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sandswept-desert-road_peru

To those of us who have spent our lives in a moderate climate–ours is moist, mild, misty, and lush–it is stunning to encounter the desert for the first time.   Pic above is a desert in Peru looking to swallow up the highway, found here.

The desert eats me, Uyuni tour

We are here to say that people can lose their heads over this landscape, falling quickly and hard. The torrid attraction to desert heat and space happens not only to ordinary boys and girls off on a road trip (like this smitten traveller in Bolivia seen here ) but to all sorts of exotic creatures, including architects and artists.

Desert vacation home architizer

If you want to do more than just look and swoon at the desert, if you want to live there, find yourself an architect who’s got the desert bug.  Above is called the Four Eyes House by California architect Edward Ogosta, more here .

desert house olson kundig idaho desert house RosaMuerta R Stone DesertNomadHouse R Joy

Say “Desert house” to many an architect and you’ve got them where you want them.  Here you don’t have to worry about the zoning restrictions, the neighbours, or where to put the lumber, trucks, and tools while you are building.  This freedom, combined with the sheer harshness of the physical factors, has produced some beautiful results. Above three desert designs are by Olson Kundig Architects, Robert Stone, and Rick Joy, all found here.

Ant Farm Cadillac Ranch 1974 Photographed 1977

Artists too have found freedom and inspiration in the desert–the flat open space must seem liberating to any artist who feels confined by the canvas and the studio. Above is Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas as it looked when produced in 1974 by an art gang named Ant Farm.  See here.

desert christo oil barrels

The artist who in our time has set the standard for getting out of the studio, Christo, has wrapped up big things (bridges, buildings) all over the world and now intends to place a very big thing in the desert landscape of the United Arab Emirates , as reported here

michael heizer_city

And this is American artist Michael Heizer, image from here.

michael-heizer city wide

Mr Heizer has devoted a good slice of his life and imagination and hutzpah to creating, not a sculpture, not a monument, but a city in the desert of Nevada.  Above image from Treehugger and more from the NYT 

And if you like art and light and you don’t know what James Turrell has been doing in the desert, you need to go here now.

turrell roden crater

Above is an entry into James Turrell’s Roden Crater project found here  

But don’t go getting the idea that it is just the 1% of the artistic club, the superstars, who get their hormones and imaginations all swept up in the desert.  Lots of everyday free spirits with a gluegun and a hammer and a glint in their eye do too.

noah purifoy

This is a portion of the life work of one Noah Purifoy, now known as the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art exhibit near Joshua Tree CA. Visit here.

Many of the freest spirits who lust for the desert end up at the Burning Man Festival every late August/September.

burning man 2010 boston big pic 15 

Held in northern Nevada in Black Rock Desert, it is about art and life and transportation and fire and lust and freedom and a lot more.  Only a desert seems capable of hosting such a collection of desires. Pic by Jim Bourg/Reuters via Boston.com

burning man 2010 Boston Big Pic

Before the burning, time for tea.  This image is one of many at the Big Picture site at Boston.com.

Some of the sculpture is wondrous, such as the piece shown below in this photograph by Frederick Larson of the SF Chronicle.

burning man sculpture 2008 F Larson the Chronicle

The desert seems to be able to accommodate and excite all varieties of humanity. It’s not just the unclothed and untamed who fall for it, but the super sophisticates who find something unexpected and rich in the plain hot flat emptiness if it.  How about you?

desert noel2

Mr Noel Coward, 1954 photo by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine seen here

Who’s that up on the roof?  Well, it seems lots of people like it so much up on the roof that they’ve built themselves a place to live and play and sometimes work. This woman in Paris (from a Jacques Rivette movie) has come up to take a look for herself.

This is one of those pictures that you can never quite forget.  The pool is on the roof of a house designed by Rem Koolhaas called Villa dall’Ava outside Paris.  It’s an iconic image for life on your own terms.  Take the plunge here 

New York is also renowned for people who live life with both style and daring.  Diane von Furstenberg built her studio up on the roof of a 6 storey building in an area of the city once known for meat-packing.  Supply your own quip if you feel the urge. (credit to Work Architecture Company; Image by Elizabeth Felicella Photography).  See more at archdaily

New York being New York the desire to be on top has captured more than one resident.  This is in Tribeca (found here) and it results in a splendid cupcake effect to our eyes.

