Monday, August 18, 2008
It took all of 9 hours and a couple of hundred pages of Hari Kunzru's 'The Impressionist' (a story about the journey from India to Britain of a young Indian Boy who never settles down and never fits in to find his origins) to take a 45 minute flight to get to Berlin. The city which I have been most excited to return to for many years having lived there for a few months in 2002 and the arrival process was drawn out for so long that by the time I made it to Johanna's apartment in Wedding at 4am after being on buses, trains, a plane and a taxi I was too exhausted to enjoy the wonderful feeling of electricity that exists in Berlin. And it felt all wrong. A restless night sleep.
Berlin is my favorite city in the world. It has been for a long time and remains so. It combines all the things I love about cities, people, culture and history and remains inexpensive enough to be thoroughly enjoyed. An enormous slightly damaged, not so long ago well and truly broken, expression of the last few hundred years that despite the overwhelming scale, inexhaustibly massive, and intensity of it's existence still creates a feeling of intimacy and amicability which makes it such a pleasure to live in. Full of contradictions, epic streets and architecture and hidden spaces within which wonderful people create homely, personal and exquisite apartments, bars, the best parties, restaurants, parks and galleries. And I love it dearly, it showed me the most amazing things for many months, and for a long time I felt more alive, and more comfortable, in Berlin than anywhere else I had been.
I had returned to Berlin to see if it was where I wanted to move back to and stay. It was a question which had been on my mind for a number of years and despite being a little distracted the excitement of the city was inescapable. My first stop was my favorite cafe on Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg for some fruhstuck and a milchkaffee to sit in the sun and let the memories come, and they came and I remembered not only what passed all those years ago but as Berlin has an inexplicable habit of doing who I wanted to be and wondered about St Petersburg that is also a massive city but one I have never lived in or visited. How Berlin can fill you with feelings of wonder and excitement is beyond me but it makes one feel as if anything is possible and completely relaxed and calm at the same time, and always has.
After catching up with some friends whom I had not seen for many years I headed to the Neue Nationalgalerie designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1968 which I was excited to revisit and which I consider, unjustifiably, as one of the most perfect buildings in existence. Intensely simple and complex, contemporary and timeless, influential and controversial, functional and unusual simultaneously and most importantly profoundly still, as in tranquil, and an architecture that is quite possibly impossible to equal.
Added to the joy of being in this building again the current exhibition was a large retrospective of one of my favorite photographers, Hiroshi Sugimoto. It was the perfect setting for his work. A perfectly designed building filled with technically perfect photographs that are impossibly peaceful. The exhibition included Sugimoto's massive photographs of pine trees as well as the full series of photographs of different oceans which I did not know at the time where taken because he wanted to photograph something which we see today the same way as our ancestors saw it and liked this idea. A few hours later I left.
A lot happened in Berlin, as always, and I will not go on about it. Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse, Unter der Linden, Tiergarten, Oranienburgerstrasse, Mitte, and so on and so on. The names are enough and the images and memories they evoke evidence of the importance of the city.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Radisson SAS Royal Hotel (1960) designed by Danish Architect Arne Jacobsen was the first skyscaper in Copenhagen. The Hotel is located close to the central station and Tivoli in the heart of Copenhagen.
The 20-storey building is a modernist tower and podium high rise. The facade is a delicate curtain wall with fine aluminium mullions said to be inspired by SOM's Lever House building on Park Ave. The beauty of the building lies in the refined and tasteful proportions, detailing and material selection whose modernist language is enhanced by the furnishings and lighting. The organic forms of the furnishings contrasts the rectilinear geometry of the building whilst complementing each other.
Room 606 remains furnished according to the original design.
Copenhagen is either one of the most perfect cities I have ever been to or I was not long there long enough to find things to dislike. The combination of the beautiful old city, harbor areas and exciting new architecture, it's relationship to water, sun filled terraces filled with people of all ages, great food, and the most exquisite double windows which filled my mind with images of warm knitted jumpers, couches, books, hearty meals and falling snow created a wonderful balance. Either the sun was shining and I was in a ridiculously good mood and the topics of the exhibitions that I saw at the Architecture Center and Design Museum, the relationship of housing and climate change globally and the ability of good design to effect positive change, was encouraging or the air really was filled with a positive atmosphere of producing good design, finding solutions to contemporary problems and a feeling that Denmark was really trying to be a model of contemporary society. Either way it was a pleasant feeling. The Danes are supposedly the happiest people on earth according to some survey, but whether that is quantifiable is debatable, maybe it is because they ride bicycles everywhere.
The bus arrived at 6.00am and after a very long and delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt and bread with the best latte I have had for months wandered around the old part of the city. From the Central Station past the SAS Royal Hotel designed by Arne Jacobsen and is all grace and style, around Stroget, wandered down to Christianshavn and visited the Architecture centre and then back up past the Christiansborg Palace to the Danish Design Centre opposite the Tivoli Gardens. The Design Center was filled with beautifully crafted, designed and carefully finished objects that the creators of which seemed to have taken great pride in achieving a high level of craftsmanship and intimate understanding of materials and I pondered what kind of relationship the designers must have with the objects they make and materials they produce and would have liked to ask them about this, at least the ones who are still alive.
Later that night I discovered a great bar at the far end of Istegade that was in a wide shallow space which used to be a pharmacy on the ground floor of an old building with wooden floor boards, high ceilings and tall windows. It had a relaxed atmosphere and I continued to fall for this city over a couple of Brooklyn Brown Ales in Dave's honour.
