Wednesday, December 31, 2008
La Purificadora is a boutique hotel located within an ex-water purification plant. The hotel is a wonderful combination of the existing building and new interventions, internal and external spaces and rich materiality. Re-used stone from the existing building, large timber beams, timber floor tiles and alabaster creates a refined yet rich atmosphere.
The hotels 26 room, bookstore, restaurants, bar and gym are organised around a large foyer and grand staircase which is open to the elements and covered with a white roof which extends across the outdoor roof top pool and bar area.
Designed by Mexican architects, Legorreta + Legorreta, La Purificadora is a careful balance between minimalism and comfort, luxury and austerity.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
On our way back to Mexico City we stopped in Puebla for a couple of relaxing days spent by the pool getting some much needed sun. Known as the City of Angels Puebla is one of the best examples of the influence of the Spanish on Mexican cities. The city contains 70 churches and over 1000 colonial buildings, many covered in azulejos (painted ceramic tiles), in the historic centre. The historic centre has undergone much renovation since the 1999 earthquake and was inscribed by Unesco as a world heritage site in 1987.
Monday, December 29, 2008
The monastery buildings adjoining the Iglesia de Santo Domingo have been lovingly restored and converted into a museum of the cultures of Oaxaca. The architecture of the Monastery is incredibly beautiful and the subtle displays constructed of glass and dark grey steel with well detailed connections reminded me of Carlo Scarpa’s display stands at Museo di Castelvecchio. The displays did not interfere with an appreciation of the architecture that is a restrained combination of brick, hard plaster, stone and timber.
The monastery buildings are arranged around a beautiful stone cloister and two courtyards of different sizes. The cells, which now house exhibitions, are accessed off long naturally lit courtyards which frame impressive views of the surrounding landscape. The earthen materials and relationship to the outside, fresh air and views of the landscape creates a peaceful and calming environment where one feels a strong connection with the earth and heightened awareness of the clear blue sky that is framed by the courtyards.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Dave and I took the comfortable 6hr bus trip from Mexico City to Oaxaca this morning. The bus traveled past the outskirts of Mexico City into a dry hilly landscape that reminded me of parts of Victoria and then into the rugged cactus covered mountains of Oaxaca State. The dry and rocky mountains were spectacular as the sun was setting.
Oaxaca City is a pleasant and relaxed colonial city with old stone buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and beautiful squares and gardens. The sun was shining and the light was bright during our stay and most of the time was spent sleeping or eating.
The food was amazing and we ate the best Mole that we tried in Mexico in Oaxaca. Mole is a type of sauce which is made with many ingredients that are cooked seperately before being combined, ground into a paste and then cooked again in oil or lard before being thinned. Mole Poblano consists of 30 or more ingredients. Making Mole is a time consuming process which creates a sauce that has multiple layers of flavor. Oaxaca is known as the 'Land of Seven Moles' including mole negro, mole colorado, coloradito, and mole verde.
The laid back lifestyle, cafes, art galleries and traffic free squares and plazas give Oaxaca a vibrant cosmopolitan feel whilst maintaining it's local character. It was nice to be out of Mexico City and we were beginning to get the feeling that Mexico is considerably more diverse than we had expected.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The archaeological zone of Teotihaucan is located 50km northeast of Mexico City in the Valle de Mexico. The site is dominated by two large pyramids, Piramides del Sol y de la Luna. The city was the largest ancient city in Mexico and the capital of the largest pre-Hispanic empire.
The strictly geometric city plan was laid out in the beginning of the 1st century AD and the Piramides del Sol was completed around AD 150. The city grew over the next 450 years before it began its decline due to social, environmental and economic factors leading to it’s collapse in the 8th century AD.
The city consists of two main avenues. The Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) running north south which is lined with talud-tablero, stepped pyramid structures of sloping and vertical portions, former palaces of Teotihuacans elite, which were originally painted in bright colours.
The Piramides del Sol is the third largest pyramid in the world. The base is 222m long on each side and is 70m high. The pyramid is constructed with 3 million tonnes of stone. The smaller Piramides de la Luna was completed around AD 300.
The scale and geometry of the site reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing, a city which was built over 1000 years later on the other side of the world. The monumentality and durability of the plan and major structures on the site is remarkable considering the city was built without the use metal tools, pack animals or the wheel.
Teohuatican on World Heritage Site
As it was the school holidays in Mexico it was not possible to visit the interiors of Luis Barragan's masterpieces. My visit to three of his later works in Mexico City made it very clear that his interiors are protected from the street by large rendered walls with very few windows that do not offer views into or out of the building.
