Happy Holidays to everyone! Check out this new video from my world travels this year to see if you are included!
Happy Holidays to everyone! Check out this new video from my world travels this year to see if you are included!
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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…
I’ve heard that foreign visitors to the U.S. often yearn to see the wide open spaces that are unique to America, like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. As Americans, we often overlook those magnificent expanses of space that we take for granted in our own back yard.
On a weekend visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we caught some of the excitement over such vistas that seem to go on forever. We spent the first day exploring the mesas and pueblos of the Southwest. Located about an hour northeast of Santa Fe, the Puye Cliffs and area inhabited by the Santa Clara Tribe thrived here between 800 AD until the 16th Century.
The mesas were formed by tuff, or volcanic ash that covered this area (and made fossils out of alot of plants and animals), then eroded over time to form dramatic cliffs. The pueblos are Native American villages dotted throughout numerous reservations in New Mexico. The Santa Clara originally lived in these cliff dwellings and then later, in pueblos. (Click on Photos to see captions).
The kivas, or ceremonial roundhouses in each village, were used for male rites of passage, important decisions, and festivals. When the Spaniards arrived, they burned the kivas and built Catholic cathedrals over the sites.
The cliff dwellers protected themselves from invaders in the caves. Later, they created pueblo dwellings that were two-story structures on open land. The dwellings had no doors, but they used ladders to lower levels of the dwellings from the rooftops. These entries protected residents from invaders.
At our neighbors’ recommendation, we made a special day trip the following day to Ghost Ranch. An hour’s drive north of Santa Fe just beyond the Puye cliff dwellings, Ghost Ranch is a retreat cum camp for writers and artists. The ranch offers weekly programs, seminars and workshops in the high desert.
Georgia O’Keefe’s home is near here, so there’s plenty of creative inspiration and history in this area. The landscape alone is breathtaking, with wide open views of mesas in the distance as far as the eye can see. The ranch is nestled in an oasis with a precious lake nearby.
There are archaeological excavations that date back to the Triassic Period on the ranch. You can even participate in digs. From having taken three Anthro classes in college, I became interested in Anthropology and even contemplated majoring in it.
I immediately fantasized about joining a dig until I saw real-time photos of volunteers in the program, posing on their shovels during a break. The exposed skin on their faces and arms looked as parched as old shoes and as cracked as the pottery shards they were digging up! I decided to relinquish the idea as I was reminded not to forget my nightly skin regimen.
The main purpose of our excursion to Santa Fe, however, was to attend a premiere performance of the opera, the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. It’s the complicated, contemporary, and tragic story of Steve Jobs. While the place names were immediately discernible to those of us living in the Bay Area (Stanford, Cupertino, Los Altos), the story of this one-of-a-kind genius gives everyone a perspective on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.
The Santa Fe Opera was an ideal venue for this premiere, with its dramatic open-air stage, setting, and architecture. Everything was perfect, including the weather, production, and food!
Here’s the final curtain call, with Edward Parks (an international Operalia Competition winner), who played Steve Jobs, the librettist Mark Campbell, and composer Mason Bates. (apologies for the overlighting).
This production was sponsored by the San Francisco, Seattle, and Santa Fe Operas. When you get a chance, see it, or check it out here:
Back in Santa Fe, art is ubiquitous and a reminder that beauty can, and should be everywhere. There are art galleries galore and tourist shops selling turquoise, carpets and pottery to numb the mind, but if you look beyond those, there are many treasures outdoors to be found. Here are a few examples of fanciful sculpture and mindful landscaping that you will encounter on a walk through town. (BTW, you can see more artwork from the Day 77-78 stop in Santa Fe from my October 2015 Amtrak trip).
Turquoise and terra cotta are the trademarks that define the American Southwest. They even use this palette to paint the overpasses along freeways so you always know where you are. As our weekend wound down, I managed to capture the mood, signature colors, and the remains of the day at the Albuquerque Airport.
Happy Celebrations to Pam C., Pam C., Karen M., and Jens U-B!!
Like in Hong Kong, searching for old remains in Guangzhou has been puzzling. Many of the vestiges of the arcaded colonial city have been erased and replaced by newer, taller buildings. We headed to the area where Gee Kin’s relatives live, and what used to be the West Gate. It has been subsumed by modern development and is now considered part of the inner city.
Yet activity in the area carries on like it did a hundred years ago or before. You see both men and women pushing or pulling hand carts along the road, scurrying and balancing the goods adeptly and efficiently at a pace more like a gallop than a prance. I watched for awhile in fascination, as social consciousness doesn’t seem to inhibit delivering goods this way and better, faster, cheaper.
The neighborhood shops may seem mundane to tourists, but the local market economy appeared to fully support the array (mixed used at its fullest: nuts and bolts fabricators next door to pastry shops, electrical repair next to fast food–you get the drift) of products and services offered.
Each shop relies on street for light and ventilation. That gave me plenty opportunity to poke my curious and annoying head inside. For some reason this reminded me of Amsterdam’s red light district. The curtainless windows of the Dutch tidy “shops” openly invited customers to have a peak just like these shops in West Gate (Ximen Kou) did.