Returning to the hotel through the red-light district, which is located at the end of Istedgade nearest the station. The short walk made my mind wander and think about the red light district in Amsterdam, the Reeperbahn which has such an appropriate name, and Grey st in St Kilda whose name is also appropriate, and the ocean which was close and can also be dark and cruel but is beautiful no matter how dark and cruel, and how the visibility of the seedier, often disturbing, side of society makes a city feel more real and richer and wondering how to resolve some dubious thoughts about urbanism, the need to create safe urban environments, provide services for those that need them and the need for such urban areas to exist. Somehow, but I don't understand how.
The next day I headed out of the city to the Louisiana Art Gallery which is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever seen. The architecture, gardens, and ocean beyond are all fused into a wonderfully harmonious relationship which is heightened by the modesty of the architecture and materials. The progression through the series of gallery spaces which reveal and hide a series of views into the surrounding gardens and ends in the cafe with an open fire and full height glass walls looking out over the sea increases your separation from the outside world until you are completely relaxed and present in the landscape by the time you step out into the garden from the cafe and stare across the ocean. It was awesome and the art was good, the Giacometti room was beautiful and somehow I never get bored of his work, only more intrigued, and I thought of Basel and heavy rains. And an amazing Thomas Demand photograph titled 'Clearing' of sunlight coming through a canopy of trees which are entirely made out of paper and shot in a studio and was perfect in the space. I wanted to stay there and hold on to how peaceful the world felt at Louisiana and be close to the water for weeks but it is a gallery not a house, and if it was a house I wouldn't have been there in the first place. Somehow everything came together and the Louisiana Art Gallery has left a deep impression on me and images of it keep recurring in my head.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The Oslo Opera House (2007) designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta is located in Bjorvika in the centre of Oslo. The 38,500m² building contains two theatres, one with 1,350 seats and one with 400 seats.
The tiered and sloping form of the building clad in white marble evokes the feeling of a natural landform similar to that of glaciers and mountains. The connection to the water and ability for people to move up the ramps on the roof of the building creates a strong connection to both the landscape, the city and it's inhabitants. The building is both distinctly Norwegian and for the people of Norway. This careful balance of cultural specificity and the buildings role in the city and function creates a fantastic cultural building which has been quickly adopted by the city.
The foyer is clad in oak battens which gives the foyer a warmth and texture which is different from the marble clad exterior. The intimacy is enhanced as one enters the circulation around the main auditorium that is clad completely in timber.
Oslo Opera House
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
It is always a relief to leave Milan, there is something suffocating about the city, it could be the still stale hot air or the conservative attitudes or a breathless combination of both. Riding in a taxi through the empty streets and dawn light of Milan the sense of excitement of traveling to Oslo was amplified by the pleasure of leaving Milan for a period of time. Arriving in the beautifully designed airport of Oslo Gardemoen designed by Aviaplan was refreshing and filled with obvious and subtle signs of so many things which make Italy so different from much of Europe and announced my arrival in Oslo.
Thanks to June who was super helpful and made my trip to Norway fantastic I scored a rare last minute ticket for the Oya Festival which is where I spent most of the week sitting in the rain on the grass drinking beer, watching great bands and meeting lots of people and feeling very holiday. The line up was great with Jose Gonzalez, Grinderman, Sigur Ros, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and NERD. Sigur Ros was as sublime as people had said and left me feeling elated and weightless. The biggest discovery was the quality of Norwegian bands of all types of genres from the beautiful Ane Brun to the indie rock of the Alexandria Quartet who we saw in a super small bar with about as many people as you could squeeze into a telephone booth and it was great fun to the insane Animal Alpha. We also managed to see Cut Copy and the Presets and I felt a glimmer of Aussie pride. It was a long and very enjoyable week of music.
Oslo is a suprisingly small city filled with an unusually high proportion of anonymous 20th century architecture for a capital and unbelievably expensive, the most expensive city in the world according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The city sits on the coast with the water on one side and tree filled hills surrounding its perimeter. Reminders of Norway's maritime past and awesome natural landscapes beyond which unfortunately I did not get to see and will hopefully return to explore soon. The natural landscapes not the past. That isn't possible.
The new Opera house by Snohetta is an impressive piece of contemporary architecture whose not illegibly subtle cultural references to the mountains, glaciers and the country's relationship to water and also typology coupled with a dignified yet limited palate of materials carefully finished in different ways; the changes from rough to polished, cut and ground stone expressing the changing nature of materials, make it an meaningful cultural building. The foyer made me think of Alvar AaIto's 1938 Finnish Pavilion in New York, but he was Finnish and I don't understand the relationships of the Scandinavian countries which people had try to explain to me, so stopped thinking about it. The building was very inspiring, made more so by the positive reaction of those who I spoke to about the building and by the way it displayed architecure's ability to communicate cultural ideas and establish a relationship to place. I had left my sunglasses at home and was pleased whilst walking up the marble clad sloped roof whilst blinded by the bright white light when the sun came out from behind the clouds felt a similar sensation to walking on a snow covered slope. Unfortunately I only got to see one building by Sverre Fehn which was very nice and achieved many of the qualities that were so interesting in the work of Snohetta but felt more natural and effortless.
Oslo is also home to the Nobel Peace Prize and my ignorance of the origins of the prize and it's intention was nearly complete. The interior design was disappointing but the content fascinating and left me feeling inspired, a little bit pathetic and somewhat daunted by what people are capable of doing.