Archive for the Architecture Category

Venetian Red in Tuscany: The Abbey at Sant’Antimo

Posted in Architecture, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2010 by Liz Hager

Editor’s Note: During the month of June, Venetian Red posts from Italy, as well as from San Francisco.

By LIZ HAGER

On the approach to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo.

The road to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo descends in a steep spiral through vineyards, fields of grass, and groves of olive and cypress trees. On the way down, the abbey—which includes a grand but typically unfussy Romanesque church, its slightly leaning bell tower, and companion cypress—is always in view. The stunning approach heralds Sant’Antimo as the most special of places, center of its own still beautiful corner of the universe.

On approach to Sant’ Antimo.

If the view from on high weren’t enough, on the valley floor a pilgrim (whether spiritually or artistically inspired) is met with another breath-taking vista. The sandy-colored church harmoniously blends with newly-baled hay, as well as the light and dark greens of the grass and trees. The colors of the site speak powerfully to its ancient agrarian roots.

Sant’ Antimo must surely be the most picturesque site in the Val d’Orcia. It’s all the more amazing for having remained virtually unchanged for the last 1,000 years.

Sant’ Antimo—view from apse to the bell tower.
Note the animals and vine motifs, typical of the Romanesque style.

Legend suggests that Charlemagne consecrated Sant’ Antimo. Possibly he passed through the Val d’Orcia on his way to and from Rome for coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D. Documents reliably confirm Sant’Antimo in this spot around 814, though in much less a noble form than the structure which greets visitors today.

Sant’ Antimo—Virgins and Four Evangelists

The 11th century brought an explosion of the monastic orders, as well as growing crowds of pilgrims eager to travel great distances in order to see relics from the Holy Land. As a result, extensive ecclesiastic building ensued. All over Europe, but particularly in France, Germany and Italy, Romesque style churches proliferated.

Sant’ Antimo is a fine example of the classic Romanesque style—it consists of a nave, lateral aisles, a transept in emulation of the cross, a main apse, and radiating chapels. Curiously, it owes more to the French than the Italian Romesque tradition.

Entryway, Sant’ Antimo

The abbey lies not far from the Via Francigena (also known as the Via Roma), one of the primary routes on which pilgrims and merchants alike made their way back and forth from Canterbury to Rome. Proximity to the Via (which passes between Siena and Viterbo, both nearby) would have invested Sant’ Antimo with a certain prestige as a popular stop on near the pilgrimage route. No doubt this is one of the reasons the original church was expanded and embellished by its Benedictine monks around 1100. Certainly, the Via must have allowed for French Romanesque influences to filter into this valley.

The sculptural detail at Sant’ Atimo contains motifs found in the Romanesque world—i.e. foliage (classical Roman tradition); geometric forms (from Celtic Christianity);  biblical or mythological animals (from the Byzantine world).   But some of the column capitals reflect Lombardi characteristics, betraying the multitude of cultural influences at work on the abbey.

Entryway, Sant’ Antimo (detail)

A thousand years after these masters finished Sant’Antimo, it remains actively in use. Taking refuge inside the church from the scorching Tuscan sun, I was greeted by the telltale sounds of liturgical chanting. Just in front of the apse, eight monks stood in two rows facing each other, singing their mid-day prayers.  I rested my irritated body and contemplated the elegance around me to solemn but mellifluous accompaniment.

Wider Connections

More historical detail on Sant’Antimo
The Community of Sant’Antimo (with excellent details on history and artistic elements)

Venetian Red in Rome: The Jewel in Rome’s Carolingian Crown

Posted in Architecture, Liz Hager, Mosaic with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Liz Hager

Editor’s Note: During the month of June, Venetian Red posts from Italy, as well as from San Francisco.

By LIZ HAGER

Apse Mosaics, Santa Prassede, Rome. The iconographic program consists of themes associated with the Apocalypse.

A stone’s throw from the madding crowds at Santa Maria Maggiore lies Santa Prassede, nearly empty the other afternoon when I visited.  Santa Prassede has all the attributes of its larger cousin but in a more intimate setting, which fosters a truly contemplative experience. (No tour groups here!)

Early 20th century terrazo floor (detail), Santa Prassede.

Santa Prassede occupies an important position in the pantheon of early Christian churches.  Santa Praxedes (Prassede) and Prudentiana were the daughters of Roman senator Prudens (first century AD), who was immortalized in a brief passage in Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy.  Santa Prassede, like the earliest Christian churches, especially those on the Esquiline hill, was built on top of Roman imperial structures and, as a consequence, follows the Roman basilica plan (apse, nave and aisles).

