CELEBRATE: Boston Book Festival

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Architectural Discussion with Frank Gehry at Trinity Church

The Boston Book Festival is an event held annually “to promote a culture of reading and ideas.” In the spirit of that promotion, an Architecture lecture is always a part of the event schedule. Two years prior, Norman Foster had been the guest, and what an articulate, comprehensive, and inspiring lecture it was. His descriptions of the projects presented were as structured and objective as his actual works of architecture are. So it wasn’t outlandish to hope that Gehry may provide some similar semblance of a great show.

That was not the case. He was not articulate. The first sentence out of the renowned architect’s mouth was met with shouts from the audience to speak up. It became clear, right away, that there was no lecture outline. As photos of Gehry’s work popped up on the big screen, he seemed as surprised as the audience. He was not comprehensive. Perhaps it was an effort to “dumb-down” the architecture behind the architecture for the sake of clarity, but that tactic only made Gehry sound ignorant. His comprehension of the work gave the impression that he has no association with it beyond a final sign off. Needless to say, he was not inspiring either.

I’ll admit I’m biased; I was not a fan of his work going in to the lecture, but I know that Gehry’s background has caused him to overcome much adversity in the profession. Unfortunately, his presentation of himself was lackluster. Sorry, Frank. Maybe next time, prep by reading the book about your work that the moderator kept pimping!

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Day 03: Montréal, Canada

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The picnic architecture:

Outdoor space, urban space, eating space: it can all be the same, especially when in a city that has the perfect spot for such a combo, like Parc du Mont-Royal in Montréal. Trying out restaurants for every meal is common practice when on vacation in a new city, but I always try to shop in a local grocery store to get a sense of how “the people” would eat. So on our last full day in the city, we picked up some cheddar, brie, a baguette, and a bottle of red wine to have a very “new French” kind of afternoon (it was very Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe if you will).

Parc du Mont-Royal is essentially a small mountain in Montréal. It’s a beautiful public park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, with wide, winding trails; the boulevards of the woods. There are plenty of grassy places to sit and picnic or play games. A constructed lake and folded-plate community center provide convenient public facilities as well. A vast green space is really the breath of fresh air that is needed when in a congested city.

Day 02: Montréal, Canada

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The missed-opportunity architecture:

To our fortunate surprise, May 29th happened to be the one day a year that almost all of the museums around Montréal are free to the public! So of course, the Centre Canadien d’Architecture / Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) was a must. The center wraps a new building around an old designed in 1874; an interior photo is shown above. What the photo also shows, however, is a complete misuse of this historical space. The CCA’s website describes the center as “an international research institution based on the fundamental premise that architecture is a public concern,” and yet it does nothing within this space to engage the public. I was disappointed to find rooms with great architectural detail holding merely a folding table and some folding chairs. These could be modern day salons, where the public can gather for community programs, exchange ideas, or at least reflect on their location and atmosphere.

To its credit, the newer building of the CCA does hold exhibits and has a book shop. There was even a space where visitors could learn how to artfully fold paper. But without a better integration of the old with the new, there is a missed opportunity.

Day 01: Montréal, Canada

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The old architecture:

We arrived in Montréal around 4:00 pm and decided to head to the old district right away. During the 45 minute walk from our Downtown hotel, we came across many historical landmarks of the city; Victoria Square and Basilique Notre-Dame, to name a couple. Reflecting on the day, it was these historical spots that clamour first to my memory. Old Montréal was absolutely fantastic; the food, the shopping, the atmosphere…and it was not suffocated by the tourism, but perhaps even enhanced. In my travel experience, I have come to find that it is the historic districts that tend to be most pleasant. Perhaps it’s the escape from the gridded city, like the winding streets of old Barcelona,or the spirited color of the buildings, like old Tryol, Austria, or just the variety of the cobblestones, like Boston’s North End; either way, it’s a welcomed change from the modern.

Keep your old districts safe!

Day 07: Ólafsvík, Iceland

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The exploratory architecture:

I screamed for our car to stop. I needed to run around this amazing little church, on the base of a hill in Ólafsvík, Iceland, and overlooking the peninsula’s water. It was everything; every angle was so unique, while still relating to its site and climbing towards the sky like a church does. So formulaic with its series of angled volumes along the nave, almost pouring out of one another like a tiny Sydney Opera House. It begged for a passerby to explore.

Achievable by such minimal joinery, the photo above shows how effortlessly the forms met at the most critical of points. I found this church to be almost a total work of design where shape, form, line, pattern, and color all aligned without fuss.