The former TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport is a significant example of 20th-Century modern architecture and engineering. A masterpiece of sinuous lines actualized out of poured concrete, it was designed by the mid-century modernist Eero Saarinen. Opened in 1962 it was the final terminal built at what was then called New York International Airport, as well as one of Saarinen’s last projects. Revolutionary and influential, it was Saarinen’s intention that the terminal express the excitement of travel and “reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.” Fifty years after the fact it remains as exciting and forward-looking as ever. And dare I say it, soignee. When was the last time an airport – or any public building for that matter – made you feel sexy? Saarinen’s building does just that, while sweeping you up in the promise and possibility of a future that, unfortunately, never quite came to pass. After laying dormant for over a decade, it was recently announced that the terminal would be developed into a luxury hotel. Thanks to Open House New York, yesterday was one of those last-chance opportunities to experience the building in full – before getting caught up in the inevitable tide of transition.
Architect Norman Foster’s Viaduc de Millau is the tallest bridge in the world, with the summit of its highest mast towering 1,125 ft above the base – making it the tallest structure in all of France. A cable-stayed bridge – meaning cables attached to pylons support the roadway – it spans the valley of the River Tam for one and a half miles along a road deck 900 ft above the ground. Ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time, it’s exhilarating to drive across. And yet the true magnitude of the achievement only becomes clear at a distance: joining two massive geological plateaus together.
In the middle of Athens, nestled under the Acropolis, is the ancient agora, once the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. Later, it would also serve as a marketplace, where merchantsÂ wouldÂ set up their stalls in the colonnades of long, covered buildings called stoa. Â (The Romans would go on to call this conglomeration a forum; we would call it a mall.) A large open area surrounded byÂ buildingsÂ of various functions, the agora was a daily part of public life in Athens, whether you were coming to shop, pay homage to a particular god, visit the law courts, use the library, or even go swimming in the great bathhouse. Laying mostly in ruins today, the agora has the feel of an overgrown park or an English country estate. (I can’t help but think of Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale PriceÂ and the Romantic notions of picturesqueÂ landscape architecture, constructed in imitation of wild nature, which was once in fashion and stillÂ survives in the gardens at many a stately British home.) Yet onÂ theÂ top of Agoraios Kolonas hill, keeping watch onÂ theÂ northwest side of the square is perched the Temple of Hephaestus, a well-preserved temple that remains largely as it was built. Like a Parthenon in miniature, it presents a serene sense of what this all must have looked like in the full-flower of antiquity.
The interesting thing about traveling with a youngster is that they don’t necessarily see things in the same way. For instance, you might want to talk about the architectural tricks employed by the ancients to give the Parthenon the appearance of being perfectly symmetrical, while they want to talk about why there seems to be so many stray dogs lying around the monuments, or how cool a particular piece of rock looks, or a line of ants. It’s a learning curve.
Louis I.Â Kahn is widely considered one of the masters of 20th century architecture. Infusing the International-style with a poetic humanism his monumental, often monolithic, works respond to a human scaleÂ withoutÂ hiding their weight, their materials, or even the manner in which they are assembled. They are not so muchÂ theÂ work of a builder, as a philosopher. When Kahn was found dead of a heart attack inside the men’s restroom at New York’s Penn Station in 1974, his briefcase containedÂ theÂ completed renderings for a memorial toÂ Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Four Freedoms Park, so named for the wartime speech in which the President lookedÂ forward to a world founded on four human freedoms – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear – would remain, like many of Kahn’s controversial proposals, unbuilt. Until now, that is. 38 years after plans for the park were first announced, the daunting project has been realized at the tip of Roosevelt Island, honoring the man who guided the nation through the Depression, the New Deal and a world war. It can’t help but be a de facto memorial to its author, too: an open room and garden at the bottom of the island, framing the United Nations and the Manhattan skyline. AllÃ©esÂ of linden trees on either side define the green spaceÂ andÂ highlight the triangular shape of the site,Â emphasizingÂ the feeling of a ships prow and forcing a perspective that draws focus to a colossal head of FDR at the threshold of the water. It’s magisterial in its simplicity, like a roofless version of a Greek temple. Unfortunately nobody has seemed to give any thought as to what visitors might actually do at the memorial. After a pleasant promenade there is little incentive to linger.Â The site abuts the ruins of New York City’s abandoned smallpox hospital; above that there is a nursing facility fallen into disrepair. If the powers behind the memorial don’t discover a way to synthesize the project with the surrounding island it might very well suffer the epithet Five Freedoms, due to a freedom from visitors.