The alleged pillar on which Christ was flogged before his crucifixion.

Though previous churches occupied the space, the structure in its current form was inaugurated by Pope Hadrian I in around 780, but it was really  Pope Paschal (817-824), who created the true glory of Santa Prassede.  At the forefront of the Carolingian Renaissance, during his reign, Paschal undertook two ambitious programs—the first, building new churches; the second to recover martyr bones from the the catacombs and distribute them throughout churches in Rome.

15th century tomb marker, floor of Santa Prassede

The mosaics date from Paschal’s time. The apse mosaics are a stunning example of the no-holds-barred Carolingian program—in this case, Christ flanked by Saints Peter and Paul who present Prassede and Pudenziana to God. Below them, is the band of lambs with the central haloed lamb as the symbol of Christ’s resurrection. For the care with which the sheeps’ fur and heads are depicted, I find this the sweetest of all the Carolingian elements.  Along the outer registers are numerous scenes, depicting others being welcomed into Heaven by saints.

The grand program is magnificent, but it is the tiny chapel of St. Zeno inside the church that qualifies Santa Prassede as a true jewel in my book. This is the only chapel in Rome entirely lined with mosaics and it was without a doubt the unexpected highlight of a day filled with wonderful art viewing. As the lights came on (as in all Rome’s churches you must feed the light meter), the sparkle of encrusted tesserae of turquoise and gold in this tiny space took my breath away.

If you are a fan of the mosaic art as I am, Santa Prassede is not to be missed under any circumstances.

Mosaic bust of Christ and four saints, Chapel of St. Zeno, Santa Prassede.

Bay Area FAVs: Alice Aycock’s Functional & Fantasy Stair

Posted in Architecture, Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Liz Hager, Sculpture with tags , , , on September 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

In these recessionary times when most Bay Area museums charge entrance fees in the double digits and scores of galleries have closed,  we highlight San Francisco’s commitment to art in public spaces in our ongoing feature—Bay Area Free Art Views (FAVs).

Alice Aycock—Functional & Fantasy Stair, 1996 SFPL

Alice Aycock, Functional and Fantasy Stair, 1996,
Aluminum and structural steel with painted steel sheathing,
approx. 24’ high x 32’ long x 20’ wide. San Francisco Public Library
(all photos © Liz Hager 2009)

Alice Aycock is a member of the group of artists (Laurie Anderson perhaps a better-known member) who came artistic age in the early 1970s, grappling with the stylistic transition from modernism to postmodernism.  Although her pieces feel architectural, they are not, as Aycock has said:  “… functional architecture, but architecture as an umbrella from which you could hang many things—psychology, history, or culture.”

Aycock has held a life-long obsession with the nature of reality;  that is to say, her work deals with various states of mind and body, sometimes real, but often fictional, sometimes downright peculiar. But always complex. Typically, her work mines a vast array of references—physics, psychoanalysis, literary, computer programming, mental disorders, even ancient languages.  This subject matter makes for intensely psychological environments.

Alice Aycock—Functional & Fantasy Stair (3), SFPL

Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Louise Nevelson, and even her father, a construction engineer, have been Aycock’s inspiration. She was drawn to the “land art” movement from early on, making site-specific works from earth, wood, stone, and other natural materials. In the 1980s, Aycock began to employ industrial materials like steel, with allusions to the growing presence of machines in our lives.

Alice Aycock—Functional & Fantasy Stair (5), SFPL

Aycock designed a spiral stairway between the fifth and sixth floors of the library, just off the suspended, glass-enclosed reading room that projects into the library’s great atrium space. A functional staircase is nestled inside an askew cone structure (it mirrors the shape of the atrium skylight).  Cyclone Fragment, suspended above, is its companion piece.
Alice Aycock—Functional & Fantasy Stair (2), SFPL

Stair contains some hallmarks of an Aycock work. The stairwell is an intriguing, if confusing, architectural space. Proceed up or down the functional stairwell and glimpses of the fantasy stairs (leading nowhere) are revealed through fragmented openings in the cone. (Multiple views of a parallel universe?) Overall the cone structure envelops, but the environment it creates (its materials complement those of the library) is sleek, shiny and cold, very cold. Further, the whole sculpture is hermetically sealed by the glass encasement of the reading room.

