A Deviation, but Worth It


I usually write about great spaces and why they make us feel better about ourselves, give us encouragement and inspiration, and all around help us. However, just recently a friend shared with me an art form, which was completely new to me. It is called Kintsugi, a Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery with a bonding gold lacquer. The intent is to preserve the form, while telling its story.

By profession I am an architect that primarily remodels existing houses. Kintsugi spoke to me. This is what I try to do for my clients’ houses. Maybe I don’t add gold lacquer, but I certainly pour into the structure a story that will make sense for the owner and give the house dignity and value. I see the analogy of gold lines running through the piece, binding it together, making it useful; just like restoring a house to a home. This is what an architect brings.

5. ext front deck

The World on One Boulvard

I was fortunate to attend the World Expo in Milan, Italy this past summer. I highly recommend this experience, especially for architects. Where else can you see cutting edge architecture from around the world in one place?

World Expos occur every five years. Shanghai hosted Expo 2010 and Dubai will be the future host of Expo 2020. Participating countries may design and construct a pavilion to hold themed country displays. The architecture of each pavilion is usually cutting edge modern and sometimes depicts cultural influences. For instance, the Turkey pavilion used mosaic tiles in a traditional way in a modern garden. The Ecuador pavilion used colored chains hanging like a textured woven cloth in a new innovative façade application. These structures are temporary, so experimentation is encouraged. Great space happens with the juxtaposition of different materials, shapes and uses.

In this case, a picture definitely says a thousand words – a thousand great spaces.




Breathing New Life into Spaces

20150825_113240         20150825_113250

It is interesting to think of city as picture frame; its architectural elements fading to the back ground, only to enhance a piece of art. This is exactly what happens during the Venice Biennale Arte.  Not every piece of art is displayed with its installation surroundings in mind; but for some the unifying of area and art makes great space.

At this past summers Biennale Arte 2015, three pieces impressed me with the character to enliven their spaces. Venice is the perfect spot; it holds much unique and textured architecture. Some of these spaces would be beautiful on their own; yet, the art improves them, drawing us in, and resonating with a new energy.

Xu Bing’s Dragon is a very, large metal sculpture which hangs in an abandoned ship dock. To replace ship with dragon evokes travel; however, this new “ship” is a mythical, magical ride. We want to dream and maybe not unlike the ancient Venetian merchants, whose ships waited here for the next spice run.

Set in a small white pavilion was Chiharu Shiota’s “The Key in Hand.” “Once you step inside the building, you will see two wooden boats, red yarn stretching in every direction as well as an enormous number of keys, each attached to the end of a piece of yarn. The keys were assembled from all over the world for the exhibition. Shiota explain, “keys connect us to each other, boats carry people and time.” By combining and reasoning with the memories that people from all over the world bring to the pavilion, we truly hope that Shiota’s work, and accumulation of various memories, will inspire new dialogues and ideas.”  A simple white box I transformed into another world and the dangling keys remind us to keep unlocking those worlds.

A third piece by Elpida Hadzi-Vaileva is a ball of twine hanging from the ceilings with other various strands radiating and touching each wall and floor. A gauzy canopy echoes the vaulted ceiling space and captures light. The juxtaposition between knot and column amplifies what is permanent with what is temporary.

So what is temporary and beautiful can breathe  newness into space and make it great, if only for a fleeting moment.




Revival – It’s in the Details


San Diego’s Balboa Park is celebrating its centennial this year. In 1915 the Panama California Exposition was  built to attract interest to this small port, the first US stop for ships traveling through the newly constructed Panama Canal. San Diego’s commerce and produce were exhibited in buildings, which glorified San Diego as the “Spanish City on the Hill.” The fair’s lead architect was Bertram Goodhue, who imagined romantic classical Spanish architecture set in plazas and arcaded gardens. San Diego’s climate was ideal for this and ironically, perfect for preserving these temporary buildings enough to be used for an extended year of the fair and again for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.

Today many of these Spanish Colonial Revival structures are preserved and used. Just like one hundred years ago their style is appreciated and fitting for their context.

What does it mean to revive a style? Does it mean that architects copy each other? Or that a current or more modern style is not appropriate? The genius of designing with a revival style is combining modern planning, technology and materials with a proven aesthetic. And it is all in the details.

