29 March 2009

New York, New York!

Aiiiiiiiii New York!! There surely is no city like this one. 

I was here last 2 years back with my school in Rotterdam and had spend a good week seeing almost everything there is to see here in terms of Architecture except for the Guggenheim Museum, or at least that's what I had thought. This time I was on my own and decided to - revisit some of the stuff I had already seen (things that had left a lasting impression on me), revisit some buildings that I had failed to appreciate/understand last time and of course visit some of the new stuff. 

Here's some photos of the buildings/spaces that I would classify as the 'classics' of New York:

Rockefeller Centre 

The building that Rem Koolhaas explains as the epitome of the concept of Manahattanization. This clearly is the masterpiece of New York's experiment with radical Architecture.

Chrysler building

The most graceful sky-scraper ever built, since its creation many towers around the world have been built with this as their model but very few of them if any can claim such beauty.   

Empire State building

In many ways this building will always be the tallest building ever built, it may not be in actual size but for sure in shear ambition and presence. 

The tallest building in the world today is now being built in Dubai - the Burj Dubai - though quiet beautiful in its own right, it lacks the dignity of the Empire State. In other words King Kong would have long been forgotten if it wasn't for him deciding to climb this building! 

Grand Central Station

Once you walked thru the main hall of this station as the sun shines thru you'll know why this one is on my list. And by the way the clam chowder at the Oyster Bar (below the main hall) was as great as I remembered : )

The Lever House

Last time around I was not aware of when this great idea was built and ignored its extreme significance to the world of 'Corporate Architecture', partly because it is opposite the much celebrated Seagram building by Mies Van Der Rohe.

Central Park

And last but not the least on the list of Classics is 'Central Park', there is no New York without this park. If New York is synonym of Urban, Central Park is its antonym. This park completes this great city. 

Now here's some of the stuff I had missed or was too early for last time:

Guggenheim Museum

I've never been a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and less so of the Guggenheim brand of Museums,

but standing half way up the famous ramp - looking down at the people staring up into the great central space, watching their eyes following the motion of the continuous gallery space and everyone enjoying the great artwork on display - 

I realized just why this building, its architect and the Guggenheim foundation have changed the way we perceive and make museums. I strongly believe that the only way to understand architecture is in flesh - not thru models or drawings or videos or photos - and this building has undoubtedly reiterated that fact.

Storefront for Art and Architecture

This is by far the smallest project I am going to talk about in this blog entry. But like most other projects mentioned here its the idea behind it that's quiet impressive.

In this tiny project Steven Holl blurs the boundary of gallery space and public street and questions the sanctity of the art gallery. 

Paley Park

This tiny park located at 3 East 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan is the only project in this list that I had no idea about and found it by chance while exploring the midtown area. I have heard a lot about the small neighborhood parks in New York but this is the only one I have seen so far. This one has a great waterfall on the back wall that drowns the noise of the city and provides a great escape from all the chaos around. I read that it was designed by the landscape firm of Zion & Breen and opened way back in 1967.  Paley park is often cited as one of the finest public spaces in the US!!

Hearst Tower 

This tower designed by Norman Foster and was built on top of a 1928 6-story, cast stone building which was original designed as the base for a proposed skyscraper, the construction of which was postponed due to the Great Depression. The new tower by Foster was completed nearly 80 years later. The Hearst Tower was the first green building completed in NYC, with a number of environmental considerations built into the plan.

Alice Tully Hall 

Like the IAAC in Boston (hopefully the next posting on this blog), the new concert hall at the Lincoln centre by diller scofidio + renfro is a great public building that very actively engages with its urban context. In fact it's one of the few new buildings in the city that even bothers to try. While most buildings try to hide behind the logic that every block is a world in itself and therefore there is no need to respond to the context this one successfully does the complete opposite.

Although I am not able to precisely explain why - there is something extremely Dutch about its design!

The New Museum

And lastly on this list - the much celebrated new New Museum building by Japanese Star architects - Sanaa. Like most other works by this dynamic duo the extreme abstraction that makes the project (especially in a context like this, of the run down Bowery street of east Manhattan), also threatens it by its extreme coldness. 

Though its surely worth it to make a trip to this building while in New York, I think it needn't be up there in the list of must sees. 

Like I mentioned earlier besides seeing architecture I was primarily here to meet friends and as you can imagine there is no place like NYC to hang out with friends. I don't remember that last time I had a spend soo many nights staying out in a row. Thats when I really understood how this city actually never sleeps (this place makes London look like a sleepy village).  

The one other place worth mentioning was the art gallery district in Chelsea - unfortunately I ran out of time to explore this area well .. but what I saw was great - Great galleries and even greater art. 

This area also has New York's only Frank Gehry project. A sort of typical Gehry building minus the Titanium cladding..

I guess that's all from this trip  : ( 

I haven't even left but I can't wait to be back. 

