The Taj Mahal, in dusty, chaotic Agra, India, viewed through the red sandstone gatehouse, within the press of the crowd. Symmetry and material tension run high between the dark sandstone and the brilliant white marble of the mausoleum. Conceived by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to honour his beloved wife – who died giving birth to their 14th child.
The entrance archway to the mausoleum: an astonishing, ‘edgy’ wrinkled and pleated treatment of white marble. This, accomplished by 1653.
Stone courtyard slabs leading to the Blue Mosque (1616), Istanbul.
Remember that rule about lighting up a room with at least two light sources? How about hundreds?
Sensory overload at the Blue Mosque: every tile, every inlay of marble, every dome set against another dome, intended to dazzle your senses with enlightenment and keep your mind distracted from the masonry weight of the domes.
Nearby, the Hagia Sophia: Holy Wisdom, designed at a monumental scale, sheathed in marble and gold and built, remarkably, in five years (532 – 37 CE). The Roman emperor Justinian commissioned the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus to design the dazzling structure. What they achieved by way of supporting half-domes, quarter-domes and mammoth structural piers is mind-boggling. Forty small windows run along the lower ring of the uber dome, creating an illusion of weightlessness.
Exposed structure: the bronze girding at the base and top of the massive marble columns have prevented the splaying of the pillars over the centuries. The eye is kept constantly moving, from the milky-white river coursing through the marble floors to the green marble columns then the deep red ones, to the silver and gold of the mosaics.
Istanbul is like an open book, an ancient tome, still waiting to be cracked open. And the flourishing design culture is standing up even to the Hagia Sophia. From the star-spangled runners to the fake eyelashes, an Istanbul hipster at the design cafe next to the 14th-century Galata Tower in Istanbul.
Country breakfast at a sweet spot, Pell’s Cafe, owned by a financial young whiz turned cafe stylista. Located on the steep street of Bogazkesen Cad. No:68 in Beyoğlu, İstanbul. A neighbourhood changing, slowly, from conservative ethos to one allowing designer chic boutiques and even the occasional liquor license.
somebody’s version of garbage in Istanbul, and total treasure in my mind – even the cat is an aesthetic object. Santa, if you’re listening, I’ll take one of each!
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.
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.
At 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.”
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.
Here’s a Scandinavian version of meditative space: the kamppi chapel of silence by Helsinki-based K2S Architects. The solid, windowless building blocks out the sound of an overly cluttered mind or city noise – useful when the roar of vodka-inebriated soccer fans visiting Helsinki from Russia becomes overwhelming.
CNC-cut glue-laminated elements make up the structural framework of the building with spruce wood planks used for the cladding of the chapel. The client was the City of Helsinki and Helsinki Parish Union. (Images Tuomas Uusheimo.)
The Cube, designed by the talented, young Canadian studio 5468796 Architecture, sits like a jewel in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District.
Designed with twisted aluminum, custom-fabricated by a Hutterite colony, the malleable screen surrounds a room of concrete – reminiscent of Tadao Ando – which serves as a popular stage and event space. As a private meditation space, you could lose yourself in the reflections.
Closer to home is one of the most enchanting, unscripted meditative rooms: Wolf Lake, Ontario. Where the walls and the sky roof change with the seasons.