let’s talk lisbon

An absolutely beautiful city — Lisboa, Portugal. That is without doubt. Viewpoints galore overlooking red roofed buildings, the Tagus River — a river so wide it feels more like a lake or even the sea — hills and more hills, ancient architecture, cobblestone streets, tiled buildings, old fashion street cars . . . everything you would expect from a picturesque European city. And it’s small — just 800,000 population (similar to San Francisco) in it’s city center so easy to absorb. It’s for now, affordable as far as European cities go which makes it a hot destination. And that is where the city lost me just a bit. Even in late October, it was full of tourists. And when i say full — I mean everywhere, tourists walking without regard, back pack laden, down every street, every alley, speaking every language. I began to wonder if it was possible to have an authentic Lisboan experience. And I wondered even more what it must be like at the height of summer tourism season — my guess is a place i wouldn’t enjoy very much.

Not to say that I didn’t partake in tourist activities. Of course I did. The first thing I did after a quick shower was hop a Tuk Tuk for a tour around the old part of the city to get acclimated to the area where I was staying. Tuk Tuks are an easy way to get around the most hilly parts of the city and the drivers are well versed in history. So a quick hour or two gives you the basics. I did learn from my driver that what started as a single company with 9 Tuk Tuks a few years back, is now a competitive business of hundreds of Tuks Tuks vying for parking spots at all the best viewpoints and jamming the narrow streets all over the city. I even witnessed a Tuk Tuk robbery where a motorcycle wizzed between lanes of stopped traffic reaching into Tuk Tuks taking driver’s money as they went. When tourism is high so, unfortunately, is theft.

I also scheduled a food tour for my first afternoon. Often one of my favorite type of tours in any city, this one did not disappoint. And to be honest, I would never have known where to go in this city for authentic food just walking up and down the streets. To me, everything looked touristy in Alfama, a neighborhood where throngs of tourists were wandering the streets, souvenir shops abound and little old ladies sell low quality Cherry Liqueur (Ginja) off card tables down every alley. But Ruthy (pictured above) and her husband, guides extraordinaire, took our small group of six to a series of tiny little, family owned businesses tucked away in places I never would have found where we tasted cod delights, sardines, olive oils, cheese, sausage, desserts, coffee, beer, wine, quality cherry liqueur — I was happy, full and drunk for most of the afternoon. I promised Ruthy I wouldn’t share her secrets but I will say this — take the tour and indulge your inner tourist in a good way. You’ll also get a healthy dose of sights and history along the way.

I was in Lisbon for a conference and so happened upon my most favorite of places by happenstance — The Foundation Champalimaud. I liken it to the Portuguese Salk Institute. A biomedical research facility, housed in a modern architectural setting along the river at the far end of Belem where most tourists don’t venture. Not only is the building beautiful, with a stunning central water feature, there is a nearly hidden, small amphitheater overlooking the river that is as spiritual a space as I have come across in quite some time. I could have sat in that amphitheater for hours (and very nearly did), soaking up the sun, taking in the view and contemplating life. Bring a picnic or enjoy lunch next door on the balcony of the center’s cafeteria which is open to the public.

From here you are well poised to take in the Belem sights with the rest of the tourists — a jaunty walk along the river back towards town and away from the sun thankfully, takes you past the Belem Tower, The Monument to the Discoveries, The Maat (another stunning piece of modern architecture with a roof viewpoint not to be missed), The 25th of April Bridge, The Jerónimos Monastery. Then cross over the roadway to the center of Belem where there is an odd collection of museums on various subjects and the famous Pasteis de Belem — the original home of  Portuguese egg tarts which are honestly, worth the hype and the wait in line!

And you never know when you might look down an alley along the way and see a fun, modern take on tile art.

If only the sun weren’t cutting the artwork in half for better viewing. But if you like what you see, these tiles are part of a collection available for sale at a little family run shop whose grandfather bought out stock of closing tile factories in the 1960’s giving them a collection of locally made tiles that are simply beautiful and a far cry from the typical reproductions sold in every souvenir and antique shop in the city.

Like always, I try to find the things that are a bit more unique in a city as I am not a good or typical tourist by nature. I don’t know if I succeeded in Lisbon or if it’s even possible. But I’m happy to share more about my finds in this beautiful city here and in subsequent posts.