The quality of peace and silence that this creates in the interior is one of the most intriguing qualities of Barragan's work, a quality that I would not be able to experience at this time.
Barragan's later work is completely different from his earlier apartment buildings. The bold use of colour, sequences of rooms within rooms, and use of traditional materials inspired by traditional Mexican architecture that is infused with the functionalism and restraint of Modernism. His later works are clearly modern buildings yet have a rich and poetic quality that is often lacking in the work of lesser modernist architects.
Capilla de las Capuchinas Sacresteria (Tlalpan Chapel)
This small chapel built for the Capuchinas Sacramentarias del Purismo Corazon de Maria is one of Barragan's most famous works. The project took seven years and was partially funded by Barragan himself. In this small Chapel Barragan's masterful control of light and colour, his deeply religious and personal life, the influence of Mexican artistic traditions and almost minimalist restraint reached maturity.
Barragan admired the simplicity and appreciation of nature of the cult of St. Francis and the influence of these ideals is evident in his later work.
The convent spaces, sacristy, transept and chapel are arranged around a long and narrow central cloister. Like Barragan's own house and studio the building appears as an anonymous rendered wall from the street giving nothing away as to what lies within.
The interior makes reference to medieval monasteries and consists of a series of quiet and deeply personal spaces of varying textures that are bathed in divine natural light.
The space evokes a mystical inner beauty of light which imbues the space with a religious quality through the use of abstraction rather than figurative sculpture or iconography.
Prieto Lopez House
The Prieto Lopez House is located in the Luis Barragan designed El Pedegral district. The house is designed on a number of levels which follow the terrain and define the different spaces of the house. The house is designed around a large walled garden of lava stone, swimming pool and indigenous vegetation. The internal spaces have the same monastic quality as Barragan's other buildings of the period.
The bright pink exterior wall of the Gilardi House is unmistakably the work of Luis Barragan. The bright yellow of the entrance flooded in natural light through yellow glass leads to the bright blue area of the indoor swimming pool which contains a bright red column which gives all the colours, through their contrast, an intense vibrance.
The Gilardi House was one of Luis Barragan's last works and the confidence and command of the bold colours, reflections and light which retains the sense of intimacy and spirituality in the house is a master work of the Pritzker Prize winning architect.
Friday, December 26, 2008
The house and studio of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo was designed by their friend, Juan Gorman. The house is separated into two buildings, one for Riviera and one for Kahlo, which are connected by a bridge at the roof level. The couple lived in the pair of houses from 1934-1940. The living and working spaces are located on separate floors that are connected by a series of internal and external staircases. The modernist aesthetic of the houses is combined with typical materials and colours of Mexican architecture including terracotta ceiling tiles and bright blue and pink rendered external walls. The large studio space on the second floor of Riviera’s house is a large double height space with extensive glazing overlooked by a small sitting room on the Mezzanine level which also served as a waiting area to his office space.
Like the Blue House the Casa Estudio Diego Riviera y Frida Kahlo represents the relationship of the couple and their working and private lives through the spatial and functional relationships in both planning and section.
The fusion of European Modernism and Mexican traditions, like that found in the later work of Luis Barragan, creates an architecture that is both universal and specific to it’s context and inhabitants.
Museo Frida Kahlo
The modern campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed between 1949-1952 by 150 Architects and technicians it is a showcase of modern architecture.
The Biblioteca Central (1952) was designed by Juan Gorman and is heavily decorated with sculpture and mosaics. The southern façade includes two zodiac wheels which describe colonial times and the northern facade represents aspects of Aztec culture, the eastern facade represents the creation of modern Mexico and the western façade Latin American culture generally.
La Rectoria administration building southern façade is decorated with a three-dimensional mosaic designed by Siqueiros. The glazed tower with louvres over a podium base.
Many of the buildings feature covered arcades at ground level and external circulation, extensive glazing and a high level of standardised elements typical of modernism but combined with decorative mosaics and sculpture fusing art and architecture into singular buildings located around large grass and paved outdoor spaces.
Luis Barragan (1902-1988) is most well known for a number of projects which feature bold colours, strong geometry and a masterful control of light and space which was to define and influence contemporary Mexican Architecture. It was a surprise then to discover the strong European modernism and extent of the influence of Le Corbusier on a number of apartment buildings Barragan designed in the 1930's which show little of the architectural ideas, which were inspired by traditional Mexican architecture, in his later work that were to become so influential yet reveal much about his development as an architect.