Whereas this New York roof topper has more of a …what, French country house feel?  Generous water supply very close by.  See here.

But no matter what anyone says, you can actually find cool examples of unique living beyond Manhattan, even when it comes to rooftop living.  The blue beauty (designed by MVRDV) above and below is in Rotterdam, Netherlands and was built for the Didden family.  See more at archdaily again

The two pics above are of a playful rooftop residence (designed by JDS Architecture seen here) in Nørrebro, Copenhagen.  Dad and son are having a nice bonding moment taking in the Danish summer sun–though the boy looks like he is not about to move his head and look down.

There are books about the high life of course, above from NAI publishers and Cloud 9 below from Loft Publishers available here for example.

This remarkable book above takes us far from Paris, New York, and Scandinavia.  Portrait from Above is a chronicle of rooftop living in Hong Kong.  These roofies are not thinking about being cool or unique.  They are just taking up residence in the only place available to them.  More here

There is a neat video here of a guy who designed for himself a very compact home on a rooftop in Barcelona.

The above film series was hosted on a rooftop in good old Austin Texas.  It was last year, but if you want to celebrate this idea of getting on top of things, you might look for a rooftop near you and see if you can organize a wingding or two.

This was in London atop Selfridges department store above Oxford Street, photo from here 

Or maybe you could get a band to play some lively music like this one did on another London rooftop some time ago.

Genoa is very old and very new.  The layout of the city and the famous harbour are said to be fundamentally unchanged since Christopher Columbus was a boy here in the 1440′s.  But if you stop and look, you will see modern life at its best thriving, proudly, in Genoa today.  Above is the breakfast room at a hotel in Genoa called Palazzo Cicala, which overlooks a very nifty cathedral, San Lorenzo.

If you stepped outside the hotel–and tilted your head a bit–this is what you’d see.  Photo from here.

 

The architect, Renzo Piano still works from his native Genoa, and he has been busy for more than 20 years adding ideas, structures, and life to the city, especially on the old harbour.  He designed one of the world’s largest aquariums there, along with a biosphere (above), seen here.

This is a structure/sculpture called Bigo,  designed by Mr P to celebrate the hardworking cranes of the Genoan docks that, along with thick-backed shore workers, have loaded and unloaded the world’s heavy goods for a long, long time.  One of the arms of the Bigo now lifts tourists above the harbour for a gull’s eye view.  Photo above here.

This painting of the harbour, done more than 400 years ago by a man called Grassi, shows the busy-ness of the place back in the age of wooden boats and sails.  More here

The above image is of the harbour about a hundred years earlier, around the time that Genoa’s own C. Columbus set out (with Spanish boats and hopes) for America.  It shows the fortifications necessary to keep a harbour secure for its customers.

The lighthouse on the left in the above ancient print still stands at the entrance to the Genoa harbour, and people say it’s the oldest anywhere. Its red cross on a white background is the emblem of Genoa and has come to symbolize “help available” all over the place.

This painting of a ceremony that may never have happened is weird and beautiful, from here. It is among the many many treasures of the swell Maritime Museum in Genoa.

 

       

Another example of old Genoa meets new Genoa is the street called via Garibaldi (pic above left found here), whose amazing palaces (along with those of an adjacent street)  were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.  Outside, these buildings tell you a lot about what people fancied in the 1500′s.  Like great heavy doors and great scary doorknockers.

They also cared about eye catching colours combined with the kind of craftsmanship we are unlikely to see again.  Seen at Wapedia here

 

Inside, past the (heavy, scary) doors of these places, you might see almost anything (these neat chairs in Palazzo Bianco, photo here)

 

Silence and solitude and arches gently hued.  And this is a public building!  Nice image and more from here.

 

Or you’ll find a swish contemporary furniture store called  via garibaldi 12, which is its address.  See more

Hungry???

Genoa claims both Pesto sauce and Focaccia as its own, .

