Tag Archives: Architecture

San Diego: Anatomy of a Paella and More than a Walk in the Park

After our return home from Iran, we slowly adapted back to California living. To help us do this, we took a quick weekend trip to San Diego to spend a day with friends in the countryside. The highlight was a huge “paella cookout”, that became a super-sized version of a cooking demonstration.

ANATOMY OF A PAELLA

 

 

In a nutshell, you follow these steps (as shown in photos above):

1. Heat lots of olive oil in a large shallow pan.
2. Add and cook marinated boneless chicken thighs.
3. Add onions and garlic.
4. Add water, saffron and rice.
5. Add mussels.
6. Add shelled prawns, clams and frozen peas.

Here are a couple of tantalizing videos for you, about the chorizo sausage used (you might need to step up the volume):

 

 

And the fait accompli!

 

 

Try this at home, on the stovetop!

MORE THAN A WALK IN THE PARK

The next day, we took a leisurely, 5 mile walk to and from Balboa Park. It was filled with museums, outdoor sculpture, a huge plaza for people watching, yoga, and even a botanical garden!

 

The walk to and from included a couple of pedestrian bridges. I didn’t realize that the San Diego terrain, in true California coast style, not only consisted of water and mountains, but deep craggy canyons in the middle of the city. Creative connections between hills and over valleys provide pedestrians with interesting and sometimes challenging routes. As in San Francisco, the gridded streets from the map are deceptive and can often put walkers in a dead end or facing a steep, but fitful incline.

 

The Botanical Garden provided a calming respite from the city’s bountiful activities within Balboa Park. The families enjoying the beauty of the late Spring bloom reminded me of the parks we enjoyed in Iran.

 

And there were even a couple of interesting developer-architect buildings to ponder and appreciate through the streets of San Diego:

 

Kool in Kashan

Midway between Tehran and Isfahan lies Kashan. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Fin Garden highlights traditional Persian landscape design with fountains, channels and reflecting pools. These design principles trace back to the 6th Century and Cyrus the Great.

Local tourists love to visit these parks. On a particularly busy “weekend” Friday, the sites were crowded but the feeling was festive. Persians are courteous and never pushy, so it always seems like you are part of the public experience, not against it. Each person, including you, is entertainment material.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where large divans or platforms shaped like a huge sofa surrounded by a low back/barricade offered guests an alternative to traditional tables. The design defined a semi-private space, where groups or families could sit cross legged, enjoy the food, but not miss out on the activity outside their spaces.

The nearby town housed merchants who became wealthy from the textiles, carpets and tile produced in the area. Door knockers on a pair of entry doors differentiated men from women arriving by the sound of the knock. That was a pretty ingenious communication device!

The local bath house was an important community space and lavish design details encouraged members to use the club’s facilities!

I couldn’t help but to continue a few of my forays into people pictures. I was starting to get really comfortable doing this, again because the faces of the individuals are so engaging and CALM. Young girls may be a bit giddy, but overall everyone whose pictures I took were inviting, elegant and never intimidated or negative.

Below, here’s a video of the adorable little girl shown above:

(This post was created on April 20, 2018)

Isfahani Style?

Isfahan represents one of the great architectural cities of the world, and now I know why. The magnificent scale of site planning, building design and decoration are fully integrated. Many of the civic buildings surround what used to be a polo field and display the pride and beauty of Persia. (Yes, Persia and Iran is used interchangeably).

In the 16th Century, the Safavids defeated the Ottomans. During this triumphant period, Shah Abbas developed this square, which is the largest in the world. Islamic art and architecture flourished with distinctive elements. The public Mosque with twin towers dominates one end of the square. The architect’s signature is written on a tile discreetly placed to the side of the building. It avoids the front face and competing with the orientation towards Mecca. If only all architects were as humble!

After designing and building the Mosque, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site, the architect went away and returned after six months. He managed to convince the king that he was waiting to see whether the massive structure, with all its solid stone, brick and tilework, would cause settlement. (Yeah, right!!)

Everyone was relieved that it hadn’t, and the architect could still get his tea in Isfahan. Maybe the architect and structural engineer for the Millennium Tower in San Francisco were taking their sabbaticals before they got the bad news.