Helpful Links:

Eco Tuck Tours, Lisboa
Several standard 2-3 hour tours available or custom tours for $60/hr
Easy to book online in advance (recommended) or hire a Tuk Tuk in any major tourist venue

Treasures of Lisboa, Food Tours
Book through Ruthy’s website directly (link above) or on Air BnB Experiences
Twice Daily, Mon-Sat $67 US

Champalimaud Foundation/Center for the Unknown
Avenida Brasília,1400-038 Belem, Lisbon

MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology)
Av. Brasília, Central Tejo 1300-598 Belém, Lisboa
11-7 PM except Tuesday

Cortico & Netos, Tile Store
Calçada de Santo André 66, 1100-022 Alfama, Lisboa,
Monday to Saturday from 10h-13h / 14h-19h

Tile Rooster Artwork: Down a little alley about a block east of Pasteis De Belem

Pasteis De Belem
Rua de Belém, 1300 – 085 Belem, Lisboa
Open Daily from 8-11

my mid century modern dream (re-post)

exterior frontAwhile back, I shared the mid-century house I lived in several years back. Been thinking about that house a lot lately so thought I would share once again . . .  It’s just a distant memory now. A place I laid my hat for a few years while living in the mid-west where architecture like this on a dreamy lot at the edge of the woods is attainable. Not worry free (I had my share of plumbing problems and the scare of two 30 ft. oaks going down just inches from my kitchen) but attainable none the less.

The house was built in 1964 by a local architect, John Findlay and his wife, who literally rolled boulders around the lot themselves. The house takes advantage of a sloping landscape and what looks like a small one story dwelling from the street, has a large lower level walk out making the most of an indoor/outdoor living concept. But most of my time was spent on the main level where the kitchen, living room and bedrooms surround an open plan central dining area. While the large eat in kitchen might have sold the house, it was the living room that I liked the most with its iconic stone fireplace and large windows framing an hypnotic view of the woods.

entrydininglivingAlivingBkitchen1kitchen 2The house looks beautiful all surrounded in greenery but it was in the winter, when the trees were bare and the light reflected off the snow, that this house was truly spectacular. I often wondered if the architect who designed and built the house at just 32 years of age (he would die 8 years later), planned it that way or was just lucky? At any rate, I feel the lucky one having lived here even if for a short time.

new on the web

WHOOP!  WHOOP!!    OMG!!    YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!!     FANTABULOUS!! 

Even though in stark contrast to the quiet voice of my most favorite brand, I can’t help but holler about the new website from Aesop. Of course, this is how they so eloquently announced themselves:

Aesop entryCome screaming or ever so quietly . . . upon entering the site you will find detailed documentation of the designs for many of their stores around the world. One after the other. Each unique. All specimens to behold and admire.

AESOP-UK-RICHMOND-34-3_xT2ap4y

AESOP-AU-BONDI-BEACH-1-5_hIGy8zL

AESOP-US-CHELSEA-37-4

AESOP-AU-FLINDERS-LANE-7-7AESOP-FR-LE-MARAIS-10-2 AESOP-AU-NORTH-MELBOURNE-8-4I am tickled pink (and still a little bit amazed) that they can keep up this rapid growth of what I will call not just lovely stores, but true design experiences around the globe. Wouldn’t it be a fun journey to try to visit them all?  I have yet to get to all the outlets in just the cities I frequent: Melbourne, Los Angeles & New York — let alone the ones further afield. But now, whenever the urge strikes with just the click of a mouse, I can see what beauty awaits me should I ever choose to take this journey.

images courtesy:  taxonomy of design

weekend agenda: frank gehry

This weekend or any weekend between now and March 20, 2016 you can get up close and personal with some of the many many models representing the work of architect Frank Gehry. It’s like a wander through some sort of miniature land of the future where nary a right angle exists and buildings are more like super-sized sculptures than buildings.

IMG_5239Yes, this is a model of a building, one that actually got built. And what’s nice about the show, videos of the built work accompany many of the models so you can see how it actually came to life, how it scales and relates to a real environment.

Frank’s work is nothing if not stunningly emotional. Arresting even, especially in contrast to our mostly rectilinear world. In fact, i think that juxtaposition is what gives this work it’s power.

At 86 years old, there will only be so many more Frank Gehry buildings to be built. Although there are plenty in the works as evidenced by the show’s room of projects in progress punctuated by an image of the architect’s office — a sea of models:

Office shotWhether you are a fan of “object” buildings or not (admittedly some are more successful than others) there is no denying the genius of this man. It is well worth the $25 price of admission to sneak a peek into his world. And most interesting to hear in his own words and those of other creative geniuses across a wide range of disciplines, how and why he does what he does in a captivating film by Sydney Pollack. On the day i went, there were more people crammed into the little corner where this film is projected than viewing the plethora of models that make up the rest of the show. Say what that may about the show as a whole, just go. And then, because we are lucky in LA to be surrounded by a great many of his built works, take a drive around the city and see the buildings in person.

