• Taubman Art Museum

    So it's been a while since my last post due to my architecture thesis, but I thought I'd write about a building and lesson learned regarding my thesis research. The site of my thesis happens to be in downtown Roanoke VA, a city with a long history that once thrived on the railroad industry but it now seems to be stuck in place, keeping it as the forgotten step-child of Virginia's other big cities like Richmond, Norfolk/Hampton Roads and those of Nothern Va.


    So that brings us to the Taubman Art Museum by Randall Stout, a graduate of the Frank Gehry school of complex forms and pointy edges. Now I have to admit, as in some of my other post, I have never been a fan Gehry and his style of Deconstructivism, but I actually find myself defending Stout's Taubman Museum of Art. The building itself is lucky to have actually even been built with the strict and very public opposition it received from residents and its still a hot topic years after. Now the building itself is nothing like the standard brick masonry facades of the rest of the downtown, but thats exactly what the city needed, a breath of fresh air and a step forward in establishing an identity for the city.


    Structure of Pointed Atrium


    From Interstate 581, the large pointed glass atrium can be seen by all those passing through the city and makes for an impressive entrance for those exiting off into the downtown.  Open to the south, light shelves are placed inside the glass to help control the light in addition to the coating  on them, helping to regulate the heat gain. The shadows from the steel structure dance across the floor and along the large stairwell as the day progresses, giving the space an even more dynamic feel and making for a nice event space.


    Shadows on the grand staircase


     Up the grand staircase to the second floor is where the galleries begin. The galleries themselves are made up of about eight separate rooms but all in all does not seem like a lot in comparison to the size of the building. Nice attention is given to give views of the city from opposite end of the hallway with diffused natural and artificial light light the path through the galleries.


    Piano in the Shadows

    Perhaps the strongest part of the museum is the use of material and the play of light and shadow. The rustic look of the stone on the back end actually works well with the metal roof and the large glass spans help bridge between the two and give transparency to the architecture. The form itself sets up unique shadows and reflections of itself as well and the surrounding buildings.

    Play of light and shadow


    So after a few visits to the Taubman, I have actually come to respect it a lot more. It's intentions may not be perfect, but it gives the city something unique and has the potential to draw in passerbys interested by the form. Theres no doubt that it will continue to be a topic of conversation among residents, but hopefully with its completion it marks a transition for the city into a new way of thinking. Tradition and history should be respected but that doesn't mean you should reject new ideas and ways of thinking, something that will hopefully lead to growth and more opportunity in Roanoke.

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  • Kogod Courtyard: Art Surrounded by Art

    Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to scout out many different types of architecture overseas, but my latest adventure brought me back to a place I am no stranger to and has become a common stop whenever I end up in the Washington DC area. Sheltered within the confides of the National Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, The Kogod Courtyard offers a pace to elude the muggy temperature, occasional rainstorm, or the lively DC streets. The main design consideration of a covered space may be simple, but Norman Foster's idea for a envelope is far from it. Simliar in structure to that of his British Museum addition, an aluminum truss system houses glass panels to create an enclosed space, but like a master conductor, Foster guides the truss system through a series of crescendos and diminuendos, giving movement to the space.


    Movement through roof


    You begin to wonder how many people pass through the gallery, on their tour of Smithsonian Museums, in search of classical artistry only to miss this center which offers up this piece of modern art. It wouldn't be that hard to do, as the information desks, in all their centrally placed glory tend to welcome visitors by pushing them to the side wings, or the corresponding stone staircases on either side of the door. It's been awhile since I first walked into the space, but I'm still taken by it's large but welcoming scale. It's big, but no where close to overpowering, as the light structure keeps the space open and the marble planters give life to the olive trees and other greenery.


    Roof swelling before joining back to the building


    The courtyard  is what a public space should be: open, inviting, full of life and lets you experience it differently from unique perspectives. Of course you can always sit at one of the many tables that occupy the area, but one of my favorite ways to utilize the space is laying on the smooth marble planters, cool to the touch, and staring up at the clouds passing over these undulating aluminum supports. The sides of these planters were intentionally oversized allowing them to be inviting instead of just another boarder around some greenery. On a hot day, it's not uncommon to see more people resting here, instead of one of the many chairs, looking up through the branches of the olive trees as their leaves sway with the ventilation of the building. These trees keep the space feeling fresh and allow contrast between the industrialized columns, ultimately creating a space in-between.

    Modern meets Organic


    Sure, you could pick up a flyer at the information desk and read about the recycled denim used to insulate the trusses, or have one of the people at the desk explain to you how the reflecting pools were removed due to numerous leaks, but this is a space that yearns to be experienced and not told. Good architecture can tell you story...and the Kogod Courtyard does so by using the shadows moving across the walls, the resident trees growing even closer to the limit and rewarding the average passerby that takes the time to stop and look up.