And there is seafood in endless variety, some of it spooky, all of it tasty, wherever you turn.

Above, dinner for two, outdoors, in a plain but life filled Genoan piazza, yummy to the end.

 

Just go, when you get a chance.

and go back often.

Two pics above from here.

Above is part of an exhibit of important 20th century design established at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1993.  These pieces of furniture were all designed by Pierre Chareau, born 1883, died 1950.  In between, he rose to the top of his profession in France, and then, after being forced to leave his country, he found himself in America, in New York, unknown and mostly unsuccessful in finding opportunities to deploy his remarkable talent. Image above found here.

Today, his furniture pieces sell for $50,000 and more, sometimes much more (above from Christies, here), and a house he designed in Paris, La Maison de Verre, is among the most highly regarded examples of residential design in the 20th century.

Designed for a physician and his wife and completed in 1932, La Maison de Verre is a mind spinning display of creative talent–miles ahead of its time, completely unprecedented, and still capable of causing jaws to drop in 2011.  Everything in the house was designed by M Chareau, everything (including the piano, we think).  It was purchased in 2006 and has been very respectfully restored.  Great story and slide show in the New York Times here.  Beautiful photos by Mark Lyon above and below.

Another recent view of La Maison de Verre.

Pierre Chareau began his professional life as a cabinet maker, and he has left us with a wonderful (and much prized) collection of small household objects like tables, chairs, stools, mirrors, and cupboards.

Pierre Chareau Stool in mahogany and patinated wrought iron ca. 1927 from Artnet

Umbrella stand at La Maison de Verre (Wikipedia!).

This wall mirror above sold recently at Christie’s for €91,000 or about $130,00 seen here.

Cupboard–how cute is that–seen here

There are, nowadays, companies reproducing his designs, so people can own something approximating a brand new Pierre Chareau, such as this lamp:

Based on the original below.

Despite the chilly reception he received in America, Pierre Chareau did receive one commission of significance–a studio house for the artist Robert Motherwell in the Hamptons, outside New York.  Once again he produced something joyously original: a low-cost structure employing materials and ideas based on military Quonset huts.

Wonderful photograph of Motherwell in his little Chareau house by the wonderful Hans Namuth in 1944, gratefully found here. The house was demolished in 1985.

Above interior of the Motherwell house from here

The story of Pierre is both inspiring and demoralizing.  His was a talent that seemed to know no boundaries, one of the great design talents of the last 100 years, and yet it was a talent that was allowed to go largely unused and even unnoticed in a place that prides itself, above all, on its ability to know the real thing when it sees it.  The lesson is, apparently, that talent is no guarantee to success, not then, not now.

Many books have been produced about Pierre Chareau and his work.  Here is one:

If you you find that true and deep inspiration is sometimes hard to find these days in the wonderful world of design, give yourself over to a feast of Pierre Chareau.  You won’t go away hungry.

With Steven Holl’s work, the first time you see something he designed, you pretty much decide it’s one of the best things you’ve ever seen.  And the next time you see his name on something–which is likely to be in a different country–you say the same thing.  If he has a bad day at the office, we haven’t seen it.  He only seems to be able to do wonderful things.

Lucky us.

Above is known as PLANAR HOUSE, Arizona USA, 2002-2005. Images from Steven Holl website Above photos copyright Bill Timmermann

And just like that, we find Mr Holl in Switzerland.  Above called  Swiss Amba, photos Copyright Andy Ryan

Denmark needed a place for art, so Steven got on the plane.      Art Iwan Baan

Continuing North, Mr H designed this amazing thing above in Hamarøy, Norway in memory of the writer Knut Hamsun

Next door, the Finns asked for his help to make the KIASMA MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART in Helsinki, Finland. Interior Paul Warchol

Home at last, Stephen Holl designed the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art above in Kansas City, MO Photos Roland Halbe.

And this is the SCHOOL OF ART & ART HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
Iowa City, IA, United States, 1999-2006 (2 photos Andy Ryan; aerial photo Ron Mayland)

Every country should have a public building designed by Steven Holl.  What better way to announce that, as a nation, you are in favour of the power of the human imagination.

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