abbaye de valmagne

IMG_2611The magnificent Abbaye de Valmagne in Montagnac, founded in 1139, is one of the most well-preserved in France. Unusual in that though it was home to just a small handful of monks, the church and accompanying cloister are massive, having been inspired by the great cathedrals of Northern France. As with all good ruins it went from prominence to obscurity in just a few short centuries. Eventually it was confiscated by the government and sold into private hands. Having been looted and abandoned the empty church made the perfect 18th century wine cellar for a Mr. Granier-Joyeuse. Ironically it was the wine that ultimately saved the structure, providing support to the interior walls until proper buttresses could be added to the exterior. To this day the abbey remains in private hands, focusing its efforts on organic gardening and in a nod to monks, brewing small batch beer.

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monastery of st. jeronimos

Chosen as the royal pantheon by King Manuel I and financed by the fabulous wealth that came from trade with India, the monumental Jeronimos Monastery is a brilliant synthesis of late-Gothic and early Renaissance styles.  (You’ve heard me talk about Manueline architecture and design earlier. In this building it reaches its apotheosis)  Begun in 1501, it’s also an example of unquestionable technical mastery; especially in the elegant and bold ribbed dome that covers the entire church and the graceful double arches and extravagantly carved columns of the interior cloister. Standing at the entrance to Lisbon harbor in Belem, the monastery is a testament to Portugal’s continued belief in the Age of Exploration.  Inside the main door of the church is another manifestation of that faith: the tomb of Vasco da Gama.

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we bring good things to life

Everybody knows the General Electric Building, the iconic structure that stands as a towering focal point of the Rockefeller Center building complex.  (Or at least everybody thinks they do)  Yet the other night while skyline-gazing on the magnificent rooftop of The Palace I discovered what turns out to be the original G.E. building – one of the most impressive examples of Byzantine-influenced Art Deco in the city – just a few short blocks  away to the east.

It was easy to get distracted by the southern view, which captured both the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in one sweeping panorama.  However, looking to the east I quickly became enamored of the tall building on the corner of 51st and Lexington with Art Deco detailing in a warm rosy granite and an astounding Gothic latticework roof of carytids and sunbursts.  Thanks to the wonders of iPhone, I learned the 1931 skyscraper was first the home of RCA Victor, before becoming the General Electric Building.

Tucked in and behind St. Bart’s church, which fronts Park Avenue, the tower serves as an almost unofficial campanile, complementing the warm color of the church’s stonework while rising high above it.  It’s an unusual move for a commercial building and a very early example of contextual design.  And though by today’s standards the lobby would be considered small and sedate, there is a refined beauty in the details of  intricately vaulted ceilings and polished pink marble walls.

Even the subway entrance outside the building has a flash of Deco extravagance. Plus, notice the attention to detail afforded the glass lighting fixtures  along the perimeter.  Occupying such a small plot of land, the slim tower is adorned with a quantity of decorative detail that belies the building’s significance – which makes it the very quintessence of civic romance.

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