During Barragan’s second trip he met Le Corbusier and attended some of his lectures. On his return to Mexico he would incorporate the ideas of Le Corbusier, the Espirit Nouveau, and the Bauhaus into his architecture. The extent to which his architecture was influenced by Le Corbusier during his rationalist period is evident in the apartment buildings he designed during the 30’s.
These buildings could be seen as an important part of Barragan’s development as an architect that evolved to his more well known later work. Barragan explored the use of modern materials (glass, concrete and steel), rather than local materials, careful proportions, clean lines and blank walls with carefully placed openings, strip windows and roof terraces and his designs were dictated by concerns with economy and functionalism.
At what point Barragan returned back to traditional materials and Mexican architecture I do not know but it is clear that the influence of European Modernism was essential to the manipulation of space, light and materiality that makes his later work so remarkable.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
In a city of over 19,000,000 people transport is a huge issue. The brightly coloured and enormous Mexico City subway system where super cool bright orange trains seem to arrive every minute is essential for the city to function.
The Sistema de Transporte Colectivo Metro consists of 11 lines, 175 stations and is 207km long. The first sections were opened in 1969. The metro is one of the busiest in the world being used by approximately 4.5 million people daily. The metro is heavily subsidised by the government and has the lowest fares in the world with one trip costing $2.00MXD.
In addition to the metro is an extensive bus network, a privately owned micro bus network and a lightrail. The government is trying to reduce car usage as a means of tackling air pollution and pollution using a system called 'Hoy No Circula' where only cars with certain last numbers on their number plate are allowed on the roads.
Posted by Thom Mckenzie at 10:27 AM
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The site I was most excited about seeing in Mexico City was Casa Luis Barragan. Luis Barragan (1902-1988) is the most important Mexican Architect of the 20th century whose own house and studio I had seen many photographs of and was keen to see in reality.
Walking through the suburb of Tacubaya past the simple rendered exterior walls with rectangular windows located on the facade according to internal functions of many buildings and arriving at the Barragan house it was clear that the Barragan house when viewed from the street appears to be yet another typical building, or collection of buildings, of the area. The bold and high grey wall with windows which are located not according to an idea of composition but the requirements of the interior give little away and apart from a few clues that allude to what lies beyond fits seemlessly and inconspicuously into its surroundings and it was not possible at any point to see into the interior of the house.
On the front door a notice informed us that the house was closed until the 5th of January, the day I was to fly back to New York. It was very disappointing to be so close to seeing a house I have wanted to see for many years and yet could not enter.
After lunch Dave and I headed to Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera's 'Blue House' a beautiful house around a large and peaceful internal garden where Kahlo and Riviera lived out their fascinating and tumultuous lives from Kahlo's birth to her death. It is a place where art, life, death, architecture and nature are fused together. The Kahlo family lived in the house since 1904 and was originally painted white. Kahlo and Riviera painted the house a vibrant iridescent blue which was inspired by the bold use of colour in Mexican art and architecture.
The house is filled with objects and art which give the house a strong atmosphere of passionate lives and a more personal atmosphere than that of a museum. As well as creating a fascinating interior world that is seperated from the world outside by tall and think blue walls.
The spatial arrangement of the house reflected the lives of it's inhabitants and guests. The house is a series of interconnected volumes constructed of stone around a large internal courtyard. The main building was extended in 1937, where Trotsky and his wife lived, and then in 1947 became Kahlo's studio. After Riviera and Kahlo's divorce the couple lived in separate bedrooms until Frida's death in 1954.
The house has been open to the public since 1958 and is considered a monument to many 20th century artists.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Dave and I flew to Mexico from New York for a two week holiday this morning. Wandering through Brooklyn at 4am this morning it was -7 degrees celsius. A few hours later arriving in Cancun and waiting for my connecting flight to Mexico city, the sun shining and people lounging around with short sleeve shirts and tans it occurred to me that I have very little idea about Mexico apart from what I have seen in a few movies, stories about the drug trade and border crossings, a warning about green taxis and the architect Luis Barragan.
Mexico City is the third largest metropolis in the world, an enormous sprawling city that used to be a series of lakes. Mexico city has a population of 8,836,045 (2008) and Greater Mexico City an estimated population of 19,826,918 (2008). The speed at which Mexico City has grown, the resulting urbanism and the problems that the population explosion has created is remarkable. The population in 1900 was approximately 500,000 and between 1960 and 1980 doubled to 8.8 million many of whom were villagers who created massive shantytowns creating intense air and water pollution and problems with crime and poverty.
