3 great domes in 17 days
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 big onion dome hovers over the crypt, its reflection absorbed in the reflecting pool.
Young and old – the elder woman on the right bent nearly in half – cram into access stairs to the elevated plinth on which the Taj is set.
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.
eyes on istanbul
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.
Anti-mall…the Grand Bazaar is a vast covered-market that encompasses more than 50 streets. Worth visiting for the leather, the excellent knock-off leather and piles of antiquities, like these.
Salt Galata, an exquisite research centre and archive dedicated to design and art… recently opened in a magisterial building that once housed the Ottoman Bank. This is how you enter.
Street food, Istanbul style. Fresh cilantro, egg, tomato, cheese and salt on warm buns. Served on a simple fold-up wooden table on a cobblestone street. Toronto has so much to learn.
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.
Like many of the indie neighbourhoods in places like San Francisco, New York or Vancouver, Beyoglu is rich with eclectic artist houses, jewellery antiquities and family-run eateries.
and golden textures hanging in the air
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, goodbye at 104
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.
Lifting off: Niemeyer’s joyous curves at Maison de la culture du Havre, France. P. Michel Moch
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.
Inside the rain forest outside of Rio, Niemeyer’s house (1953) is part shelter, part sensuous sculpture.
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.”
What every home should have: Bookshelves rolling around a curved wall.
Niemeyer and I in his house…sadly, I had to leave Rio before his secretary returned my email confirming our meeting. Goodbye Oscar. Boa Noite.
new delhi, india. room with a view
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.
Varanasi, India: ancient design
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.
constructed interiors…what lies within the pumpkin
“OH my! I ditched my paddle when I needed it most! What was I thinking???”
Red Light District
Dancing barefoot on the wrong side of the tracks
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Ok, this horse did not participate.
Lighting a candle on the altar of the pumpkin seed.
These fantasies constructed within the cave of my pumpkin when Hurricane Sandy swept up the Eastern Seaboard and I sat by the fire listening to the wind. Happy scary Hallowe’en!
the marilyn monroe tower
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.
The Outer Banks…outlier modernism
Jammed next to the Atlantic Ocean, on that thin wisp of land called the Outer Banks, North Carolina, there’s a roadside stand flaunting retro-modern stripes and the promise of fried bologna sandwiches.
Across the beach road in Nags Head, a series of shingled black ghosts built during the 19th century; wood weary and structurally forgiving, set next to the surf, daring the hurricanes to come and get them.
Remarkably, the “Unpainted Aristocracy” houses (some of them constructed of wood reclaimed from shipwrecks) have withstood the onslaught of weather and water. Look how they’re raised on stilts to allow the sweep of water underneath, while guests visiting from the plantations sprawled on the wraparound porches.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest in the USA, wears a modern black and white daymark on its brick tower.
The distillation of colours mimic the black shells and feathers on the vast Hatteras beach.
Inside, the tightly-wound spiral staircase is an honest interpretation of nature…
with a complex geometry that has inspired countless stair designs, from the one uncoiled in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica to the one spiralling through the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
Address: the southern tip of Outer Banks, where the lighthouse keeper once reported that he and his wife and their multiple children never felt lonely.
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.