IMG_0681Palais Garnier, Paris, was designed in the late 1800s by the young, unknown, competition-winning architect, Charles Garnier.  Because of the Palais Garnier’s wicked – and entirely appropriate – design drama I’d take this opera house (1875) any day over the tech-hygienic Bastille Opera House (1989), designed by another unknown, Canadian Carlos Ott.  At Palais Garnier, the painted-canvas house curtain is a lush interpretation of a draped curtain, complete with gold braid and pompoms. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium has 1,900 red velvet seats on the orchestra floor, balcony and arranged in the private ‘loge’.

IMG_0684

My favourite ticket: 1ere loge, Palais Garnier.  Red velvet chairs that the Marquis de Sade would have thoroughly enjoyed.

IMG_06681ere loge, anti-chamber. Framed behind red drapery, this private, intimate room comes with a mirror, a fold away table and a red velvet couch.  If I could, I’d make my pied-a-terre apartment here as writer-in-residence.

IMG_0636

Wall upholstery – dedication to the textures of red that the Metropolitan Opera in NYC only begins to explore.

IMG_0662Past the pleated drapery, looking out.

IMG_0678Views up to the fantastic crystal chandelier and, for the reinvented dome, Chagall’s riot of colours, completed in 1966, nearly a century after Garnier made his epic design move.

Advertisements
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.
IMG_9992
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.
IMG_9931
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.
CESM PERS_int
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.

IMG_1404

The herringbone oak floors in the Musée Rodin, Paris, are just part of the magnificence of the 18th-century Hotel Biron where Rodin once lived.  As The Kiss was unavailable, I took the flooring idea back home with me.

IMG_9646Wise craftsmen from Poland, newly arrived in Canada, laid our floor with white oak sourced from Pennsylvania.  Then we layered in textures, collaging industrial objects against modern-era design. The metal stools originally belonged to a garment factory.  Black leather for the seats and cow hides came from the classic Toronto-based Perfect Leather, one of the last hold outs on King St. West, despite constant offers from condo developers.  The length of the marble counter was dictated by a 10-foot slab of Italian Bianco we found from a local supplier. Photographed on a TGIF late afternoon.

IMG_9651

When it’s -15 degrees Celsius outside it’s essential to have warming zones inside.  The table on  castors is part of the 1960s aluminum series by Charles and Ray Eames.  Chess set hand-crafted by my talented father-in-law, Bill Terry.  And this pair of chairs – found in derelict condition – was collected for their distinct personalities.  The old radiator, found on Craig’s List, weighs about 500 pounds.  Now we can never move.


1018-02_04_sc_v2com

Across the Atlantic, the white minimal aesthetic mixes it up with industrial-stained wooden floors in a herringbone pattern.  Nice juxtaposition.  This kitchen/dining space is part of a seven-unit housing complex designed by Metaforme of Luxembourg. Credit image: Steve Troes fotodesign.
1018-02_01_sc_v2comHere’s the context: A white box accommodating seven housing units with cut-aways for entrances and views…a smart and original densification of a suburban neighbourhood.
1018-02_08_sc_v2comInside, there’s a smart idea about planting air-revitalizing plants directly into the floor and directing sun captured from above into the interior garden.
1018-02_06_sc_v2comBad design idea:  putting a toilet within full viewing next to the bed. Why? But let’s not end on this.
Unknown
The herringbone is so named for the skeletal pattern of the herring fish.  I don’t eat herring, but am sure thankful for its luminous, complex wonder.

BAFmPBCCcAESN5c.jpg-large

The black and white facts of the earth, as seen from space…From Commander Chris Hadfield on his twitter feed: “A crazed stained glass mosaic – the winter black and white of farms in central Asia.” pic.twitter.com/vBdxA2ZW
newsweek-last-print-issue-1
Going, going, KERPLUNK!  After 80 years pumping out its weekly news magazine, Newsweek bites the dust.  Deleted from the magazine racks and mailboxes, the magazine will only be available online.  On its last front: a black and white photographer of the former Newsweek skyscraper (1931)  on Madison Avenue in NYC.
IMG_9173
The orchid in my kitchen that shimmers with light even on the dullest winter-grey mornings.
IMG_9206
Sultry, snow-laden landscape, north of Toronto, en route to Thornbury, Ontario.
IMG_9005
Late-night winter comforts…mandarins in a glass jar, white pitcher for hot chocolate, stainless sugar and creamer on Artek black and white tray.  Kings of Convenience playing in the background. Tiny points of light.

IMG_8046

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.

IMG_8048The big onion dome hovers over the crypt, its reflection absorbed in the reflecting pool.

IMG_8074Young 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.

  IMG_8080The entrance archway to the mausoleum: an astonishing, ‘edgy’ wrinkled and pleated treatment of white marble. This, accomplished by 1653.
IMG_8694Stone courtyard slabs leading to the Blue Mosque (1616), Istanbul.

IMG_8698

Remember that rule about lighting up a room with at least two light sources?  How about hundreds?

IMG_8700Sensory 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.

IMG_8732Nearby, 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.

IMG_8808Exposed 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.

IMG_8777Istanbul 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.

IMG_8768Anti-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.

IMG_8790Salt 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.

IMG_8799Street 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.

IMG_8677Country 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.

IMG_8644Like 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.

IMG_8641and golden textures hanging in the air

IMG_8638

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!

IMG03578

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

202_oscarniemeyer_pcinte

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.