    Through the Trees
    More mages available of flickr

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  • Cardinal Belluga Square, Mixing Modern with Classical in Murcia

    When first entering Cardinal Belluga Square, it feels a lot like any other Spanish plaza with its small shops, cafes with outdoor seating, street performers, and bustling foot traffic. The one thing that sets this plaza apart from others is you may happen to wander into is the mixed uses of the buildings that take up their residence in this area. The first structure to stand out is located on the long axis of the plaza, a great cathedral built in the seventeenth century with a Baroque facade complete with heavily ornate statues and details. It is an overpowering structure in such a small plaza. Its design makes it stand out and automatically draws ones attention when they enter into the space. 


    Murcia Cathedral


    Taking up the area on the opposite end of the square is a modern building, Murcia Town Hall designed by Rafael Moneo. Moneo had the difficult design task of creating a building for the city hall that stood in direct opposition to one of the most overpowering structures in the plaza and one of the best churches in Spain. He incorporates a design based on a modern day baroque philosophy in order to both respect the pre-existing building and to not overpower the square by competing with such a classical order.


    Moneo's City Hall of Murcia


    The new construction is more of a response to the cathedral instead of trying to be the definitive answer to the design problem Moneo had to work with in placing a building in such a historic plaza. His modern day baroque stands with a minimal facade with no ornament standing in opposition to the church. A series of openings make up the face which seem to be spaced out in a geometry that responds to the placement and decor on the facade of the cathedral. This leads to the town hall having a very simple exterior but allows shadows to play within the voids and the frames of the openings to create a more dynamic feeling than what is originally presented. This allows the building to go through transitions throughout the day without over doing it. There is also no entrance to the building located on street level in an attempt to not draw attention away to the other sites. The base of town hall extends one level below to the street level to give the appearance of it rising up and not creating a harsh connection with the street, once again in an attempt to not try and compete with its surroundings. The stance of only trying to respond to the situation instead of trying to find a definitive answer works.  It is a difficult situation given the circumstances and should be credited to Moneo. You never get the feeling that these two buildings are in opposition of each other and trying to compete within the small plaza. The cathedral remains the focal point with city hall taking the backseat but still getting its architectural intentions across in a respectful manner.

    One of the other important design considerations can only been taken into account when you look down and observe the spacing of the tiles that form a grid laid stretching across Cardinal Belluga Square. Pathways are created with the use of lighter colored stone tiles set within the darker pigmented ones that make up the majority of the plaza. This pathways at first glance might not seem to have anything other than an arbitrary layout intending to give movement to the group, but on closer inspection, you realize they connect to the different entrances of the surrounding architecture. The paths end at the doorways to the shops and church on the short axis as well as at city hall and the three portals to the cathedral. This design consideration directs movement within the space and gives direction in a busy atmosphere. It’s interesting just to sit and observe  the number of people that will take the time to move over onto these paths as if it is guiding the direction they are traveling. These paths become a street within the open space to direct the flow of foot traffic throughout the square. The culmination of these multiple paths happen at the intersection of all of them, creating in a sense a grand stage. It is a space where the journey of seven different paths come together and give union to the center of the square although not the absolute one. This point becomes a stage where groups meet even though they are coming from a different direction with different intentions. It is a way to bring people together and not necessarily make it obvious why until you look at the ground. The street performers like it best to set up shop here as it is the point where anyone who enters the plaza will surely pass through. It is important and works because it takes something that most designers overlook and gives it a purpose within the space. A  ground plane that not only directs but brings you through the space and all the time has the power to bring strangers together without forcing it.


    Not all of the city’s residents  supported the decision to build the town hall in Cardinal Belluga Square, but Moneo tried to stay respectful to the location while offering up a building that could speak for itself. Located just off the busy city streets, Cardinal Belluga Square offers a little something for everyone and  gives a modern influence to the city. The attention still remains very much on the cathedral as you enter the space but the attempt to modernize deserves it’s recognition. Cardinal Belluga Square is a successful example of a public space, because it brings together tradition with a sense of advancement and moving forward while taking into account the needs of the residents and the flow of everyday life.

