29 October 2008


Wish everyone a very Happy Diwali!

Met a few friends from KRVIA at Kausha's place last Saturday... and once the sparklers came out how could we resist taking this snap!!

22 October 2008

The eternal city

Just back from spending the last three days in the eternal cityRome – as you an imagine three days is nothing to explore a city that has been continuously inhabited for over 250 centuries, let alone if that city was and still is one of the most important capitals of power.

Instead to taking a stab at trying to see everything in the shortest possible time (as is usually the case with every trip I’ve done) I decided for a much more focused and planned approach this time around. I started reading up some Roman architecture guides and history books from a month before the trip and decided to focus on seeing some of the keys projects build during the Ancient, Renaissance and Baroque periods of the cities history – didn’t even try to see any of the Modern, Fascist or Contemporary stuff (anyway the interesting ones are too far from the centre) – however getting an overall feel for the city and its general layout and geography was the primary aim of the trip.

Below I share few of the hundreds of photos I took over the 3 days and for convenience sake I have ordered them more or less based on when they were constructed.


Ancient Rome:

The first settlement in Rome was not far from the Foro Romano on the Palantine hill and as the city grew in size and importance the area of the Forum remained at the centre of it.

It is impossible to understand this city without trying to make sense of the ruins that lie here.

Build along the Via Sacra (Scared route) pictured above, the forum grew from the Ancient period thru the Republican era and till the fall of the Roman Empire. Here you can see different architectural ideas, attempts at different structural solutions and building materials build by different commissioners over a period of some 600 years.

Though a lot of the building were and still are being reconstructed/conserved a large amount of the Forum has to be imagined and without the help of a guide or some books very little (if any) of this area would make sense.

However, even if you had only one day in Rome I would strongly recommend you to spend most of it here!

For if all roads lead to Rome; then clearly they all end here!

In the bottom right corner of the above picture is my favorite structure in the Forum, the remains of the house of the Vestal Virgins. This beautiful house with a central courtyard was were the virgins lived, they were given the task to taking care of the scared flame that was believed to keep the city safe from disasters.

Right next to the Forum towards its east sits the most familiar site build by the Romans – the Coliseum. This gigantic building was one of the largest ancient structure build anywhere and is more than 2000 years old.

The building was a Flavian amphitheatre that was named after the colossal statue of Nero that stood next to it. It could house over 50,000 spectators and is the blue print of today’s stadiums.

Over the 2000 years of its existence it has seen fires, wars, blundering and even a few huge earthquakes. So if you think it’s not that impressive, it’s worth thinking what contemporary buildings and cities would look like 2000 years from now!

Very little of its original inside remains, although small pieces of it that have survived help give us a complete picture it’s grandeur.

In the above picture on the right above the stage you see a small set of marble seating – it is believed that the whole amphitheatre was made up of such seats – and today you can see a partial recreation of the long gone wooden central stage which sits on a labyrinth of routes used by the Gladiators and wild animals. The stage it self was covered in Sand to soak the blood of man and animal and the Latin word for Sand is ‘Arena’.

Besides the Coliseum there is one other ancient building that has stood the brunt of time – the Pantheon. And no doubt this building has been far more successful at stay closer of its actual design. This building is the unsurpassed ideal model of a rotunda and it’s structure is based on a simplest possible dimensions: its overall height is exactly equal to its diameter, and the dome, a perfect hemisphere is of exactly the same height as the cylinder that it sits on.

Unlike most other ancient buildings the interior of this building is more impressive and important that it’s external appearance.

The only light source to the huge interior space is a circular opening (known as the ‘Oculus’ which in Latin means ‘eye’) in the centre of the 43.5m coffered dome.

It is almost impossible to find a better example of building where the play of simple geometry has created such an impressive structure!

So like I was saying before if you had only one day in Rome you should spent whatever is left of it (after seeing the forum and the Coliseum) here in the Pantheon.

Next I share a snap of the Piramide Cestia, this structure was build around 11BC by Gaius Cestius as his own tomb in an age when Egypt and artifacts from there was extremely fashionable in Rome (even today you can see lots of Egyptian obelisk placed in important piazzas and junctions all around the city). The main reason for this craze was that – Egypt was conquered and incorporated into the massive Roman Empire just 20 years prior to the building of this pyramid.

This 37m pyramid – which was later included in the Aurelian city wall – is one of the oddest structure you can find in Rome!

The Tempio di Vesta (pictured below) build around 200BC was the oldest complete structure I saw in Rome.

Though a modest circular temple, its building material (Pentelic marble from Attica) and its overall style embodies like no other building the incredible influence that the Greeks had on Rome. It is in fact believed to have been built by Greek builders.

Another point of significance of this small building is its use of marble; this was the first building in Rome to do so. It was not until the time of Julius Caesar some 100 years later that buildings in Rome started using large quantities of brightly polished marble.