More than just temple ruins,Â Angkor is in fact an entire region of Cambodia, which served as the seat of the Khmer Empire. Flourishing from the 9th to 15th centuries it was the largest preindustrial city in the world, with anÂ elaborateÂ infrastructure connecting a sprawl of almost 400 square miles to the well-known temples at its core. Those temples, buried amid forests and farmlands, number over a thousand – from piles of brick rubble unearthed in rice paddies to the magnificently restored Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Followers of this blog will note the similarities Angkor Wat shares in design – if not scale – withÂ Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya. Both follow the basic plans of Khmer architecture: a temple mountain (“Mount Meru”) bounded by raised rectangular galleries, all within a moat and an outer wall – and all richly ornamented with decorative elements and statuary. Built in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor WatÂ is even more unusual in that although the site was neglected it has never been completely abandoned, remaining a significant religious centre throughÂ HinduÂ thenÂ Buddhist kingdoms, colonialism, and civil war – its preservation abetted by the expansive moat which kept theÂ encroachingÂ jungle at bay.
The Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden is experiencing a riot of dazzling spring color as part of the 10th annual Orchid Show, running now through April 22nd.Â French botanist and vertical landscapeÂ artistÂ Patrick Blanc has showcased theÂ seductive plant – along with ferns, epiphytes, and other exotic plants – in gravity-defying displays that fuse horticulture with architecture. Plus there’s the olfactory assault of room after room of fantastically fragrant flowers, too. Orchids, it should be said, are found all over the world. They’ve adapted to survive in a variety of climates and growing conditions. Yet there’sÂ somethingÂ wonderfully anachronistic that comes from realizing you’re in the Â middle of the Bronx surrounded by thousands upon thousands of exotic blooms.
FromÂ theÂ vantage point of Hong Kong island, across theÂ water from the Kowloon mainland,Â the International Commerce Centre tower which houses the new Ritz-CarltonÂ juts out of VictoriaÂ HarborÂ with all theÂ subtletyÂ of a LouboutinÂ stiletto. It’s as imposing as it is incongruous: the world’s fourth-tallest skyscraper stranded in the middle of a barren parcel of reclaimed land called West Kowloon. In a few years it will be the centerpiece of the city’s “cultural quarter,” with high-speed trains linking mainland shoppers to a host of new museums, concert halls and malls all entwined and master planned by Sir Norman Foster. But until then it remains a bit of a desert oasis – at once removed from the surrounding city while still very muchÂ embodyingÂ its ethos – with the Ritz its ultra-stylish sanctuary in the sky.
Hong Kong is a city of skyscrapers – and morning smog. So much so that even this jaded New Yorker finds himself constantly looking up to marvel at the shifting geometry of the skyline. Even better: densely packed, Hong Kong is well aware of its vertical nature so the opportunities to take in the view are a dailyÂ occurrence not limited to the craning necks of tourists.Â From dining out to shopping to commuting (not to mention sleeping) the heights are always on display – once the smog lifts, that is.
The rise of Islam in Arabia and its subsequent spread had a profound and unifying effect on the art and culture of the Arab lands, Turkey, Iran and Central and South Asia. Underpinned by a shared Islamic heritage, each region nevertheless continued to strongly express its artistic individuality. This cultural diversity is made clear – as well as being beautifully displayed – in the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s newly refurbished Islamic galleries. Hidden from view since 2003, many of the works on display were created for dynastic rulers and nobles by workshops in the service of the court. This world is revealed in illustrated literary, poetic, and heroic texts, like the epic Persian Book of Kings or in royal portraits and precious objects for the Ottoman Sultans. Patterns of patronage extended into the worlds of trade, commerce and village life, too; expressed in carpets, ceramics, and quotidian objects rendered as items of exquisite beauty, like the mihrab or prayer niche seen above. Yet the quintessential form of artistic expression in the Islamic world was calligraphy as derived from the holy book, the Qur’an. Lavishly copied in many beautiful scripts, its sacred verses adorned architecture and art everywhere, woven into complex geometric designs, along with floral and vegetable motifs in a variety of scrolling patterns. It has been said that God is in the details. For the artists who toiled anonymously in the service of Islam, that truism was more than just hyperbole; it was the highest form of expression.