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  • Into the Light: Calatrava and Foster Libraries

    In coming up with a design for their new libraries, two of today’s leading architects, Norman Foster and Santiago Calatrava, faced similar issues in placing their modern buildings into pre-existing conditions, but both may have looked into the past for their natural light-filled masterpieces. Norman Foster’s Philological Library sets in the middle of a small courtyard in the Free University of Berlin and connects different wings of the surrounding buildings. The library has been nicknamed the “Brain of Berlin” because of this and the fact that it sets centrally on campus. Santiago Calatrava’s Zurich Law Library is nestled within a historical building downtown within the city’s University, an area that was once defined by the large city walls that used to protect it. Although both architects had to deal with the constraints of working on a small site already surrounded by older architecture, that is not where the similarities stop. Both architects main idea for their libraries focus on a play of light and getting as much natural light into the space as possible in order to create a well lit working environment. In Louis Kahn’s Exeter library, light also played a critical role in the layout of the library and may have been an contributing example that both modified to be put in use by these modern structures. Kahn believed that one should be able to make the selection of the book they wanted and then be able to step into the light. Both Foster and Calatrava use this philosophy by having the book shelves protected from the natural light but allowing the reader to easily be able to move back into the light to work. The diffusion on this natural sunlight plays a big role in each library, but the architects go about this process in a different way. Foster chooses to have natural light on all sides of the building while Calatrava uses a central atrium with light coming from overhead. Although they may have gone about this in different ways, both work very efficiently in both plan and section to allow for well lit work and reading spaces, protection for the books from harmful sun rays and a sense of openness in a location that once felt closed in. These spaces have now been transformed into a open space full of life where students and faculty are able to gather and not feel like they are in a closed in and just going through the motions of another library.

    Collage of Foster's Philological Library


    Foster uses a structural system in the Philological Library that consists of  two different shells connected together for support, rather than using columns, to open up the space without congesting it with structure. The outside shell consist of a pattern of metal panels and transparent glass that allows for outside light to penetrate the structure from all sides. The second layer, the interior, is made up of mostly translucent panels that help to control day lighting and glare. This shell also has panels of transparent glass in strategic locations to allow glimpses of the outside and reveal how the two shells are held together.  These structural members vary in size and are cladded in yellow, a stark contrast to the mostly white frame, much like the entrance portals to the library. Not only does the two layer system help to supply natural light to the library without excessive glare, but also acts as a natural heat buffer and regulates the temperature. Side panels on the exterior shell are designed to pull out, while those on the interior push in to allow for air flow through the building. The floor plan for each of the library’s upper three floors is derived with the respect to the floor(s) above it. The serpentine edges of the floors curve back and forth to not only create a dynamic feel to the layout, but also to reveal the floor below it. 

    View of Different Floors in Philological Library

    This ultimately allows for the flow of uninterrupted, diffused lighting horizontally and vertically from the ceiling and resulting in the bottom floor being the largest and the top is the smallest. On each level, the bookcases are found under the floor above it, with desks along the flowing edges. This design allows the books to be kept out of any natural light, while the work spaces are well lit by the abundance of diffused light from the main open space. To further maximize the openness of the space, each floor is sectioned into two areas connected by a central staircase.  This allows the view from the entrance to the ceiling to remain open until you reach the staircase. The brain analogy is a useful one in that the light is not centralized but spread all over the library with the whole space being active in the play of light. It coordinates the entire space and opens it up to different activities in varying locations, allowing it to be an effective way of utilizing the space and not just another dull library experience.

    Looking Up Through Calatrava's Law Library

    Calatrava’s use of steel as the main structural element is still very much present in the Law Library, but it takes a back seat to the more natural materials, such as the wood used in the six concentric rings that make up the different levels. The metal, cladded in white, frees up the plan and the rings are supported on both ends of the library by two service cores that face each other and serve as the circulation for the different floors.  

    View of Different Floors in Zurich Law Library

    On the shorter sides of the rings, the structure is hung on a single tensile member that runs down the six levels uninterrupted.  The use of such a minimal support system along with the choice of white cladding creates a sense of lightness and that the structure is floating within the room. The rings are based on a bent truss system that connects to the service cores on the end. These trusses have multiple ribs that add to the structural integrity of the floors and eliminates the need for support in the center atrium. The large atrium space is supported by a large curving, wing-like beam that stretches from end to end. This creates vertical movement in the space by reflecting the natural light down into the space, resulting in the void being filled with light. The plan of the Law Library is also dependent on this central light source.  Each of the six different rings are positioned in the plan to be able to absorb the most natural light at it’s edges, and gradually diffuses as one steps away from this illuminated axis and into the bookshelves. This again seems to address the issue of movement when a person makes their selection and where they eventually end up. Calatrava keeps the illuminated core central, making it the meeting point of the library and allows patrons to interact with each other in one common area, creating a more condensed workspace. Each of the different levels share a similar floor plan that consist of a ring of built in desks with parallel book cases along the long axis. The typical lines of book cases make up the rest of the plan until the outside wall and are artificially lighted as the natural light filters out. The light from above creates a space that seems to dissipate into the floors below it until it reaches the ground, letting the library be powered by this lighted core and allowing for the everyday functions of the library to be carried out. A centralized core is felt throughout the plan by letting light spread out.

