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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


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.

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.

English architects do a lot of things well.  Lately, they’ve done a particularly swell job of designing bridges, and many of the best are just for people on 2 feet or 2 leg-powered wheels.  Above is London’s Millennium Footbridge, design by Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro.  Nice image from here

This lovely thing was designed by Wilkinson & Eyre Architects and Gifford & Partners following a design competition held by Gateshead Council.  See here

Another view of the Gateshead “eyelid” bridge.  Every town with a body of water should have one.  Above image at nz20.

But nifty as these bridges are, I had to wonder what else British architects have been designing lately.

Above is a…design by Thomas Heatherwick. He founded Thomas Heatherwick Studio in 1994 and is interested in projects that combine architecture, art, design and engineering. He has also built a wonderful website, worth spending some time with

Above 2 Heatherwicks and and the one below via dezeen.

All Heatherwick photos are by Steve Speller.

This T. Heatherwick above is in Manhattan.  It’s a store.  For Longchamps (it looks great in person too, so I discovered).  See here

From Heatherwick to Chipperfield, David, above.

And Chipperfield again, this time in Valencia.  It’s the America’s Cup Building.  See this

More David C at dezeen, here.  For his remarkable museum folkwang, go here. Photos are by Christian Richters/VIEW.

And there’s more: above is Mr. DC’s Museum of Modern  Literature in Germany.  Oh wow

Time for one more of England’s finest: the much honoured Mr David Adjaye    Above is  Rivington Place, 2007. More here.

Have to finish with a bridge, though, so why not a bridge by the amazing Mr Heatherwick, in London.  It rolls up.

See the animation here.

Good to see England rising to the top again in design.  Inigo Jones, William Morris, Eileen Gray, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers….and now a new talented mob.  Good on ya.

Above is one of the best known tall buildings anywhere:  the Pirelli Building in Milan designed by Gio Ponti (1891 to 1979).  See here

Year after year, she just gets sweeter and sweeter, especially during fashion week in Milan shown here

Mr Ponti was prolific and one of a kind, just the way we like our designers. Above is Taranto Cathedral, go here

He designed houses too, like this above and 2 below.

Ponti’s villa in Venezuela, 3 above, seen at dailyicon.

Good article here on this remarkable artist/designer.

Chair designed in the year 1937 and produced by L’Abbate in massive beech wood lacquered in eleven different colours or stained.

Go here to get some.

Another very nice Ponti seating arrangement, seen here

All Crystal Dining Table by Gio Ponti for Fontana Arte designed in 1938, seen here

The multi-storey residential building speaks to the surrounding street.  Says Gio Ponti, here

Gio Ponti designed this hotel, and most everything inside, below, too.  Take a look here

Ponti did some wondrous ceramics in the 1920’2.  Above piece is at the MET, shown here

There’s a BOOK!  This is the Italian edition, seen here



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