Flying into Mexico City in the late afternoon the scale of the city was overwhelming. The city seemed to extend in all directions as far as the horizon shrouded in a brown haze of pollution that was catching the setting sun. The impact of human settlement seen from the plane was at once disturbing and fascinating.
Arriving at the airport, like arriving in the biggest Metropolises of the world, the intensity of the city was immediate. Thousands of people rushing around in all directions through the airport and then down into the subway and onto the train, people selling mix cd's providing an eclectic soundtrack. As the subway train rolled past the crumbling apartments buildings I still had little idea what to expect in the coming days or how to approach a city of this size.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Baker House is a student residence designed by Alvar Aalto located at MIT University in Boston. The curving form of the building protects the building from the busy street along the Charles river by having each window at an angle to the street whilst providing each room with excellent views.
Circulation is located on the side of the building facing MIT allowing the movement and circulation of the building to relate to the activity of the university. The staircases are designed to allow unobstructed views along their entire length increasing the visibility of the students moving through the building and increasing the opportunities for informal interaction.
The brick building with timber window frames gives the building a pleasant domestic feel which reminded me of early 20th century dutch housing. The planning provides important communal areas and a variety of room types for different students increasing the sense of community and diversity within the building.
The Carpenter Centre for the Visual Arts (1963) designed by Le Corbusier is a building of intricate spatial devices, carefully choregraphed movement, and revealing views. It is Le Corbusier's only building in North America and one of his last buildings. As such the building is a fascinating collection of ideas, architectural language and devices developed in Le Corbusier's lifetime compressed into a complex building which reveals and explains itself to you with ease. Elements from La Tourette, Marseille, Chandigarh, and earlier works of the 1920's such as Ville Savoye and Maison Ozenfant.
Approaching the building from any angle one is swept up, under or into the building and which leads to the centre of the building as views of the different volumes and glimpses into the office space, exhibition space open before arriving at full height glazed walls of the studio, the building effectively cut through in section, split by the ramp and movement of people and revealed.
The ease of movement and orientation is continued as one enters the building and moves through a heirachical series of open and closed staircases, through the gallery spaces, up into the studios and across into the offices. The landscaped terrace is both roof terrace and due to the main ramp a new artificial ground plane.
One of the most exciting aspects of the building, like many of Le Corbusier's buildings, was the way in which it was being used. The artists treat the space as a workshop and studio without the preciousness one might expect from such a building and gave the building a feeling of being enjoyed and used for it's intended purpose.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Kresge Auditorium, 1953-55, was designed by Eero Saarinen. It is located opposite the MIT Chapel on the Kresge Oval. The pair of buildings were designed to define MIT’s social cohesion. The Auditorium being designed for formal events and the chapel designed for marragies and memorial services with the oval in between as a public space for civic events.
The auditorium is an elegant copper clad roof which springs from the ground at three points with sheer glazed walls that fill in the arches created by the form of the roof. The sheer glazed walls offer views into the lobby and out onto the green. The roof was constructed as a thin-shell structure of concrete which was an innovative building technique at the time of construction.
The building contains a concert hall which can seat 1226 people and a small theatre with 204 seats, and rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, offices, bathrooms and lounges. The domed roof allows the interiors to remain column free. The lights, loudspeakers and ventilation where incorporated into the hanging acoustic treatment on the roof of the auditorium.
Eero Saarinen designed the non-denominational MIT Chapel in 1955. It is located opposite the Kresge Auditorium which was also designed by Saarinen.
The oval chapel is a cylindrical brick form constructed of rough and imperfect bricks which catch the sunlight on the textured surface. The building sits in a shallow moat and is supported by a series of low arches of different radii which rise out of the moat that reflects patterns of light onto the exterior wall of the chapel and evokes images of bridges spanning a river.
To enter the small chapel one walks from the public spaces surrounding the chapel into a small grove of birch trees enters through the timber doors which are located off the main oval and turns 180 degrees to head back through a enclosed glazed bridge into the circular chapel and is then drawn towards the light falling onto the white marble altar from the ceiling. The glass of the bridge evokes images of larger stained glass windows in traditional churches and creates a separation from the world outside. The textured internal brick walls and the full height metal sculpture by Harry Bertoia allow the glittering light to cascade down into the space from the circular skylight above. Additional twinkling light is reflected off the small moat and into the space through shallow slits in the walls.