Renaissance Rome:

Below is the building that is believed by most historians as the first true Renaissance building in Rome.

This small church called Tempietto was built around 1502 and was designed by Bramante.
This structure is in an area of Rome known as Trastevere, the area ‘across the Tiber’ is one of the most picturesque old quarters of the city.

The next Renaissance structure I saw was not actually a building but a plaza designed between three facades – Piazza del Campidoglio – designed by Michelangelo. This plaza was built on the smallest of the legendary seven hills on which ancient Rome was built.

The hill – Capitol – was the most important being the religious and political centre during the Ancient times. However after the fall of the empire this site like most of Rome lost prominence till around 1530s when Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to redesign this ancient plaza.

Michaleangelo’s designed the square in the shape of an oval set into a trapezium created by three almost identical facades and a grand stair to the rest of the city.

This grand stair re-orients this ancient space away from its actual access through the Forum towards the rest of the city.This move by Michelangelo is understood as a clear statement: the Ancient heathen square was to be honoured anew with a reversed orientation now towards the Christian city.


Baroque Rome:

In this last section I will focus more on the Baroque plazas. Coincidentally the plazas I have chosen below were designed by the same architect/artist, one of the most important figure of the Baroque period- Bernini

I shall start with Piazza Navona – this can be considered the chief Baroque square of Italy. This oblong square acquired its shape from the ancient Roman stadium which stood in its location. Parts of the stadium are said to still exist below some of the buildings that surround this square.

Though the design of this square which took many decades to be completed cannot be attributed to any one designer most of the fountains on it were designed and fitted out by Bernini.

The next square is by far the most significant work by Bernini and the most important site of Christendom – Piazza di St Pietro.

For the design of this square Bernini borrows a lot of ideas from Michalangelo’s square on Capitol Hill for instance its Oval shape. The square with its surrounding four columned colonnades was compared by Bernini and his contemporaries as the out stretched arms of St Peter.

No other architectural structure - I have seen so far - has embodied so strongly the idea of architecture as a mere frame for the city, for the people, for the theater of life.

One can almost argue that the beauty of Bernini’s design lies its minimalism – not in the build or decorative sense, but minimal in its intend of being a structure completely open and porous (accessible from all sides) yet so powerfully complete and giving all focus to St Peters Basilica.

I end by post on my trip to Rome with a small church San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane designed by the other important Baroque Architect – Borromini. Unfortunately this small church was also his last work – he committed suicide shortly after its completion.

In this church Borromini made a lot of use of Stucco (a material which was uncommon in such structures at the time) to achieve his preferred softly moulded shapes. Besides this it helped him work with much lesser budgets than his arch rival – Bernini (who built a similar sized church – S. Andrea al Quirinale – some 5 mins walk away at over five times the cost of this structure).

This photo of the oval dome of the church shows clearly his typical thinking about geometrical shapes. He did not want to add one shape to another but wanted to combine different ones into a new enriched shape having many elements, so that only fragments of the original shapes are still noticeable.

Here in the dome he decorated it with crosses, hexagons and octagons intersecting like a honey-comb, but these only create a complex background that reinforces the tranquility of the clear oval shape of the dome. Further, to make the dome look more elevated he adopted a perspective design to the honey-comb. Through the intricate design of the dome and other parts of this small church – the designs of its fa├žade, monastery courtyard and crypt to name a few– Borromini is today remembered for adding many new layers to the Baroque movement.


11 October 2008

Modern Hampstead

Spend a day in Hampstead checking out some great Modern architecture and the Heath.

Firstly I went to see the Isokon building on Lawn road designed by Wells Coates - this building is today considered one of the key buildings in the British modern movement.

The building was finished in 1934 and was largely based on Le Corbusier's language of architecture.

The building was recently refurbished to its original design and details, to intended quality of being a true modern machine for habitation! (check out the plans of the building here - http://www.wellscoates.org/plans.htm )

Next stop was to see Erno Goldfinger's house, 2 Willow road, it's now owned by the National trust and in great condition.

You can access all the rooms of the house and see his great collection of art work and also a lot of furniture designed by him.The house was completed in 1938 and when it was finished it created a lot of public outrage - people argued that the house was very disrespectful of its context and on top that a number of cottages were demolished to allow for the construction. Among the people opposing it was novelist Ian Fleming (this was said to be his inspiration for the name of the James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger)

Sadly the national trust (in an attempt to sell postcards) doesn't let you take any photos on the inside of the house.
If you are a fan of the early modernist this house is a 'must see', it has some really great details and elements inside!

And the last stop was to see the huge Hampstead Heath - this is one of the largest green spaces in London. I love the fact that most of its landscape is left almost wild.

I ended my day on top of Parliament hill inside the Heath from where you get a great view of the city of London and it's surrounding areas.

(Click on image to enlarge)

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