Shop assistants check their WeChat accounts frequently in between serving customers. You get a distinct impression that it’s not a bad system for the full employment act, even if the shopkeepers are bored and inattentive at times. The use of cell phones to combat boredom is nothing new throughout the world, but it’s remarkable if you look at the regularity and density of shopkeepers with cell phones staked in this area.
Earlier in the week, we visited one of my star architecture students who now lives and works in his home town of Guangzhou. Lam is a talented designer who is a partner in his own firm. It has been furiously designing shopping malls and theme parks all over China.
Lam’s “industrial chic” office could outdo any firm in the States as a showcase for innovative design. The office contains an experimental kitchen and full pig roaster. Rest and eating areas, conference rooms, and a library are all available to staff. The work areas are divided into manageable rooms or suites and therefore do not follow the pattern of open office design of most architectural firms. Large murals depicting the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty is provided by one of the partners.
As part of continuing research on my family’s history, I asked our friend Susan to accompany us to various institutions throughout the city. The new Guangzhou Book Store is one of the largest in the country. It was filled with floors of books and periodicals scattered between boutiques for Chinese calligraphy brushes and inkstands, tea ware, and books for sale.
Our second stop at the also new Guangzhou Library was another fascinating glimpse into the future of Guangzhou. With such excellent facilities, the hearts and minds of the students and researchers are captured. The north west reference room at the top where we were directed contained scholar’s rosewood furniture and fretwork screens. It was a noble nod to China’s classical examination system and its history and dedication to education.
Everywhere throughout China, you feel that it is a country on the move. There isn’t much time to stop and reflect on the speed and delivery of everything, from data to food to train tickets (they arrived at our hotel as promised). It’s exciting to witness, explore, and engage in the collective spirit.
Returning to Hong Kong has a romantic flair to it, as this is the city where Gee Kin and I met. I was a young architect starting in the profession, and Gee Kin was reinitiating his career as a structural engineer. There’s no doubt we were impressed with each other, particularly with our mutual sense of humor. While our relationship developed slowly by today’s standards, it gave us sufficient time to think about who we were and whether we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together or not. It must have worked, because we are still together over 35 years later.
Shortly after arrival in Hong Kong we encountered a typhoon. Known as Merbok, it was the first of the year. Everyone scurried to get groceries and head home at the end of the day. It was quiet and the streets were dead empty by early evening. It felt like Chinese New Year’s but without the festive atmosphere where shops are closed and everyone is at home with family celebrating.
After a couple of days of torrential rain, I was able to head outdoors. My first exploration was to the art studio downstairs, where I learned how to copy a Chinese flower pattern and paint with watercolors for the first time ever. It reminded me of second daughter Julianne’s brush painting from her high school days. I felt a bit awkward at painting in water colors, but the instructor was very kind and explained everything very clearly in Cantonese. It gave me a chance to reuse the lively language I learned while living in Hong Kong.
We decided to visit Fulham Garden in Pokfulam, where I lived when I worked for Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway. It wasn’t far from Central, but I had trouble remembering where the bus stop was located. The buildings are taller and there are more of them. Fortunately, there are still pockets that reflect and preserve old Hong Kong. After a quick look, we walked back to Central.
There are public parks such as Blake Garden tucked into the hillside, as well as many of Hong Kong’s prestigious private and parochial schools. The narrow roads provide relief for old banyan trees that have lived there for centuries. They cling to sides of walls like stubborn old centurions and continue to gasp for air and suck water.
Many new trendy boutiques and cafes line the pockets above Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan. These shops are dotted throughout the area where we are staying and are immersed between many staircases such as Ladder Street and the escalators that ascend from Central to Midlevels. The manual stairs are not as nice as our tiled steps in Golden Gate Heights, but purposeful. Finally, we scaled our Air BNB in the five-level walk-up after plenty of exercise on the hilly side streets.
Arrival in the big Kahuna was a bit anticlimactic, after five flights and stopping over in five cities. A bit crazy, but that’s the routing life of free travel. From Marrakesh Airport, a lovely new facility, I flew back to Frankfurt via Geneva and Zurich. I managed to buy a stock of Sprungli Truffes du Jour for Gee Kin. Unfortunately, in a moment of weakness, I bought a gigantic bottle of Argan Oil before leaving Marrakesh that was confiscated because it exceeded the 2 oz. liquid limitation.
After an overnight stay at the Frankfurt Airport, I flew to Hong Kong via Beijing. A combination of mishaps made the journey less than ideal. My tax-free refund was denied at the Frankfurt Airport due to insufficient documentation. Then Beijing Security delayed me due to the same stupid portable charger that got me into trouble at the US Embassy last month. I ran like the dickens to catch the flight to Hong Kong with only an hour between flights. That included going through Security in Beijing twice–once out, once in again. It was enough drama to remind me that my heart beats within me.
Give Me Your Tired Passengers, Your Bored, Your Hungry
Aside from my luggage being delayed due to Customs inspection scheduled in Beijing rather than in Hong Kong (how was all that supposed to happen in an hour!?!) and a Typhoon Signal #8 in Hong Kong, everything here has been great! After husband Gee Kin joined me on the back end of my travels, we decided to slow live and let the weather dictate our actions. Not all goes smoothly all of the time, so this has been the R&R (Revise and Resubmit) weekend for me. OK, not exactly a MAGIC carpet, but it was a carpet.