I have been surprised by how Saarinen’s buildings are smaller than I expected, they are small gems of mid-century modern architecture that are rich in ideas and materiality which is intensified by Saarinen’s ability to strongly express architectural ideas with the given scale and materials. Saarinen is not attempting to create the power of his architecture by increasing the scale of any one gesture rather making each element the appropriate scale and designing with an elegance which compresses the ideas and architectural gestures into dense and rich architecture.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Simmons Hall students residences at MIT designed by Steven Holl in 2002 is part of a major building program which included buildings by Frank Gehry and Fumihiko Maki. The building includes 350 dormitories, a 125 seat theatre, gymnasium and cafe.
The design was intended with varying degrees of success to create a large degree of informal interaction between students in both free form communal spaces, the street front cafe and corridors designed as internal streets. The structure was designed to allow for a large degree of flexibility to accomodate five large openings in the building which define main entrances, communal areas and roof terraces.
Each floor is three windows high making the building appear larger than it actually is and results in each room having nine operable windows puncturing a thick facade providing solar protection during summer and allowing the low winter sun to enter the room. The coloured window frames represent the ten houses within the building.
Holl said the building was inspired by a sponge to create a porous building that can absorb a variety of programs. The building whilst interesting lacks the same level of consideration for the residents and homeliness as Alvar Aalto's Baker House at MIT.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Becton and Applied Science Centre (1970) designed by Marcel Breuer is one of Breuer later buildings which displays Breuer's use of pre-cast concrete panels and logical planning. The long arcade from street level provides views into the library and covered access to the building.
The building contains offices, laboratories, a library, and an auditorium.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The David S. Ingalls Rink (1953-58) was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and built for Yale University. The Auditorium seats 3,486 and features an innovative structural system with the roof being supported by a 90m reinforced concrete arch from which a cable net is hung that supports the timber roof creating an elegant curved roof and ceiling. The expression of the structure and it's use to create curved sculptural forms efficiently is typical of Saarinen's work. The rink underwent a major renovation in 1991 and another renovation and expansion is planned to begin this year.
The building has been nicknamed 'The Whale' because of it's appearance.
The Yale University Art Gallery (1953) was Louis Kahn's first major commission and is considered his first masterpiece. The Gallery was designed whilst Kahn was a visiting critic at the Yale School of Architecture.
The building is constructed of brick, concrete, glass and steel and was a significant departure from the dominant neo-gothic style of the Yale University campus. From the street the building appears as a monolithic windowless brick facade. The entrance and glazed facade opposite the Art and Architecture building by Paul Rudolph are beautifully proportioned and detailed.
The interior of the building is characterised by a precast concrete ceiling system which houses the gallery lighting and ventilation. The ceiling was an innovative structural and engineering system of hollow concrete tetrahedrons that combine a number of functions and give the interiors a rich and moody quality.
Paul Rudolph's masterpiece, the Art and Architecture Building at Yale University(1963), is a spatialy complex building which includes 37 level changes and numerous spatial devices to allow views and light through the building into the various studio and gallery spaces. The exterior of the building is constructed of bush hammered concrete which exposes the aggregate and controls staining and discoloration. The interior building is predominantly concrete in a variety of finishes and textures with orange highlights used for carpets and soft furnishings.
The planning of the building and arrangement of spaces was intended 'to excite and challenge the occupants.' Level and ceiling changes rather than walls are used to define different functional areas and citculation and create dramatic lighting effects.
At an urban scale the building was intended to respond to the corner site and views from the surrounding streets whilst at the same time establishing a dialogue with the Louis Kahn Art Gallery opposite and the Gothic Architecture of the Yale University Campus.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The Yale Center for British Art, 1969-1974, was the last building of Louis Kahn and was completed after Kahn's death. The facade is constructed of matte steel and glass with visible timber blinds behind. The beautifully detailed interior finishes are travertine marble, white oak, and Belgian linen.
The plan is based on a 20-foot-square grid, which creates a linear series of rectangular gallery spaces arranged around two inner courts which, like the entire top floor, are naturally lit from above through a coffered skylight system. One court forming the entrance foyer and one a main three storey high gallery space with large paintings. The interior of the building is a calm, light-filled space. The exposed concrete structure with oak paneled inserts creates a rich materiality and reinforces the human scale of the gallery.