Thursday, July 25, 2013

Gothic Architecture: Let There Be (More) Light

Before I dive into Gothic architecture I’d like to say a very warm thank you to Cindy Bogart of The Daily Basics and Lynn McBride of Southern Fried French for the super article on Archi-trouve that appeared this week on The Daily Basics. Cindy’s website covers food, travel, wine, book and culture – all the things we love – and it’s a great, ever-changing resource. Lynn is an American living in Burgundy. Her blog provides a unique look at expat life (with some wonderful recipes) and she has a particular interest in languages. Bruce and I both picked up a few tips from her new book How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain. Check it out on Amazon. Thanks again to both for promoting Archi-trouve.


After our trip to Burgundy this spring I wrote a series of posts on Romanesque architecture, currently my favorite style. (Confession: my favorite architectural style changes every two or three years and has ranged from Greek Revival to Art Nouveau. I think my preference is as much a reflection of where I live physically as where I'm 'at' emotionally.)

But before I came to appreciate the subtleties of Romanesque I loved Gothic architecture for its dramatic, light-filled spaces.  I even spent a hellish year in a doctoral program at the University of Florida so I could understand the structural and architectural innovations that produced some of the most spectacular buildings of all time. (Unfortunately, my aversion to Gainesville overwhelmed my love of Gothic.)

Church of Saint Ouen, Rouen 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rage Against the Machine for Living: Corbu in Pessac

When I was studying architecture in the late 70s, modernism was all the rage. The Bauhaus. Mies. Gropius. And of course, the Swiss-French architect Charles-Edouard Jenneret, better known as le Corbusier.

While all of my classmates happily constructed boxes with flat roofs, I struggled to design something (anything!) that I thought was beautiful. But semester after semester I failed. I had no feeling for modern architecture and at the time there was no other philosophy for me to base my designs on. There was no “post-modernism, ” no “New Urbanism.”  For years, I believed that I simply lacked the requisite creativity to be an architect.

But later, studying historic preservation, I came to realize that the problem wasn’t entirely my lack of talent; some of it was due to the constraints of modern architecture itself. I couldn’t relate to “Less is more.” I believed, perhaps too literally, that more was more. “Ornament and Crime?” I thought ornament was beautiful. “The house is a machine for living in”? Really? What kind of bereft-of-joy lives are lived in machines, for heaven's sake?

And regarding Corbusier, I completely agreed with the French political activist Gilles Ivain when he said, “I do not know what this individual – ugly of countenance and hideous in his conceptions of the world – is repressing to make him want to crush humanity under ignoble heaps of reinforced concrete... His power of cretinization is vast. A model by Corbusier is the only image that brings to my mind immediate suicide.”

You get the idea.  I really didn’t like modern architecture.

So imagine my surprise when I visited the Quartiers Modernes Frugès, a model ‘city’ designed by Le Corbusier in the 1920s, and I didn’t hate it. I even, somewhat reluctantly, admired it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Abbey Road, Part 2: The Architecture of Fontenay

A couple of weeks ago I posted Part 1 of Abbey Road where I described the beginnings of Fontenay, the gorgeous Cistercian abbey located deep in rural Burgundy. For those who missed that post, I talked about how moved I was by the utter simplicity of the architecture and the beautiful contemporary landscaping that provides a perfect setting for the ancient buildings. Today I'd like to talk about the architecture in a little more detail.

Despite having been used as a paper mill for over 100 years, nearly all of Fontenay’s original buildings remain intact; only the refectory has been lost to time. The chapel and cloister, chapterhouse, scriptorum, dormitory, forge, infirmary, dovecote, visitor's chapel and abbot’s house have all been restored and most of the buildings are open to the public.

The church is located along the right side of the property. At right angles
to it is the chapter house and scriptorium with the monks' dormitory
above. The forge is the long rectangular building located along the left
 side of the property. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer in the City

The Place de la Bourse, or Stock Exchange, reflected in the Mirror

For my next blog post I had intended to write Part 2 of Abbey Road: The Architecture of Fontenay.  But that will have to wait, because after countless weeks of cold, rainy weather, summer has finally come to Bordeaux. The city has taken to the streets in droves.  Cafes are brimming with young people drinking coffee or beer while eyeing the passers-by. The Jardin Public is full of kids chasing balls and old folks walking dogs or doing tai chi (including me!). But when the sun is shining, my favorite place in Bordeaux is the Mirror.