Alice Aycock—Functional & Fantasy Stair (1), SFPL

Stairs are a central and sustaining motif for Aycock. As early as 1974, she began incorporating them into her work with These Stairs Can Be Climbed.  As the (man-made) vehicle by which man ascends or descends, stairs signify movement, even progress. It’s the reason most monuments (to impressive men) are placed at the head of a set of stairs. In dreams, stairs are often interpreted as the states of consciousness—the lower levels equivalent to “facts,” the upper levels with higher consciousness. One set of the Library’s stairs do allow progress;  the other just ends in thin air. Is Aycock asking us to think about power versus impotence?

One is left puzzling the connection of this piece to the Library environment, indeed even whether there needs to be one.

Wider Connections

Alice Aycock

Land Art

Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art

Venetian Red Notebook: The Guardians and Gargoyles of New York

Posted in Architecture, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts with tags , on September 4, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

doorway guardian

New York is a paradise of architectural ornamentation. As a child wandering the streets I was endlessly fascinated by the gorgeous scroll work, animals, birds, angels, demons, beautiful faces, grotesque gargoyles, flowers and garlands that bedecked the facades of even the most modest brownstones, apartment houses and office buildings. I loved the visual richness, the textures, the crazy mix of styles and the sense of living surrounded by mythological creatures. New York was a visual encyclopedia of natural history—real and imagined—forged in terracotta, limestone, cast iron and metal.

face

The Woolworth Building, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, the Chrysler Building—all these Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Gothic Revival masterpieces were very impressive and I never tired of looking at them, but what really intrigued me were the everyday delights—walking down a street and glancing up to see a parade of gazelles below the second floor windows of a small apartment building or the monstrous gargoyles that protected my school.

demon

Following the non-ornamental Federal style of the late 1700s-early 1800s, many buildings put up through the 1930s were highly ornamented, including the tenements built quickly to house the influx of immigrants arriving in New York. Much of the ornamentation, while striving for elegance and beauty, also served, or concealed, important functions, from providing needed structural support to deflecting rain water. Capitals, cornices, keystones, corbels, brackets and anchors could all serve a purpose as well as delight the eye.

Capital

Owl

design

head

man's face

green man

anchor

scholar

leaf

dog & rabbit

roof

Much of the ornamentation of the period contained Gothic revival, Neo-Classic, Art Nouveau or Beaux-Arts elements. Decorative detail reached its formal, very stylized height with the Art Deco movement.

deco

deco griffin

The rise of the International style and Modernism in the 1920s and 1930s put an end to New York’s golden age of ornamentation. While many of the cornices and keystones are crumbling from the effects of age and weather, there is still plenty to see. Next time you are walking around New York, especially on Wall Street, the Lower East Side, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side—be sure to look up.

angel

Recommended reading:
New York Detail
, A Treasury of Ornamental Splendor by Yumiko Kobayashi and Ryo Watanabe
Details, The Architect’s Art by Sally B. Woodbridge, Photographs by Roz Joseph
Grand, Wasn’t It? by Constance Rosenblum. New York Times, August 20, 2009
Animals in Stone, Architectural Sculpture in New York City by Robert Arthur King
Faces in Stone, Architectural Sculpture in New York City by Robert Arthur King

Venetian Red Notebook: Windows on Russia

Posted in Architecture, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Folk & Tribal Art, Travel with tags , , , on August 19, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Russian Window

Russian folk art reached the height of popularity with the builders and woodworkers of rural Russia in the 18th-19th centuries. From simple peasant cottages to log-built estates for wealthy merchants, timber houses were decorated with elaborate painted wood carvings. Russia is sometimes referred to as a nation of woodcutters, and this tradition is evident in the wooden houses in the Golden Ring, the historical towns and cities that lie to the northeast of Moscow. These towns represent one thousand years of Russian history, a time and place that saw the lives of great figures in Russian history unfold, including Alexander Nevesky, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. It was in these towns that the Russian Orthodox Church first took hold, so there are many wonderful examples of Russia’s greatest architecture—monasteries, onion-dome churches and cathedrals.

In the rural houses of the Golden Ring, elaborately carved wooden decorations also appeared on the edges of roofs and balconies, but were most beautiful as window surrounds. The carvings were uniquely Russian, an amalgam of Russian folklore motifs, Baroque embellishment and the graceful linear quality of Art Nouveau. They combine flowers, leaves and geometric shapes with stylized depictions of  birds and animals, as well as mythological creatures, such as the Sirin—a creature of Russian legend that has the face and chest of a woman and the wings and feathered tail of a bird, most often an owl.

SirinSirin, Lubok picture, 19th century

These pictures, from a Golden Ring travel brochure, show the inventiveness of the  wood carvers. The houses and the window surrounds were painted in wonderful colors which highlight the beauty of the designs.