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  • On Roma

    The trip to Rome came with two waystops, including the town of Sienna, with high class shops and the famous campo, a large plaza surrounded by cafes and a spot where everyone gathers to watch the beautiful sunsets around the large bell tower. Our other stop was just outside of Rome, in Tivoli, home to the ruins of Hadrian's Villa and a true step back in time. The layout of the complex can take a whole day to really see everything and includes stops along the ruins of the maritime theater, auditoriums, a library and two large reflecting pools. There are also countless amounts of black olive trees that adorne the site and have held up against the crumbing structures.

    Tivoli Broken Columns

    Arriving in Rome was a little overpowering at first, riding in on the bus, you only see quick glimpses of some of the most famous architecture in the world, and then you are dropped off with all your luggage, on a crowded street, off to find your hotel. We arrived at a time where the outdoor markets were just closing and being disassembled, but there was still plenty of people out on the streets. The hotel this time was far from the worst we had stayed at, but by the end, it looked like a warzone. One of the water pipes has busted and flooded another students room and the ceiling tiles came crashing down on my hallway as water poured out. It became impossible to go through the halls without getting wet and the staff didn't seem too interested in fixing the problem.

    There is a whole lot to see in Rome and although it may not seem that big, there is a lot of walking to be done. Because our flight was scheduled to be a day earlier than when the program ended, I had to squeeze a lot of buildings into one day. I literally saw the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, San Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane, Trajan's Column, the Colosseum and the worlds most most expensive McDonalds in one day. It's a lot to take in...

    Again there was disappointment in seeing one of my most anticipated buildings, as the Pantheon was also under construction and had half of the front completely covered up. The inside was still accessible to visitors and makes you feel small when looking upwards to the oculus. There seemed to be a pretty good crowd gathered there most of the time and is a notorious place for pickpockets, but it's really a humbling feeling standing there, looking up into the clouds.

    Pantheon Ceiling

    The Colosseum has to first be experienced by walking all the way around it, which is what I ended up doing because I didn't know where the entrance was. You really get a sense on the scale and how much work had to go into building it. There are a good number of people always here and the line was a bit long and a little chaotic. Outside, there are plenty of street performers that are decked out in imperial Roman gear while taking pictures with the tourist and livening up the interactions around the arena. The ticket to get in is kind of pricey, about twenty euros, but there is a lot to see inside, although the lower levels are blocked off and only open during tours. It's hard to imagine all that went on here and the mix of emotions, with little details standing out, like the cross placed for all those that lost their lives over the entertainment.

    Roman Colosseum

    The last day of the trip was unfortunately a gloomy one where rain was an issue for most of the day. It started by getting a very fast private tour through the Parco della Musica by Renzo Piano and ended with a long trek across the river to see the Vatican. Going through the Roman streets at night can get a little interesting, but not seeing the famous basilica and plaza was not going to happen. Since it was late in the day, going inside to view the chapel was unfortunately out of the question as the line still extended through the great column arms of the plaza. The feeling of standing in the center of St. Peters square was still one of the best ways to end the trip with a bang. Wether it's admiring the offset of the almost central spire, walking through the grand columns, having the statues watch you from above or simply seeing the Vatican lights turn on, it's an experience you want to have again

    St. Peters Basillica

    The next day came very early, a wake up around four in the morning, sloshing through wet hallways and having a high speed taxi ride through the streets of Roma is an interesting way to start a day. The first flight back to Frankfurt was a short one and resulted in a four hour layover until the flight back. This plane ride would turn out to be glorious, as the cabin was not even a forth full, lending plenty of room to spread out and lean back. Four and a half movies later, the plane touched groung in the US, marking the end of an incredible journey.

    The experience gained was something that can never be taken away and seeing Europe should be a experience everyone should get to have. I can still say the US is still the greatest country I have ever been to, but we have a lot to learn from Europe and how architecture can not only attract people to cities, but it can bring them together.

    So thus concludes the Europe Travel blog. From now on, I'll be checking back in every now and then to focus more on individual works, not just a run down. Thanks for reading and leave a comment if you have any questions.

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  • Prego: A Way of Life

    So after leaving Spain, the bus headed back into France for a two city stop before finishing out in Italy. The two areas we focused on were Nimes and Aix en Provence, both of which were kind of lackluster experiences due to unforeseen circumstances. The biggest draw in this region and one of my most anticipated buildings, the Maison Carree, had it's front completely covered up due to restoration...a real downer for sure. One of the most influential buildings in the history of architecture, was not to be seen this time. Aix is a small Provence in south France and was mainly just a rest stop for the trip but that didn't stop it from being eventful. After intense negotiation of convincing people not to strip in order to swim in foundations and mysterious glass bottles dropping from hotel rooms with the local authorities asking questions, it was clear that a Italian intervention was needed.