26 March 2009

Washington DC

Starting last saturday (21st March) I will be spending 10 days in the US visiting friends - some as old as my memory and some I have yet to meet - and checking out a lot of Architecture.

I am just back in New York (my base during this trip) from the first excursion from here - Washington DC. I had first seen this city almost 20 years ago with my parents and as expected nothing seemed to fit the images in my head, everything in reality was a lot smaller and closer than what stayed stored in my head all these years!

I was here mainly to meet two friends - Mohan and Arasu - 2 guys who I have know since I was 4 years old. Our little get together on my first day there was awesome - we managed to drive around the city, catch up a bit and also click a snap with Lincoln : )

The next day was down to business - some serious Architecture watching. I had made a quick list of building that I wanted to see while I was in Dubai itself, so I did have to waste any time figuring out what's in the city. 

Top of my list was 'The National Gallery of Art - East Extension' designed by I M Pei (fresh with my memories of a great new museum designed by Pei in Doha - The Museum of Islamic Arts - blogged here a few months ago). Like the museum in Doha this is an extremely impressive, crisp building.

It razor sharp corners, great detailing and shear confidence in an extremely contested and symbolic setting makes this the most impressive of all the Smithsonian museums on the Mall. 

And don't be fooled into thinking that this building is only impressive from the outside! If anything, this is one of those rare buildings which have been thought through so thoroughly that it has some great, very specific and elegantly constructed details which make a journey to this city only to see one of those fine moments in its architecture completely worthwhile!

The few other modern buildings of note that I saw while running around the city were:

*the Martin Luther King Junior memorial library designed by none other than the Master Modernist - Mies Van Der Rohe

*the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden - a dignified brutalist building - designed by Gordon Bunshaft (of SOM)

This was another great museum with a very good collection of modern art. The room below had some very exciting sculptures by Constantin Brancusi

*the new covered courtyard of the National Portrait gallery designed by Norman Foster (although very similar to the roof inside the British Museum in London no one can complain about lack of originality when its this damn good!)

*the latest museum of the mall - The Museum of the American Indian - has an interesting collection of artifacts and interesting displays but the building leaves a lot to be desired.

One of my final stops on my way out of DC was the National building Museum which has a nice room explaining the growth of Washington DC both as an idea and as built form. 

All in all a great two days in the Capital!

17 March 2009

Rem @ Sharjah Biennial

Attend some of the functions/lectures at today's opening of the 9th Sharjah Art Biennial. There I made this extremely shaky video of a lecture by Rem Koolhaas about his experiences in Dubai (and the Gulf).

(I'm sorry about the shaky camera work and bad sound! It's the best I could do without a tripod and a tiny still camera with a video option)

06 March 2009

A day in Musandam

Just back after spending a beautiful day in the Musandam peninsula of Oman with family!

Spend last night and most of today in the main city of the region – Khasab. The hour long route from Ras Al Khaimah (UAE) offers one of the best sea-side drives in the region.
Khasab – though the biggest city of this part of Oman – is an extremely tranquil place and is almost lost in time when compared to its more affluent neighbours in nearby UAE. Though primarily a large fishing village it is fast becoming a tourist getaway for people from near by cities – especially Dubai.

As you approach the city you get a sense of arriving at an oasis in the middle of the almost barren landscape of the Hajjar Mountains.
There is very little to see in the city – the Khasab castle
and the large Sultan Qaboos Mosque (which is under construction) are the only two significant buildings here – however don’t be fooled by what you see in the city for its allure lays offshore.
You can either take a speed boat or the more idyllic option of taking a dhow cruise to experience the Khor Ash Sham – a lagoon like area surrounded by extremely impressive mountains.
(See below map of area covered by day dhow trips leaving from Khasab– in orange area covered by half-day cruise and in blue additional area covered on a full-day cruise)
Because of its sheltered nature the water in this area is extremely calm and is rich in aquatic life thus making it a great place for snorkeling and diving.

Along the way there are a few small villages which depending on the fishes of this rich habitat for there livelihood and rely on Khasab for all their needs including potable water. As tourist you are not allowed to visit these small villages as the Omani government is trying to preserve there unique culture.
(Above is Qanaha village with only 10 households)

However these villagers are not the only ones who know and depend on these rich waters. We were lucky enough to see some of this region’s most famed residents - its Dolphins. In fact we saw lots of them including a school with a few calves.
After which we had an hour long snorkeling break off Telegraph Island before heading back to Khasab.

A quick late lunch and we headed back to Dubai halting on the way at some of the most serene beaches I have seen in a while.
Below a few more photos of the landscape on the way back.
And the last photo is of the first settlement in UAE (part of Ras Al Khaimah) as you cross the international border at Tibat.

A Google map tracing my travels across the globe

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  • In Red cities where I have lived (more than one month);
  • In Blue cities with entries on this blog;and
  • In Yellow cities with no entries yet.