Man Mo Temple
Despite the stiflingly oppressive heat and the onset of Tropical Storm Merbok, I did manage to keep up my daily drawing activity. Living in an Air BNB near the Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, I drew the temple from a couple of different angles and Ladder Street. Like San Francisco, Hong Kong uses staircases up and down its hilly slopes, only more so.
This area is also part of a burgeoning art scene. The gallery downstairs offers drawing classes at $300HK for two hours, and I was tempted to participate. Huge murals throughout Sheung Wan and on the side of the building where we are staying add to the street art in Hong Kong.
The ex-pat community is alive and well, and it looks like Lan Kwai Fong has spilled over into the Hollywood Road Antique area with a rash of foreign culture and food spots like Fusion Supermarkets, Classified Wine and Cheese, and Congee and Milk Tea sets.
It’s been a bit overwhelming to see the huge cultural shift to update the dining experiences in Hong Kong. In addition to infinite choices for traditional Chinese food that offer every Chinese provincial and regional cooking, you can frustrate yourself by deciding whether to sink into the bowels of Western food and desires. Life has always been a multitude of contradictions in Hong Kong, and food is no exception.
After coming down the hill from the Sun Yet Sen Museum, we re-discovered the series of free escalators half-way up a steep incline of Hong Kong Island. It serves as a clever conveyor belt and painless way to scale a mountain. It bustles at lunchtime, when we used it, to navigate a hillside with virtually zero calorie bust. It was even more impressive as we lived in the area it serves. It was more than just a superficial touristic attraction but a necessity. This system preceded the High Line in New York City, but certainly it has the same innovative spark and delight for residents and tourists alike.
To Build or Not to Build?
I’m reminded, after living in this city for seven years out of graduate school, that only 15% of the land is buildable. If you compare the high density living for 6-7 million people as positive space next to the negative or open space, the relative value of open area is immense. That creates some of the awe and beauty of Hong Kong that make a spectacular setting for human existence.
There are hiking trails that one would never expect from such a highly urban environment. Our daughter Melissa was pleasantly surprised when she visited here earlier this year. You can take excursions to the multitude of outlying islands, go to the Beach at Shek-o, or hike to the Peak. The New Territories offer even more camping and backpacking opportunities. Hong Kong is not just about shopping. However, foodwise, it’s just about FOOD…and rightly so. There ain’t nothing like it anywhere but here.
Fallout of Typhoon Merbok
More adventures later about Hong Kong and after the typhoon signal is removed…and Guangzhou to come.
Addendum: speaking of magic carpets, here’s one of the two Berber carpets I bought in Essaouira:
When we were ferried out in a bus to the flight to Marrakesh at the Frankfurt Airport, I already sensed that the trip was not going to be a run-of-the-mill commuter. Instead, we ended up outside a hangar where planes were being repaired, and the lone plane outside looked as if it had been grounded for bad behavior. The airport stretched for miles as far as the eye could see, between the Baltic and the Alps. I never realized that an airport could be THAT big, but Frankfurt was, like all German things, serious business.
We took off and landed three hours later to an another immense airport. The new Menara Airport, next to its old one, was so vast and empty that you wondered if they hadn’t put several square miles of the three largest airports in the world together and renamed it Menara. It was indeed a beautiful architectural masterpiece. Hopefully by a local architect. Regardless, it was impressive and ready to compete with Hong Kong, Paris or New York for tourists.
If you are in interesting places, it won’t be surprising to find that you are in a UNESCO world site without knowing it. That’s what happened here. Without trying, I discovered that the Medina of Marrakesh is indeed on the list. The history, the Islamic significant buildings (madrassas, mausoleums and mosques) and souks, or markets, all contribute to its status.
On an initial walk around the neighborhood of the hotel where we stayed, here were a few of the sights and sounds:
The Madrassah Ben Yousef was one of the earliest institutions of higher learning established in Marrakesh, where the doctors, lawyers and mullahs were trained.
The guilds within the market area preserve traditional crafts such as tanning, carpet weaving, metalwork, woodwork, and making argan oil and other pharmaceuticals for remedies.
The doorways are significant entry points through walls and into private spaces. Beautiful courtyards lie beyond reach for the public pedestrian. My guide explained, that after you arrive at someone’s home, you announce your presence. If they do not answer, you are never allowed to enter beyond the doorway, even if the place is accessible. That would be considered a breach of trust.
After a walk around the neighborhood on my own and a guided tour of the souk (market area later in the morning, I participated in a hands-on cooking class at the Clock Restaurant all afternoon. Its famous camel burger was on the menu, but we learned how to make tame versions of traditional dishes that included harisa soup, chicken tagine, eggplant caviar, and biscuits with dates.
And the Chef de Cuisine:
At the end of a very busy day, I could escape to my suite in the historic Riad Dar Mouassine (also photo featured above)
Tomorrow: On to the Drawing Boards!!!