    Italy has to have been my favorite country on the trip. It was the perfect mix of feeling like you are in a foreign place without being too overwhelmed with all that is around you. The food is awesome, the landscape was beautiful, and too many sights to see in one visit. The language barrier even seems non-existant at times due to the high number of tourist,  most of the people speak enough english to make interactions simple and less complicated than in other countries. At times, it felt like more people spoke english here than in England itself. If all else fails, just throw in a "prego" it's pretty much interchanged for any word here.

    Our stay began in Como, a city technically in Italy but right on the Switz boarder so it made day trips into Switzerland relatively easy. Como, Riva and Lugano are all situated on these huge lakes with grand mountains running right up to the shores. The beauty of this place attracts people from all of the world, including George Clooney, who has a summer house on the lake. Unfortunately, not saying I didn't try to, Dr Doug Ross was no where to be found.

    Venice was our first true Italian feeling city and easily one of the best experiences on the trip. The most amazing thing about Venice is the fact that you are dropped off in a large plaza and after you cross the bridge, you will not see any car within the city. Implemented across a series of canals with crossing streets, it can be a little confusing finding your way around first, but when you find the main waterways, it becomes a little easier. It is by far not the cleanest city and you'll experience some smells that will take your breath away, but is one of the most interesting places you could ever hope to visit.
    Looking Back into Venice

    Exploring each of the narrow streets and watching the gondolas drift by and under bridges is a experience you will miss when it's over. The main streets are filled with people visiting the countless number of stores and restaurants that give life to the area. Murano glass is the big seller in the city and the number of fine glass stores seems to be infinite with each one selling at lease one unique thing. Of course during our stay here, we were missing Halloween back home, so several of us took the opportunity to purchase a venetian mask to wear to dinner that night.  Even though you are in Venice, wearing one of these long nosed masks will still get you plenty of strange looks.

    In our studies, we visited the Scarpa museum in Venice, which incorporates the canals into the building, and a Tadao Ando modern art museum that had some of the strangest exhibits I had ever seen...everything from a horse with it's head stuck 3/4's of the way up a wall to anime character statues that at 23 years old, I couldn't stand in the room without blushing. The real draw of the city, really most Italian cities, is exploring the streets and the places in between.
    Ally of Venice

    After Venice came Florence and although  it was a little strange seeing cars again, it was still a real treat to navigate through the connecting streets. Our hotel this time was only one block over from one of the buildings I was most excited to see, Santa Maria and the Duomo. One of the most important buildings in the history of architecture, the dome marked the advancement in technology and engineering thinks to it's designer, Brunelleschi. There is no more powerful feeling in Florence than walking down an ally and catching a glimpse of this massive cathedral in the distance.
    View of Duomo from street
    The larget dome of it's time, tourist can still walk between the two shells that it is composed of to get a breathtaking view of Florence and Tuscany. The trip up is not exactly the most pleasant thing as some spaces are less than two feet wide with the same passage being used for those entering and leaving the dome. Theres a lot of waiting in confined, dark spaces and you have to take opportunities to move as soon as you get them. In comparison to the Eiffel Tower, this didn't leave my legs feeling near as bad, but the low clearance would get me every now and then. Any pain getting up is worth it just to take in the surrounding view of the countryside.
    Overlooking Florence on the Duomo
    There really is a ton to see here, from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo to David...even to Galileo's severed finger...Florence is not short on what it has to offer. Perhaps above any of the architecture, Florence has become known for it's open air markets in the city. Leather is the hot commodity here and there are plenty of vendors that are not afraid to lure you in to get a sell. I hadn't seen so many sales pitches since the red light district in Amsterdam. I ended up leaving Florence with quite a bit less Euros and looking forward to closing the trip out in Rome.

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  • Adios Espana, Ciao Italia

    So, I have officially been back home for over a month now and I feel like its about time I wrapped up the Europe blog. Over the next few days, we will go all the way from Valencia to Rome.