Russian Windows

Russian Windows

Russian Windows

Russian Windows

Russian Windows

Russian Window

The three pictures below were taken by a friend last year on a trip to Russia.

Russian Inn
Russian Inn near Vladimir, 19th century

Russian Inn
Russian Inn near Vladimir

Russian House SuzdalRussian House, Suzdal
Photos: Courtesy Victoria Tupper Kirby

In many areas of Russia, these wonderful embellished houses have fallen into ruin, a staggering number have been lost. In the Golden Ring, quite a few have been restored on site, while others have been moved to “open-air museums” and are a popular tourist attraction in northeast Russia.

This window surround was included in a recent exhibition, Carved and Colored Village Art from Tsarist Lands, at Pushkin House, London that was held from May 18th-June 10th, 2009. Note the two mythological bird figures on the top.

Russian Window—Pushkin House
The catalog from the show, by Robert Cenciner and John Cornall can be found here.

Russian Windows, Pushkin House

The Evolving Uses of the Presidio: CAMP Update

Posted in Architecture, Bay Area Art Scene, Liz Hager with tags , , on March 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Note: Other VR posts on this subject can be found here.

camp-model-11

Model: revised design for the Main Post area, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio (WRNS Studio, San Francisco, architects).

Venetian Red first reported on the proposal for the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio in A Day at Camp.

Since 2007, when plans were first unveiled, public comment to the Presidio’s development plan for its Main Post has focused largely on the proposal for the Contemporary Arts Museum Presidio (CAMP). To be fair, some of the more vocal opposition takes issue with all the new buildings planned for the Post, but it’s pretty clear the museum is the linchpin of their opposition.

The CAMP proposal exists within the context of a much larger discourse—namely, the role of the Main Post within the Presidio and the evolving purpose of the Presidio itself.  Given the uniqueness of the Presidio, many factors must be taken into account.

First, there is the issue of how a National Park in the midst of an urban environment stays relevant to its community.  In its 2001 white paper, “Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century,” the National Park System Advisory Board acknowledged that parks “were not, could not be, static entities,” that they “no longer be thought of as islands with little or no connection, cultural or ecological, to their surroundings.”  The Board stated its clear desire to empower a Parks Service that would benefit a new generation of citizens in a culturally-diverse, increasingly-urban, and ever more-rapidly changing world, although rightifully it offered no specifics on how parks should accomplish that. In the context of the white paper’s mandate for the Park System to “reach out to museums, parks and cultural venues, linking them with shared stories and interpretation”  (Section V), how could American art not be relevant to a 21st-century urban-based park?  Further, with attendance records dropping at historical “theme” parks all over the country, isn’t it only fiscally responsible for Presidio Trust, which must be financially self-sufficient in the next year or two, to look at other “draw” options?

Second, the Presidio is already an unusual mixed-use park with a city-like infrastructure (over 800 buildings) and vast cultivated forestland that requires management resources shared between NPS and Presidio Trust. Although the Presidio is a National Historic Landmark District, not all of its buildings have historic designation. Aggregate square footage gained by demolishing non-historic structures may be used legitimately for new construction in existing areas of development, as long as the overall cap on developed square footage is maintained. (That’s why, elsewhere in the Presidio, the LucasArts complex could replace the demolished Letterman Hospital.) The addition of CAMP to the Main Post does not violate these guidelines.

Third, the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio, had a civic identity long before the CAMP proposal came along.  As an Army base, by the late 20th century, the Presidio had become a virtual city-within-a-city, the Main Post its concentrated hub, and the Parade Grounds, an asphalted parking lot. Since 1994, when the Presidio was designated a National Park, municipal projects—rehabilitation and revitalization—have continued at the Main Post.  In 2002, the Presidio Trust adopted an overall management plan for the park (PTMP) and began to realize a long-term vision, in accordance with processes dictated by the various agencies—National Park Service, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Since then, scores of buildings on the Main Post have been rehabilitated. Many new buildings have been constructed, including, for example, the one currently occupied by La Terrasse restaurant (not historically themed by the way). Cultural entities are already slotted for the Main Post. There doesn’t seem to have been much opposition to the the Disney Family Museum, a cultural museum dedicated to the life of Walt Disney, soon to take up residence at its Montgomery Barracks building. All this is in addition to the improvements that have been made elsewhere in the park that have brought city-dwellers to live in the Presidio. With all of this, though, the Main Post still feels like an isolated collection of buildings; like every grand public space, it needs an anchor or two to tie it all together.

camp-model-2

(Model detail) CAMP building as seen from entrance, looking west from Parade Grounds.