To the side is the private mosque, known as the Shah’s mosque. Daylighting illuminates verses on walls. As the sun rotates and casts light on various exposures, appropriate poetry is spotlighted naturally. The inside of the dome is also decorated with flecks of gold to cleverly simulate a spotlit tromp l’oeil effect.

This is only a glimpse of the many beautiful buildings with intricate floral tilework and awe-inspiring domes that are signatory to Isfahani architecture. The Shah’s Palace contained a music room with deep cutouts that made you feel as if you were inside a gigantic violin. And the Entertainment Center for the Shah displayed beautiful period paintings. While depiction of human figures was not allowed, these paintings represented non-Muslims such as Georgians or Indians. Some faces on the paintings were later marred or removed.

Persians enjoy strolling in the world-famous gardens built on the desert oasis and along the Zayandeh River. Sadly, the river is dammed to provide water to Yasd and farmers in the desert and as a result it runs dry. The Khaju Bridge that originally spanned the river is used as a leisurely stroll for Isfahanians. Local singers gather under the bridge to spar with other talented folk opera afficinados.  Here’s a short video of one of the talented regulars:

While I normally focus on historic architecture and museum artwork, this trip has engaged me in taking more photos of people in the streets. I have not been shy about asking for posed photos of strangers, because they are universally handsome and graceful in their poses and demeanor. You can’t help but want to capture some of this spirit that delights visitors to Iran and endears you to the people.

Shimmering Shiraz and Perceptions of Persepolis

Tehran

After a few days of jet lag, weather changes, and internet hell, we resparked our curiosity and thirst for the unknown. We visited museums, mosques, and even a madrassah, but no mausoleums yet. The last three m’s were the order of the day for Islamic architecture during my visit to Uzbekistan, but there no indications of that being the same here.

At the Golestan Palace in Tehran, a World Heritage Site, the pre-Pahlavi royalty (within the last 150 years) displayed their wealth and were over-the-top ornate. Most of the public rooms including the ceilings were covered with intricate mirror mosaics and made you feel like you were inside the Hope Diamond.

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Interior with Mirrored Ceilings

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The exteriors demonstrated the integration of gardens and fountains that are
famous in Iranian architecture and design, as well as the intricate mosaic work and marble carving on doors and walls.

The National Museum of Iran contained some of the most precious relics of the ancient world. The statue of Darius I (Xerxes I, from which an opera is based!)  and a panel from the Achaemenid Period in Persepolis are shown below. For those interested, you can scale up the text included in the adjacent photos.

The bazaars in both Tehran and Shiraz contained endless boutiques in a Walmart-sized atmosphere with limited and inexpensive goods from copperware to aromatic spices.

Shiraz

We bonded with our local guide from Shiraz after he passionately described Iran’s native son and poet, Hafez. His elegant poems are beloved by all Iranians and transcend cultures. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Goethe were known to quote his poetry. It was enough for me to determine to read some when I get home.

As we stood in the garden of the tomb of Hafez, Abdullah, our guide, explained that Shiraz is known for its wine, women, and roses. Many of us will recognize the famous wine namesake that comes from this region.

In the evening light, Abdullah pointed out the abundance of young couples strolling in the park, with flowers intoxicating the warm breezes. Knowing a little or a lot about the poetry of Hafez is enough to start amiable conversations and the start of a promising relationship, Abdullah surmises (maybe from experience?)

While Abdullah waxed poetic, we observed that families were out selfying just like any other society, enjoying a delicious evening, and lingering among crowds of friendly visitors.

There seems to be tremendous respect for fellow humans in Iran. So far, we have found the urban environment remarkably quiet. We stayed on busy streets in two cities and found the traffic unusually quiet. Being highly sensitive to noise, I am finding the calm, lack of noise shattering to my ears.

People glide about the streets, smiling at one another with eyes and lips, and salaam each other without exception. I’m not sure our guide has coopted us, but we sense the immense pride and confidence in the people.

Persepolis:

Just outside of Shiraz, on a wide open plain, lies the ceremonial center of Darius. Before him, Cyrus the Great created and led an impressive empire. The wooden ceilings of buildings and both palaces of Darius and his son built around 518 BC were later razed to the ground by Alexander the Great (around 330 BC), but the massive stone structures with priceless carvings remain.

