The balcony probably wanted to be deeper, but the alley wanted to be wider and turn left. Some negotiation seems to have occurred between those two entities. The result is delightful because the balcony nourishes the alley and the alley nourishes the balcony. This seems to be a definition of beauty: beauty happens when entities draw their raison d'êtreand wholeness from the extent to which they are complementary parts of an interlocking whole.
I took this picture in the small station de ski of Meribel, in the French Alps some ten years ago. The richness and simplicity of the ornament in the railing strikes me to this day - just a void shape.
So much is achieved in such a simple way, just sawn wood. And infinite care for every inch of one's surroundings.
This seems to be the only thing that matters: infinite care for every inch .
I do not know the location of this court painted by Chilean artist Guillermo Munoz Vera, but I feel like arriving at a well prepared banquet. Everything was taken care of, to the last detail.
In any given place, each component of the surroundings transmits a message, conveys an essence, emits a set of feelings. Moving around any place is listening to the myriad of messages being transmitted. These messages can be intelligent, pleasant, delightful - if made with devotion, tenderness, respect. This place seems to have been carefully built: hand-painted azulejos, flowerpots, flowers, trees, fallen leaves, still water, trellises, plaster, trimmed shrubs, filtered sunlight, reflection on water, objets trouvés..
The alley is probably a meter-and-a-half wide. At this level of closeness, one can sense the recently-baked pain au chocolat smells permeating the calle, every item in the patisserie's display can be clearly seen. It is easy to recognize subtle details in passers-by's garments and even discern facial expressions.
Small dimensions and the resulting intimacy seem to have been erased from modern urban planning.
Concerning small dimensions that modern urban planning decided to abolish, the facade of this store at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in Provence demonstrates how much can happen in the half-a-meter space between the vertical wall and the horizontal street.
This relatively small territory is appropriated and personalized through color, plants, signs, merchandise, a small carpet. Is the in-between half-a-meter space private or public? Both? Neither? A mediator? The ambiguous borders between private and public seem to have been delightfully blurred.
After we mentioned the meaning of a meter-and-a-half in urban planning, and the impact of half-a-meter in urban environments, this facade makes clear the impact that even smaller dimensions can make on the urban space. I think I took this picture in Aix-les-Bains or in Paris,
The rilievo doesn't stick more than five to ten centimetres out of the wall, and yet it is capable of telling a meaningful story and link to the otherwise flat wall to tradition and history. Outlawed in modern architecture, ornament and splendor are in fact basic human needs.
Vernacular architectural languages and dialects were created by millions of people over thousands of years. Just like the verbal languages, architectural languages combine everyday insights of thousands and millions of individuals and the wisdom built up in a few architectural patterns that evolved through time. Can we a posteriori rationalize the patterns we find? The colors, vertical openings, juxtaposition of buildings, textures, immediacy to water, are they the reason for the richness of experience? Or the reason is in a sort of architectural Tao that can not be named, explained or expressed in words? Apparently it has to be lived unintentionally.
Framing the surroundings makes us believe that we master the vast, infinite space around us. In this project a piece of nature is cut out of a boundless, intimidating world and made into part of our interior, protected space.
Breaking the environs into pieces makes it easier to grasp and contemplate, no need to make sense of it.
Taming the surroundings induces a feeling of control. This garden in the Villa Torrigiani in Lucca is composed of framed water, trimmed plants, frozen animals and petrified humans. The lions are cast in stone - just to be on the safe side - and mastered to a point that they loyally pour water in the pool. The human figures are as well carved in stone, under control. We can move freely, supreme.
The Villa Medici Fiesole in Tuscany seems to have it all: hills and a flat surface.
Rather than fighting topography, befriending the environment's natural features seems to have produced here a captivating result, a "top-of-the-world" feeling combined with flat gardens where one can plant - or just stroll.
This aerial view of the Mount of Olives Cemetery in Jerusalem shows the Necropolis juxtaposed to the 'Biopolis'. Here architecture manipulates space by encircling the dead, delimitating grief, curbing sorrow and fear in physical boundaries, as if this would also limit death itself. We then live our lives pretending that death is a phenomenon restricted inside the cemetery walls. I don't see it, therefore it does not exist.
We are used to turning a faucet and get running water, but procuring water in the Chand Baori stepped well in Rajastan must have been a totally different experience, weaving layers of history and various facets of life - ceremonial, social, physical, spiritual. The modern era cancelled the metaphysical layers, favoring physical wellbeing and 'despiritualizing' life. Can it last long?
This building in Taborstrasse, Vienna, illustrates the forgotten 'principle number one' of the design of classical cities and buildings: buildings and cities were created in the image of Man. They had eyes, heads, noses, feet, hair, nails, skin, eyelids, mouths, shoulders, lips, arms and legs. Accordingly, the education of an architect included drawing the human figure and learning its anatomy.
This building in Buenos Aires exemplifies one of the basic principles of 'classic' architecture: each floor is treated differently so that in each of the seven floors- including the mansard, various stratagems are used in order to avoid repetition on the vertical axis: changing balconies, different balustrades, handrails, cornices, moldings, arches, blinders, geometry, proportions and textures.
The urban tracé of Copacabana, my home neighborhood, squeezed between the sea and the hills, displays a kind of clear thinking we seem to have consigned to oblivion: it is made of roads parallel to the sea and roads perpendicular to the seashore, heading either to the sea or to the hills. The result is a full connection to the site.
Another interesting detail is that the urban plan is pre-modern, but it was filled with mostly modern architecture, an extremely important experiment that went relatively unnoticed.
While modern architecture has its advantages and disadvantages, modern urban design is a perfect disaster. Maybe this pre-modern-urban-but-modern-architecture model could be used a way to accommodate the positive side of modern architecture?
This old gate in the town of Taormina, Sicilia, frames a dome at a distance and a mountain on the background. The street experience is thus composed of the near surroundings and the faraway areas as well, all scales coexisting simultaneously.
The gate, the dome and the street facades seem to have been built at different periods, all layers of time coexisting simultaneously.
A coffee shop is normally surrounded by inviting objects, shapes, messages and textures: The cookies on the display say "I'm here for you to eat me", the coffee bags in the shelves express "I'm ready to be in your coffee cup", a handwritten board suggests various types of coffee that can be prepared for you. The chairs' round and curvilinear shapes utter "come and take a seat", the timeworn brick walls express that you do not have to worry about being too clean and formal. The floral floor tiles recall some flower field you can step upon (a pristine white floor wouldn't do it). Places are constantly transmitting messages.
I’m sometimes asked about my favorite building. If I had to pick one and only one building I think I would point at the building on the right. I first came across with it browsing a book in a library (a library is an earlier version of Google): “Paris in the Nile” is a book on French colonial architecture in Egypt. The building has the scent of 19th century beaux-arts architecture and a bit of local adaptations – the porch seems to be a great space to take a seat in the scorching heat of the summer months in Egypt, adding depth and grandeur to this palatial building. The structure is raised from the street level, distancing itself from the by-passers. Colonialism has been praised and criticized through times, but whichever side is chosen, the superimposition of cultures frequently yields creative and unexpected outcomes.