combinations from the boxes on the shelves. When I was there, a ‘sacred’ cow wandered down the laneway and stuck his enormous head inside the shop.

A river of silk – part of the hallucinogenic spell India casts on visitors.

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.

Pop-up architecture reinvents instantly. Sometimes it exhilarates.   Like this one: a canopy of pink balls floating over Rue Sainte Catherine in Montreal’s gay village, bringing waves of people to the newly created pedestrian mall below.  Check the Montreal artsy video for more.


At the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London, the 2012 temporary pavilion by Chinese conceptualist and dissident artist Ai Weiwei with Swiss architects Herzog + de Meuron sends a disc of water over an excavation cloaked in cork.  The columns from the 11 previous pavilions are revealed below. Chinese authorities prevented the fearless Weiwei from attending the opening earlier this summer.   Last year, Weiwei, who designed the Bird’s Nest, was imprisoned in China for several months and his studio was destroyed.

White tent drama popped-up at Fort York sprawling grounds in downtown Toronto.  Ghostly, ethereal, every one of the 200 tents offering artful interiors. Wander in late at night and cast your shadow against the shimmering shelters.

The 23.2 House by Vancouver designer Omer Arbel sits between a couple stands of old growth forest while opening far and wide to a hayfield in White Rock, B.C.  Here’s Canadian residential design that rocks innovation and flaunts an avaricious appetite for the outdoors.  Check the “hockey-stick” white columns.

A chandelier of blown-glass pendants (the 28.3 series created by Arbel for the Canadian design house, Bocci) illuminates the space, giving it an extra dose of whimsy.  Walnut wooden shelving and tables are hefty enough to anchor the space underneath the heritage lumber roof.    A triangulated structure of irregular timber lengths allowed the client and Arbel to retain the wood lengths exactly as they were found in demolished Vancouver warehouses. Then to the outside: an angled wall of glass to allow for an immersive experience of the rural surroundings.

For those accustomed to sleek, minimal lines and contemporary near nothingness, you’ll need to readjust your eyes.  There’s nothing minimal here. Thankfully.  For a change.

This is a family home but it also clearly doubles as a fantastic party lounge.  Which, naturally, inspires many, many soundtracks, such as… Bon Iver through the morning; Skrillex dub step at night.  The Bocci pendant lights are now available in colour – even the video about their making is a small work of art. (Photos by Nic Ledoux.)

More innovation here: The cedar that was used to form the concrete walls of the house was dismantled and re-used as long cedar shingles for the roof.  They appear as petrified lengths of wood…so now you can never go back to asphalt shingles.

Onyx is a luminous marble that, when back lit, glows like a candle.   There’s an entire galaxy ebbing and flowing in the golden and milky white onyx ceiling at the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto, where Sikhs and Muslims and Christians can worship in the same space. (Photo above and below by Tom Arban.)

Poetically imagined by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the design for the Multi-faith Centre is one of the first in North America.  A pale onyx from an Italian quarry was selected as a means to express universality and spiritual tolerance.  The ceiling onyx is recessed and back lit by tubes of light.  The wall of onyx contains several tall cupboards where sweetgrass for aboriginal groups or sacred scrolls for Buddhists.

 This is a highly minimal piece of modernism – it opened in 1963 – made remarkable by its large panes of onyx.  Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed the white onyx-clad Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.   The Vermont onyx has been cut so thin that light from the outside transfers powerfully to the inside.  I’ve stood within this entirely enclosed space and felt as if the walls were on fire.

Inspired, I decided to use 12 X 12 inch onyx in the shower room and tiny tiles as a backsplash in the upstairs laundry room. The pattern of the veins running through the onyx is as complex as a honey comb but the wheat colour is ultra mellow.  Luckily, several large tiles were left over after the work was complete and I decided to make wall lamps to hang outside.

 

I designed the lights to feature two tiles stacked vertically on a box frame of white acrylic.  My builder friend, George, agreed to help me with the construction.  He cut long strips of the acrylic and then heated them slightly so as to create a gentle bend. (And, yup, we burned a couple strips a long the way…)

 Reflecting tape was attached to the back of the box to spread out the glow.  The tiles were pre-drilled and then secured to the acrylic with anodized aluminum bolts.

And then installed on the recessed cedar deck at the back of our house.  So that’s my onxy light by day…

Can’t get enough of the onyx glow at night.  The neighbours across our back yard say they like the glow, too.