After just having seen the great empires of Rome, Greece, Inca at Macchu Picchu and Aztec in Teotihuacan, it’s hard not to be impressed by the volume and quality of artwork in situ at Persepolis. We could not believe how much of its splendor is still present for the whole world to appreciate.

Were it not from my earliest art history lessons on ancient civilizations and curiosity on its context and meaning, I would not have made this trip.

Everything begins to fall into place, as the pieces of the puzzle assemble. My scant preparation for this trip, thanks to Francopan’s Silk Roads, a New History of the World, captures the whirlwind tour through the rise and fall of Eurasian civilizations. Iran, and more fondly, Persia by the same name, stands prominently at the helm of the Silk Road.

The artwork at Persepolis chronicles the peaceful arrival and acceptance of the local inhabitants to the new ruler. Darius followed shortly after Cyrus (within 40 years), and while not a direct descendant, they were related. Although the local Medians were conquered by Cyrus and the Archimineads, he managed a peaceful settlement and was respected for his accomplishments as a capable ruler. Darius culminated the dynastic rule with his grandiose and impressive complex at Persepolis.

Within the ceremonial entrance and grand reception areas are magnificent stone reliefs of warriors supporting the king on his throne. Rows of roundheaded conquerees alternating with the conquerors proceed to meet the king, hand in hand. Offerings from 23 nations include food, treasures and animals from surrounding areas and those as far as India.

Other friezes demonstrate the high quality of craftsmanship that preceded the Greek and Roman periods revered in history. In a splendid exemplary frieze, a bull and cow signify the end and beginning of the new year.

The symbolic meanings of birds, rings and flowers stem from the ancient monotheistic Zoroastrian and Mithras religions. They did not have a concept of God as a human, but that he lies within each of us.

Individually the symbolism of the characters presented are less significant than the collective splendor of the human mind that is left behind for all of us living creatures today to ponder.

(This post is now formatted as intended. It was created on April 17, 2018 and edited April 22, 2018).

Nippy in NewYork

Coming to New York in the middle of the winter sounds like a crazy thing to do, but we did. It started as a nippy 18 degrees in New York, but so far it didn’t deter any plans or ability to walk outdoors. In fact, the noticeably fewer tourists, being able to get into restaurants and museums easily, and bargain hotel rates were all incentives for risking unpredictable weather. I came with my sister to show her all my favorite sights that include the Highline, the Mighty Mets (Metopera and the Metropolitan Museum) and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

We power-walked the first morning from Midtown Manhattan and bee-lined down Third Avenue to Balthazar (shown on previous posts) for a brisk three-mile stretch, then made a quick stop to see the 911 Memorial. The fountain, a bottomless pit, was a sobering reminder of that fateful day that changed America and the world forever.

The new highrise developments in the area are stunningly beautiful, including Calatrava’s Transportation Center (also in header above). We headed over to the Highline afterwards for another short walk from 23rd to 34th Streets. Being able to walk everywhere is heaven, and staying in Midtown Manhattan makes everything all the more accessible. We clocked an average of 5-7 miles per day, so felt alert and energized.

My dear friends Lisa and Dick, who have been residents of NYC for over 35 years were ready to assist with event planning.  We started with dinner at Le Bateau Ivre downstairs from the Pod Hotel, tasted wine from the Chef & Sommelier glassware they brought to show us, then met the next evening for opera. Lisa was a bit skeptical of long, drawn-out operas that last well into the night, but the two short, hour-long verismo operas Cavallera Rusticana and Pagliacci were perfect to convince her that opera is a worthy investment.  The music is among some of the most beautiful in opera, so there wasn’t much convincing to do.

Starring Roberto Alagna in both operas, they were emotionally satisfying and the music was glorious. His performance was bright and powerful.  The story about a vaudeville troupe is a play within a play. Canio, the clown, whose wife is in love with another man, must perform his comedy act for the audience even though he is heartbroken inside. In an interview with Roberto Alagna, he commented on how relevant the story is to opera performers, but how unique it was to be sharing the lead roles with his real-life wife, Aleksandra Kurdak. (She played Nedda, Canio’s wife).