    Our last two stops in Spain were Valencia and Barcelona, with modern architecture a plenty and lots of famous buildings from the likes of Calatrava, Nouvel, Van der Rohe and Gaudi. Valencia itself is an interesting city in that it really does not feel very Spanish at all...at least in the way of the popular architecture, sure there is the typical bull ring of most Spanish cities and the cuisine, but it just seems to take a back seat to more modern standards. Home to Santiago Calatrava, Valencia has really developed into a showcase for his work and has a special area dedicated just to him and his design. This massive complex is almost like a playground design strait from his imagination and developed on a large scale. A series of about five buildings are laid out within sight of each other and are connected through various walkways and reflecting pools.
    View Across the Reflecting Pool

    It's really a lot to take in at once, with most buildings looking like they are right out of the Star Wars universe. They all have a different function such as museums, garden, aquarium, auditorium and even a pedestrian bridge. Structurally, the buildings are a tribute in themselves to the advancement of structural engineering with soaring cantilevers and overhangs, but at times lack a fluid continuity between each other. There really is no common point and kind of feels like an amusement park at times but never-the-less, is a true attention getter.
    View from side of Calatrava's Science Museum

    Barcellona was officially the last city in Spain and is known for such historical architecture as the works of Gaudi and the much loved, Barcelona Pavilion by Meis van der Rohe. These are some of the most talked about buildings no matter if you study architecture or not, you have probably heard about these at some point. If you are looking at taking a look into some of these buildings while in Spain, be prepared to wait in line, crowds flock to these all day.  Gaudi's Sagrada Familia has been in construction for well over one hundred years and still attracts crowds around the block to get a glimpse inside the sand-castle appearance of the church. The Barcellona Pavilion is a little easier to get into and was also a real treat to see the huge slabs of stone that make up the walls and to get a look at the famous dancing lady. The much copied, never duplicated pavilion still holds up well to works of the modern era.
    Dancing Lady of Barcelona Pavilion

    One of the most recent additions to Barcelona and the most promenade on the skyline in the tower of Torre Agbar by Jean Nouvel. The tower itself is clad in thousands of glass panels the give it a distinctive look and add a outside layer to the concrete shell. At night, the tower lights up in a brilliant display of blue and red that can be seen from far away. Security on the inside is pretty tight and only about half the bottom floor is open to the public with pictures being limited, a real shame when you know that some of the best work is locked away, never to be seen by the public. Regardless, its an excellent interpretation of a modern day skyscraper and extremely hard to miss.
    Torre Agbar

    All in all, Barcelona has what you expect from such a large city with two much to see over a course of three days. Over that time, I actually felt like I had walked around every street in the city as much as my feet hurt. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get turned around when looking for a giant skyscraper. I can say that I learned a couple of important things while in Spain, the most important being to never trust the food and that Guns N' Roses will literally play in any city I am in a week before or after I leave.
    Missed Connections

    Up next, a very quick trip back to France and wrapping it up in Italy...

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  • Hola España

    So I guess the first major sign that you have been out of the States too long is the fact that you get excited to see a Burger King that has free refills.

    With the first of the last two countries upon us, Spain is definitely a sign that the travel program is winding down. For the second part of independent travel, we chose Madrid as our place of study and it worked out since it was close to where the program would resume in several days. The travel here was long and involved several cabs and two plane trips before we got to our hotel late in the evening. The hotel was rather nice and we were staying on the top floor of a busy plaza in the city. Of course this was one of the more interesting parts of the city as well, as we found out that night when each person in my group was grabbed by a different “lady”, trying to get us to buy into their business. I guess a hotel with a McDonalds and hookers right outside would be ideal for some, but when you get grabbed by one looking like an older Snookie, it’s not so fun.

    Madrid is one of those cities that is really starting to get big and develop into something more. Architecturally, it has some big plans in mind, but with recent recessions, some of the work that was due to be completed was put on hold. That’s not to say that there is nothing to see, there are still some pretty prominent architects here such as Herzog and de Meuron and the Caixa Forum, a revitalization of an older building into a community center. Herzog and de Meuron are obsessed with the skin of the building and this one is no exception, retrofitting bronze plating on an old brick facade with perforations that can be seen from the ground, playing with the light.. The old window placements are then disregarded and bricked up, allowing voids to be creating and creating light in the areas that now need it within the new floor plan. The building is accessed from underneath the older building that is now lifted on steel and concrete, creating a cool gathering spot out of the sun. The inside still has a very modern theme with a grand staircase and views of the bronze screen where you can really study the pattern.

    Caixa Forum, Madrid
    Seville was where the travel program started back up and it didn’t have the best start and by far the worst ending of anywhere on the trip. Waiting on the public transportation system here takes awhile and the first time we used it happened to be at night, trying to look at some bridges in the area. Our instructor basically took us to one of the darker areas of the city. We had homeless people shouting at us and skater kids making passes at the girls most of the time we were there. The next day wasn't much better because we only had one place to go and it didn’t really catch any of our interest, but the city itself is nice during the day and there were a lot of nice shops in the more expensive parts of the city. The final day, the bus trip out of Seville, had to be one of the worst days of my life in terms of how I physically felt. I woke up sick and was in the bathroom most of the morning. Getting ready to go seemed almost impossible and when finally making it down the stairs, I realized I wasn’t the only one that was feeling ill. About half of the group had contracted food poisoning from the hotel food the day before. The total time on the bus this day was about four hours in total and involved me holding on to a trash bag for a good part of it.