For tickets and more information on the show visit: LACMA.org

bottom image courtesy LACMA

weekend agenda

mazeInside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC you can feel what’s it’s like to be a mouse in a maze. An urban take on the classic corn maze, this plywood structure is oodles of fun for kids or about 4.5 minutes of distraction for adults. Don’t get me wrong it’s a fun activity. But I fault the design for it’s dipped center which while it makes for great views and a social media hot spot, once you reach that point in the maze the way out is clearly visible and the challenge is over. But super fun to watch patrons from above so be sure to venture up to another floor and look down on the activated structure. At $16 a head, it is a bit pricy but you get some added value with the tickets that are all puzzles in their own right — a nice little touch.

ticketsThrough September 1, 2014.

Note: the gift shop at the National Building Museum is very nice with a great selection of gifts, books, toys and more.

weekend agenda

If you happen to be in Paris this weekend definitely make an appointment to go see the home and painting studio of Le Corbusier.  And just in case you can’t make it there, here is a sneak peak how this master lived:

Corb 1Corb 2Corb 3Saturdays only. For reservations, contact Fondation Le Corbusier

the little school that could

Back when I was applying to architecture schools my options were limited as a girl who hadn’t taken an art class since elementary school and who possessed an unrelated undergraduate degree (I studied English Lit in case you were curious). Living in Los Angeles, I learned there was an art school up in the Bay Area that had recently established an architecture program and while it was undergrad only and unaccredited, it offered a study option for someone like me. So off I went to the California College of Arts & Crafts (CCAC) — today known as California College of the Arts (CCA).

This school, established back in 1907 around the time of the Arts & Crafts movement (hence “Crafts” in the original name), was the most amazing place I had ever been in my life. Students much younger than I with the confidence to create things across a multitude of mediums, classes that revealed art as a true barometer of the world’s social and political history, real life practitioners interested in teaching their craft to a new generation. Painting, drawing, sculpture, graphics, industrial design and of course, architecture.

I spent only two years at CCAC (I moved on to an accredited graduate program back in LA that wasn’t nearly as nurturing or engaging and that I ultimately left after a year and a half somewhat lost and bewildered – which may just have been sleep deprivation I’m not sure). But I have to say, those two years at CCAC were the most influential, best years of my life. For real. And I wish that everyone could experience some form of art/design education in their lifetime. It pains me that the arts have been so mercilessly cut from our education system for lack of funding. And I wonder, often, what effect this will have on the world of the future.

So it pleases me to no end to see a school like CCA thriving. Their architecture program is now accredited and offers a graduate degree as well. They have built a beautiful new design campus and continue to attract top notch staff and talented students. For a school that has been around for over a hundred years, it is little known. It should be better known which is why I thought a little story on a little blog might help get the word out at least a little.

And to my classmates from that other school who reunited in Los Angeles this past weekend, I am so glad I know you and that we shared what we shared and learned what we learned together. And I am ever so grateful that many of us are still good friends today, but CCA(C) is the school I celebrate in my heart all these years later.

 

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three great masters, one great day

The Modern_AndoThe Kimball_ KahnAmon Carter_JohnsonAndo, Kahn and Johnson. The Modern, The Kimball and The Amon Carter museums, respectively. All located in Fort Worth, Texas a stones throw from one another. Each one a masterpiece. And now, you get a fourth for the price of three with a new building by Renzo Piano recently opened as an extension to the Kimball.

I thought I’d died and went to heaven. Who cares about the art — although taking in a little Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, Francis Bacon and Donald Judd always makes me smile (a true modernist at heart) — the buildings are what I came for.Details_3museumsEven the 90 degree heat couldn’t deter me. I could have sat on the concrete loungers, looking back at the silent power of three glass pavillions seemingly floating on water at the Modern all day. But that would have meant not sitting under the shade of a vaulted portico at the Kimball taking in the echo of cascading water and visitors footsteps as they navigated the grove of holly trees that act as transition from lawn, to courtyard, to vaulted building.

The surprise of the day was the Amon Carter Museum. The first built in the area back in 1961. The original museum, a small but arresting monolithic structure, sits up on a hill before a stunning green space with views of Dallas in the distance. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Acropolis reference. Quite the stretch for the Western art collection housed inside but true to form for architect Philip Johnson who also designed the 2001 expansion on the back side.

views_3museumsIf you are ever in doubt about the power of architecture on the soul, watch the documentary My Architect by Nathanial Kahn, son of Louis Kahn who designed the Kimball Art Museum (along with his mistress Harriet Patterson, mother of Nathanial). If ever a piece of film has moved me more I cannot recall. I wept and wept — not because of the personal story of an illegitimate son piecing together the life of an absent father who had three separate families and died unidentified in the men’s room at Penn Station — but at the sight of magnificent building after magnificent building. True artworks juxtaposing the geometries of built form and nature, in locations all around the world. All by one great master whose calling it was in life to build buildings. Great and powerful buildings. Buildings that will move you to tears.