Later in the short week, we were also treated to a performance by the New York City Ballet. This time it was my turn to experience and appreciate dance through the joy of physicality combined with artistic talent.IMG_1537

In addition to Balthazar and Ess-a-Bagel, our dining events include Bar Boulud and the Smith (both conveniently next to Lincoln Center), and Pastrami Queen at 1125 Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Some creative soups at the MOMA cafe filled both our eyes and appetites.

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When you can park yourself at one of New York’s best kept secrets–the Pod Hotel (at 230 E. 51st Street, between 2nd and Third Avenues) for $75 a night for two in bunk beds with a shared bath down the hall, mingle with international visitors of all ages, and spare the rest for all the food and entertainment in the Big Apple–what’s not to like? I normally do not mention hotels in my posts, but for variety and voracious urban consumers like me, this is it. Originally called the Pickwick Arms, we’ve stayed in this location in NYC off and on for over 30 years. To top it off, the Pod serves Ess-a-Bagels and Balthazar almond croissants in their cafe!!

The extensive Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of Michelangelo’s Drawings, culled from over 23 sources throughout the world, was my primary purpose in coming to New York City. The private tour I took will follow in a separate post.

…On State Street, that Great Street, I Just Want to Say…

A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.

Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:

Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
http://archi.ocean-site.com/bamboo.html

And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:

An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:

Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):

Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.

Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:

The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:

Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.

At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.

He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.

The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.

At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening  the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.

In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.

Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago  achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.

My Kind of Town, Obama Town

A few days before coming to Chicago, I listened to a few of the Obama Foundation Summit live stream broadcasts by young upcoming community activists. As a reminder, Obama began his career here in this city. His legacy is present and inspires a whole new generation of future leaders, not only in Chicago, but throughout the world. He is committed to helping communities lift themselves through positive shared efforts.

One of the great achievements is the community created by sculptor, artist, and entrepreneur Theaster Gates. He purchased a neglected bank building in South Chicago from the city for $1. He raised money and developed the Stony Island Arts Bank, a library, media archive and community center for Rebuild’s archives and collections. He used recycled materials from other sites as well as those in the building. Members of the community come to this center to preserve, access, reimagine, and share their heritage. See photos of the center below.

An early morning visit to the University of Chicago campus enabled us to get a bonus tour of the Robie House on campus. Originally for a wealthy patron, this residence was also used by UIC students. It has finally been restored to its residential charm and glory (see captions).

Sandwiched in between Downtown Chicago and UIC is the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the strictly Modernist approach for the campus buildings was stiflingly evident.

Little seemed out of place in Crown Hall, the Architectural Building (see the lobby chairs), except for the people and the architectural work underway. The huge open space predates current “collaboration space”. The vacuous interior without walls masked unwanted noise brilliantly. Julianne and I wondered how we would have survived an architectural training in what seemed like such a limiting environment.

The Student Services Center was the counterpoint to the collection of Miesian buildings on the IIT campus. Designed by OMA in Rotterdam, the firm broke all the International-style rules (thanks to recommendations and commentary support from architect/daughter).

And finally, we made it back to the Chicago Cultural Center to see displays of models, drawings, and photographs of numerous architectural projects throughout the world. A few that caught my attention were:

“A Room of One’s Own”–Sketches of Rooms of Famous People

Models of Architectural Houses

And Miscellany:

Whimsical Plays on Skyscrapers by a Belgian Photographer cum Architect

Random shots of Millenium Park, the Bean, and City skyline

I can safely say that I satisfied my architectural curiosity today. I even paid attention to what I saw this time.

Reflections of a World-Class City

Arriving in Chicago in the rain did not daunt our spirits in this wholesome, energetic and magnificent city. I continue to marvel at the clean lines of the high-rises, the prominence and respect for each building as they stand proudly on each piece of property, and the intriguing entryways and lobbies at the ground floor as they beckon you.  As soon as we were able to check into the hotel, we hit the pavement and powered our way down past Millennium Park to the Chicago Cultural Center to orient ourselves to the host of activities connected to the Architectural Biennale.

Following the tracks of the Venice Biennale, this bi-annual event in Chicago showcases exhibitions from architectural firms around the world. Sadly, San Francisco is not only poorly represented, but not represented at all! Many of the exhibitions are from firms that seek international recognition. More about the presentations and activities will follow in the next few days.