    Our first stop on this wonderful day was at Cordoba, to see the much talked aboutGreat Mosque of the city. This is a really interesting place and beautiful, but it was not a good day for me. Taking pictures proved a difficult task and looking at them afterwards showed how out of it I really was. More bad than good pictures is never a welcoming thing. The Mosque itself is a bit controversial in name as the Spanish Reconquista led to the take over of the Moor build building and converted it to a Catholic Church by inserting a cathedral inside. It's interesting to see the two styles mix and even clash in some areas, really telling the story of the times. The Moors saw saw Architecture as more in tune with nature and really letting the patterns and structure do the talking, while the Gothic influence infuses it with sculpture. The lead up to the area is a treat within itself as you cross the river and into the small town that surrounds it before you find the gates to the courtyard.

    Great Mosque, Cordoba
    Our final stop on this day was to Granada, a city I have no idea what it actually looks like because I was stuck in the hotel the whole other day we were there. Some other students also got hit with it after, bringing the final count to over half the class getting food poisoning. That is an experience I hope to never have again and far from my best experience in Europe thus far.

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  • London Calling

    So we made it to the halfway point in the program, the independent travel section in jolly old London. We arrived in England on a pretty dreary day as it was cold and raining...it pretty much stayed that way the entire time we were there. London does not get a lot of sun and the weather can be kind of depressing when you are walking around outside the entire day. Rain jackets were a must at all times because the sky could open up at any minute to a very cold rain. Taking pictures in this weather becomes a real challenge and sketching a building is almost impossible. We were lucky enough to get a few breaks, but they were few and far between.

    But enough about the weather...it was good just to be able to understand exactly what was being said to you here. We have already encountered several different languages and they all start to run together after awhile but at least being here, you feel closer to home. Of course I let a few "thank yous" in Germans slip, but at this point, thats to be expected. The lure of London is really about its tradition, not new and modern architecture, so that made this visit a little different for us. In some ways this was time for us to be just another tourist and enjoy the sights, but there was still plenty to see and do here and it wasn't even an issue asking for directions.

    Easily one of the most well know architects of today, Norman Foster, is from and has his office in England. You really can't go any where in the city without being close by a Foster and Associates building. It's easy to tell the people love their native architect and his buildings are the most well know around the city. One of the latest projects to come out of his office goes by several names, the Swiss Tower, the Gherkin, or 30 St. Mary Axe being the most common ones. London is not a city that builds up very often, so seeing this skyscraper from different parts of the city becomes an adventure in itself. The tower is situated in a business section where the winds cut right through your cloths due to the tight spaces and larger buildings around. This plays into the design of the building by allowing it to expand from the base and eventually taper back towards the top. This is so the wind is lifted up and spiraled over the building instead of causing it to just sit and twirl at the base. The white bracing can be seen spiraling up the facade and enhances the spiral effect to the eye. I has a chance to visit this on a Sunday when the businesses were close and the windows were being cleaned from the very top. The wind in the area was able to carry the water over a block away leaving a few passerbys to get their umbrellas ready.

    Swiss Tower

    The tourist sites of London are some of the most talked about and impossible to pass up. Special trips were made to see Big Ben and even the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This spectacle goes up for about an hour and consist of the night guards being replaced by the familiar fuzzy hat ones. There are literally hundreds of people that show up to this each day and the sidewalks become pretty crowded. Several bands of guards march down the street playing anthems before they gather in the courtyard and basically put on a concert. The funniest song they played happened to be the very first one, as the audience was treated to the Imperial March from Star Wars. It's pretty much a mini parade complete with bands and guards on horse back that look like they are straight out of Lord of the Rings. The finale comes as the bands march back out playing and had the good fortune of having one of the horses make it an interesting march out.

    Now if there is one thing you can find plenty of in London, other than clouds, its bridges. The city is located on the river and is know for it's bridges, but perhaps the most famous one today hasn't even fell down yet and is only a pedestrian bridge that connects the side of St. Paul's Cathedral to that of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. The Millennium Bridge, by surprise, Norman Foster, is a suspension bridge thats strong angles and connections make it easily recognizable. Huge tension cables support the bridge by pulling from either side and joining in the middle. Thousands of people cross the bridge daily weather it is to get to work across town of just to enjoy the views of the river.
    Millennium Bridge

    And thus ends our time in London, as Shakespeare would say, "Parting is such sweet sorrow" especially in a city where you understand what all is being said, but we are now in the home stretch with Spain on the way next.