In 2007, the Trust notified the various agencies and the public of significant new proposals for the Main Post (including CAMP) that were before it. This February, as part of the prescribed planning process for the Main Post area, The Presidio Trust released the revised draft (“Preferred Alternative”) of the Main Post Update to the PTMP, as well as accompanying environmental and findings of effect documents required by the planning process. This draft had been revised based on extensive agency and public comment.

The updated PTMP states three primary objectives for the Main Post: reveal the Presidio’s history; create a welcoming place; and employ 21st-century green practices. CAMP falls under the second objective, as do rehabilitation of the existing Presidio Theatre (with new addition) and new construction of a Presidio Lodge.  Strategies to meet the other primary objectives are well laid out by the current PTMP document.

Given the discussion points above, it would seem that the only legitimate complaint in regard to the original CAMP proposal is the footprint and design of its building.

The newly-proposed designs from WRNS Studio goes along way to ameliorating prior concerns. This design shows greater sensitivity to the physical attributes of the site and the emotional sentiment about the Main Post. WRNS has re-placed the building to a less conspicuous corner of the Parade Grounds and made considerable design modifications to the structure. Rather than a boastful and lonely white-box eyesore sitting predominantly above ground, the architects have suggested a modest structure, mostly underground, quite suitable for a park-like setting.  What remains above ground is unobtrusive and exceptionally well-integrated with its surroundings; its low-slung peaked roof gently hugs the ground. This design suggested the possibility of a “living” roof, which would fulfill the Presidio’s commitment to sustainability.

Regardless of what the final design may actually look like, PMTP parameters insure a roofline no higher than 30 feet from ground level and more or less 60% of the projected 70,000 sq. feet underground.  As a side note, WRNS seems particularly well-schooled in the art of the underground structure.

Artist’s Rendering, CAMP proposal, WRNS Studio.

For sustaining the city’s lively arts community, as well as enhancing the visitor experience of San Francisco, the importance of keeping this unparalleled collection of modern American art (West Coast artists amply represented) together and publicly on view in San Francisco cannot be understated. (The Fisher collection provides needed depth lacking in MoMA’s American offering.) Imagine the Presidio, a mixed-used park, with its Main Post as the West Coast echo of the National Mall, more modest in scope to be sure, but still a vital and relevant space that instills a sense of pride in our American history and culture.

The new design for CAMP, together with parking and transportation logistical proposals, ought go a long way to removing remaining legitimate opposition. Apparently various state and federal agencies have been convinced. Still, rumors abound that, once the Presidio files its Document of Record (the Board approval of final plan parameters for the Main Post), lawsuits to stop construction will be filed. All this could happen as early as this summer.

Get educated, make comments, stay involved:

Graphics of the plan, as well as the model of the current proposals for the Main Post, on view at Bldg. 105, every Friday and Saturday 10am-12pm through April 18th.Any one may comment on any aspect of the revised PTMP through April 20th, either online or by mail. Submit a Comment.

SPUR presentation “The Future of the Presidio’s Main Post” April 7, 12:30pm.

The final public meeting (Board of Directors) will be held on Tuesday, April 7th 6:00 pm at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyons Street).


Wider Connections

CAMP homepage

Current Planning Documents

New design renderings

National Mall current planning

SF Citizen, more pictures of the proposed design

WRNS Studio


Venetian Red in Berlin: Festival of Lights

Posted in Architecture, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Site Work, Travel with tags , , , , on October 23, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Festival of Lights (Photo ©2008 Liz Hager)

Every October in Berlin over the course of 12 days light artist Andreas Boehlke and his crew put  on a joyous show illuminating Berlin’s streets and monuments with spectacular designs. It attracts crowd participation. One night after dinner, we drove around the city looking for the show; by a stroke of luck our route took us by the Berliner Dom on Museum Island. The night was cold and windy. The cathedral was looking quite goth all a-glow with the fog swirling around it.

You can catch a hosted video filmed high above the events on Gendarmenmarkt; very entertaining even if you speak no German. Be sure to catch the first minute or so with the “Alex” (aka Alexander Platz) Fernsehturm (TV tower), one of Berlin’s famous landmarks. Then, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, just scroll in to around 4:00 minutes for the crowd action.

You can catch the live action at the Brandenburg Gate on October 24 at 10pm (Berlin time) by clicking here.

The Dom Front Side (Photo ©2008 Liz Hager)

The Dom Back Side (Photos ©2008 Liz Hager)

Wider Connections

Festival of Lights website

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