We bypassed Happy Hour at Joy District, free pizza at 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, and chicken wings at Hooters and decided to take advantage of the late hours on Thursdays at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a decision! The museum is only a short walk from the Cultural Center past the Bean to the new Piano and Rogers’ wing.

These representative paintings somehow made me think about our presence in Chicago.  Can you recognize the work of one of my favorite artists (shown in an entire room dedicated to him)?

Or these ridiculously signature paintings sitting modestly in galleries waiting to be identified?

And these works that are a joy to see?

Finally, a few miscellaneous shots (see captions by clicking on photos)

After an inspiring and entertaining evening in the contemporary, modern, impressionist and architectural galleries to satiate our minds, we hoofed it over to Eataly for big pasta paparadelle and linguine mit vino to fill our bellies.

*Works shown: Gerhard Richter (series); Rainy Day in Paris by Caillebote (1877); Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte by Seurat (1884-86); Giacometti sculptures, Portraits/Painting by Miro, Renoir, and Picasso.

Try to Remember…

When was the last time you were in San Francisco in September with the temperature over 100 degrees?  With the advent of Labor Day and subsequent heat waves, San Francisco experienced record temperatures (over 106 degrees reported downtown??). The freak weather sparked a lot of unusual behavior–like packed parks with… what!?! people in them (See featured sketch above, at noon on 9/5/17 at the 100 First Street roof terrace).

Girls flung their normally conservative city modesty to the winds and were wearing skin-tight and flimsy almost see-through dresses. And surfers surfing at Ocean Beach without wetsuits!?! It must be an indication of the positive effect that weather has on our foggy Bay Area brains–and that we’re actually and finally capable of adaptation!

The Fall Semester has also descended. I finally consolidated my myriad choices for classes. As always, I pick more things from the buffet line than I can eat. San Francisco’s City College is free for residents starting this year, so I can gluttonize myself even more. I decided to forego the German classes this term. Instead, I opted for a purely hedonistic art and music program. I am continuing my figure drawing classes with the fantastic Ms. Diane Olivier. You may remember her from my incredible Moroccan sketching adventure in June. She continues to teach at the Fort Mason site where all the lifelong art students congregate.

As part of our class assignment in Art, we are expected to sketch daily. One of the better ways I accomplish this is joining Meet-ups for Sketchers. We draw in various parts of the city (Nob Hill, office buildings, events in the Park, etc). There seems to be a spontaneous combustion of happenings thanks to the internet. I can join several in one week if I choose to.  There are similar meet-ups worldwide, so I am really excited about these prospects in the future. Sketching outdoors has been great art therapy for me and a memorable way to view and record the city other than with a camera. Click on images below for captions.

Places

I’m making my ginger foray into Music in two directions. First, I toyed with both introductory piano and violin. Yes, I took lessons many years ago and only enough to allow me to play in solitary confinement. The incentive for the piano class was a fleet of brand-new digital Yamaha pianos.

I decided to forego the equipment upgrade and a cast of 20+ students for a beginning violin class of only 15 students (20-15=5x more attention from the instructor). My old violin that had been left unattended for decades was finally in the money again. You can imagine the delight from the poor violin’s standpoint.  It was dripping with sound from its inner belly and oozing through the curly-que slits to the world.  I could barely remember how to tighten the bow and prep it with rosin. Forget tuning and blowing up the rest pad–I had to rely on the instructor’s help for both.

Second, my next musical class is about music awareness.  We will learn more about opera using Elektra, Turandot, and La Traviata from the San Francisco Opera season. We have access to orchestra seats for $35! This is almost as good as being a Goethe Institute student in Berlin. I thought this class would be a pushover until I had to write two papers. I discovered that I had no music theory, background, or ability to explain anything in proper musical terms. Hopefully this class will improve my musical awareness!!

People

Last but not least…Emperor Norton found in the stacks of the Mechanics Library in Downtown San Francisco…during a treasure hunt. You can join the private library for a nominal fee with access to many up and coming books and their authors.

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In a couple of weeks, I plan to travel to Peru and Chile.  I’ll be visiting Macchu Picchu and Easter Island. Please join me for a bit of fun and adventure! As usual, my focus will be on art, architecture, anthropology, and food!  If you want to opt out of email notifications, you can change your settings in WordPress. Until then…