Goodhue had been to Cuba, Europe and Mexico and studied and sketched beautiful Spanish Colonial churches. (Goodhue was a prolific, beautiful sketch artist). The California Building, now the Museum of Man depicts the massing of a Spanish Colonial church with bell tower, decorated front façade and domed main space; however, it is not an exact replica of any existing church. The massing, proportions and asymmetry fi t the style; but, the building was not a church, but rather an exposition space; was not a bell tower (which never held bells), but rather a beacon at the fair’s entrance.

Besides manipulating the plan to fit the function, Goodhue crafted beautiful details to enhance the building and gave it a unique and modern feel. The Spanish Colonial Style employs ornate relief carvings around doors and windows. Around the main entrance Goodhue designed reliefs showing the bounty of California fruit and vegetable harvests and statues of local important figures, Cabrillo and Serra. These plaster molds are unique and appropriate for the building, yet reminiscent of the carvings of saints and flora on churches. The style is thus pleasing, yet modern. As a knowledgeable architect, he achieved this balance.

Great spaces use these historical reverences with new creativity. So a revival is not a mimicking of style or a splashing of elements on to a façade willy-nilly, but rather is a thoughtful and professional management of architecture.

Goodhue museum of man interior 1  Goodhue museum-of-man  GoodhueConceptual-Drawing-10

Black or White



barcelona pav 3

Recently I heard Professor William Lidwell from the University of Houston lecturer on the meaning of colors. His area of study is in the application of color to design and advertisement. Of particular interest is his discussion of black and white, the most elemental colors.   He said, “the words for black and white exist across all cultures and languages, unlike other colors. And that the evolution of color terms, the words for black and white, are the most ancient, the most elemental. Also, black and white determines the lightness and darkness of other colors. Thus, as colors lighten, they take on more meanings of white, and conversely, as colors darken, they take on meanings of black. Generally, it is the lightness and darkness of colors that carry the stronger meaning, the emotional impact. Therefore, learning the meaning of black and white, darkness and lightness, we learn the meaning of all colors.”

So how does the meaning of black and white make for great spaces?

Lidwell explains that our perception of black and white is much more than social conditioning, that of black being evil and white being noble. This may account for our white civic buildings; capitol buildings and of course, the White House and dungeons and jails, black. However, exploring further black and white sets the high status of products; such as, the Chanel “little black,” dress or the Apple ipad. Perhaps it is because these colors are the most elemental, simplistic and universal, says Professor Lidwell.

It is no coincidence that many architects design in only black and white – Richard Meir’s Getty museum, Gropius’s Bauhaus, le Corbusier’s many houses, and so on. It has been shown that in design black and white increases the perceived value of the object. This may be because that as we age we appreciate the nuances of darker and lighter shades; so the older more sophisticated users of these places dictate the design. Also our primal instinct of the durability of black and white gives timelessness to the design. Great space always has permanence about it, despite the style. It needs to resonate across cultures and ages. It is obvious in many ways. It is black or white.

meis barcelona pavilion 1 gettytajmeis crown hall

San Diego’s Central Library: the Dome

sandiego-library dome

The new central library in my home town just opened.  Rising above San Diego’s skyline is now the library’s ninth floor dome. The dome is one of the most iconic structural shapes. The Romans perfected its engineering to solve the awkward roof juncture of square plan to dome. The Romans employed the dome in many civic structures from senate houses to public baths. Rome declined but the dome next became the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, topping Christian cathedrals and becoming the center piece of many city skylines.

With the use of innovative material domes increased in size. Buckminster Fuller pioneered the geodesic dome, enclosing space with the least amount of materials, as exemplified by the 279-foot in diameter U.S. Pavilion for the Montreal Expo 1967.  With greater height and width the dome intrigues many modern architects, as used in the  new reconstructed Reichstag Building (1999), Berlin by Lord Norman Foster and now San Diego’s Public Library (2013) by Robert Quigley.

There are some precedents for domed libraries. One of the earliest was Radcliffe Library (1737), Oxford by James Gibbs. Here in the United States the dome became the republican symbol, harkening back to its Roman roots, over many American capitol buildings. Our own capitol building (1793) in Washington, D.C. is an example. Thomas Jefferson, in particular, incorporated the dome for his home at Monticello and later on the Library at the University of Virginia (1819).

So why does the dome create great space? First it is a symbol of innovation and aspirations. It stands singularly on a skyline and seems to reach for more. So fittingly it is used for cathedral, mosque, capitol building, and library. Second, the dome encloses space loosely, expanding up and out. It’s contained and protected space, yet allows infinite perspective; thus, a space for lofty ideas.  Who cannot help but always look up?
montreal expo domereichstag dome, berlin

Montreal Expo                                                               Reichstag