    Things learned:
    Yes, the weather is terrible in London
    No, the fish n chips were not as good as expected
    Crossing cross walks is a bit harder when they drive the wrong way
    Abbey Road photo shoots are more difficult than you'd think

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  • The City of Love and Crepes

    What to say about Paris that hasn't already been said. Lets start off by saying that it's true, Paris is not the cleanist city in the world, but thats not why thousands of lovers flock here...it's for all the beautiful and romantic spaces just waiting to be found. Sure, theres the tower, a famous lady named Mona, the church of Our Fair Lady and a lot of glorified arches, but the city hasn't stopped there, it's always expanding and showing that it's not all about old relics and hopless romanics. Underneath the grim of yesteryears, Paris is looking ahead and taking a almost endless city of exploration into a city full of infinate possibilities for those lucky enough to find all it has to offer. It is impossible to see all of it in the course of five days. Taking the dirtyest part of Paris, the underground, is also a diservice because of what you miss. It's no wonder why this is the city of love and perhaps no other city gives better spaces for people to meet and come together.

    Paris has a lot more to offer than in years past, with new developments sprouting up everywhere. Big name architects can be found almost anywhere in the city and perhaps the biggest currently is the native French-man, Jean Nouvel. As one of my favorite architects, I was looking forward to seeing the Cartier Foundation because of the stance it took on preserving the surrounding nature. When walking on the sidewalk, you are greeted with building after building running right up to the sidewalk until you get a glimpse of trees sticking through a glass wall, thats when you know you are there. Once you pass through the single free-standing curtain wall that joins the sidewalk, you enter back into nature before the actual building itself. The gallery is surrounded by trees that are actually framed between the two walls. Staircases on the outside preserve two of the larger trees on site and make nature part of the architecture itself. The feeling of being outside of the city while right in the middle of it is a hard emotion to achieve and this building nails it. Of course, they had to be changing exhibitions at the time and we were not allowed on the grounds. I still found my way on and was able to get at least a couple of pictures before I was asked to leave. Getting kicked out of one of your favorite buildings at least makes for an interesting story.

    Cartier Foundation by Jean Nouvel

    Of course you can't just travel to Paris without seeing any of the long talked about landmarks that made the city what it is today. Walking on the steps of Notre Dame and standing around in a large group just to see the Mona Lisa are experiences that cannot be missed. Of course, Paris wouldn't feel right without a trip to the Eiffel Tower, something I had the pleasure of doing at night as well as the day. The tower can be seen from many places all around the city, but you really don't get a feel for it until you are right there beside it. A group of us were able to sit outside a small restaurant nearby and just watch the light show it put on at the top of every hour, a dazzling display that lights up the night and is just something you don't get a chance to see everyday. The day after this was when we decided to actually up up to the second level and get a different view of Paris. Now you do have to wait and pay a little more to ride the elevator and looking back on it, that might be well worth it in the grand scheme of things. We had the brilliant idea of going up six-hundred steps an a rain soaked afternoon. Six-hundred going up, five ninety-seven on the way down...slippery when wet.

    Eiffel Tower, Paris

    Of course getting to the Eiffel Tower can be a bit of a tough test due to the large amount of street salesman who will try anything in their power to get you to buy their wares. You pretty much cannot move under the tower without being approached by one of these guys who sell mini replicas of the towers and toys to catch peoples eyes. It almost comical to see how these people work and how many people they hit by throwing toy planes and balls into the air. But they are prepared, the moment the rain starts to fall, they pull out umbrellas from no where and try to hand them to you...even if you are currently using one. We have been really lucky at avoiding the beggars so far, they really were not a problem here and hopefully it stays that way.


    I should take a moment to mention some of the places we visited before Paris, specifically in Ronchamp, where Le Corbusier has his famous chapel. Now I have to say, looking at pictures, I was never really a big fan of this building, but it was a rather pleasant experience. The pilgrimage church is a bit of a breakaway from Corbusier's five points and quickly evident from the sharp angles and curves. The highlight is the massive roof structure, that looks heavier than it actually is, and appears to rest on glass, giving it a floating look, symbolic of resting on faith. The chapel on the outside plays host to large crowds every year while the smaller one of the inside is used year round. This is a lot different than the Villa Sayove by Corbusier, which we visited the day after, becuase it is an attempt to prove that he could step outside the box and expand on the five points without compromising them.
    Notre Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier


    The next part of the travel program is the independent section, where we got to choose where we would like to see that was not a part of the trip. I'm actually wrapping up the first of two cities tonight, as we leave London for Madrid tomorrow morning.


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