Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cool Shades

© María Ramos

My latest article in the bi-annual Russian journal Speech features a pair of entry canopies for metro stations on the periphery of Valencia, Spain that could be described as nifty sunglasses.
"The chief attraction of the stations are their spectacular glazed tubular pavilions... The glazing has a layer of acetate between two panes of 10mm glass, which provides solar protection, lowering thermal loads. The film also refracts light in different colors depending on the angle of incidence, viewpoint, reflections and other factors."

Unfortunately, the park they form part of, which was to have been created along the right-of-way of the former surface line (it now runs underground) has not materialized, another victim of cuts in public spending due to the crisis. So the stations stand in a no-mans- land.
"These effects are further multiplied by the many panes of shattered glass, the result of vandals throwing rocks at them – the pavilions make for an inviting target amid their abandoned surroundings. These smashed panels are held in place by the lamination and covered with a dense crazy-quilt patterns of cracks, which catch brilliant nets of light. The result is actually quite attractive...." 
Photo: DC

"The stations stand as another vivid symbol (as if another were needed) of the current state of Spanish architecture, once much in demand by politicians who actually understood it little, and now abandoned, another piece of refuse left over from the disaster of overbuilding in Spain. But in this premature decadence they assume a new role that is the fate of any building that survives into a time beyond the era of its conception and usefulness (in this case their usefulness as a political symbols of largess and grandiosity), becoming a fascinating relic,  like a magnificent peacock strutting amid the rubble of a once Eden-like park."
East of Eden
Carolines and Benimàmet metro stations, Valencia, by Luis Ferrer
Speech 13, January 2015, pages 128 - 137, cover

© María Ramos
Photo: DC

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cities of Stone

A photo gallery, recopied from my Facebook page, from a car trip over the winter holiday through Castilla-León, getting as far as the Cantabrian Sea. Made it to all the provincial capitals except Segovia, Palencia and Soria (hey, it's a big place).  Clear skies, chilly but not cold for a clean atmosphere, and low winter sunlight made for spectacular lighting everywhere.

We started with Felipe II's palace monastery of El Escorial. What always gets me here is the scale, and what happens to people in the plaza. They are diminished and ennobled at the same time, like actors on a stage seen from the upper galleries.

Another detail of the plaza at El Escorial
Noni Benegas ¡Parece Roma!
David Cohn ¡Pero no esa luz! Y no es travertino blanco sino granito, el más duro de las piedras, ¡aye qué pereza!


Ávila !

The Romanesque basilica of San Vicente in Ávila, 12th century. The upper part of the left-hand tower is from the 15tth century, my old Blue Guide says.

Salamanca: postcard candidate

Salamanca: general view, with Roman-medieval bridge and busy sky

From the riverbank

The bridge and Tormes River in Salamanca 

Zamora, on the Duero, with the Romanesque cathedral and its fortified tower. Not too far from the Portuguese border, where the Duero becomes the Douro and empties into the sea at Porto. We are standing on the medieval bridge into the city, which fortunately now is pedestrian only.

León, San Marcos, a former hospice for pilgrims on the Road to Santiago begun in the 16th century and now a parador, a 5-star state hotel, where we stayed. You only live once. And it was cheaper than the cheapest Bowery digs in New York.

The hotel wings were added at the back by modern architect Fernando Moreno Barberá in the 1960s. Uncompromisingly modern, like a high-class motor court, the fully-glazed balconies with beautifully proportioned mullions. Inside, hunt club" retro furnishings: the curiosities of a Franco-era state hotel (we had a room in an original wing, overlooking the river).

The building was a notorious Nationalist prison during the Civil War.

León, Plaza de Santa María del Camino. The old town near the cathedral and Plaza Mayor is moving from marginalization to becoming hip and gentrified. Still on the way. Spent a good part of the afternoon in this irregular plaza, paved in cobblestones. Makes the idea of living in León plausible.
Fishing boats in the port of Lastres, Asturias on the Cantabrian Sea. We drove from León through the mountain passes that helped protect the region from Moorish invaders in the 8th century.
More from Lastres:

Why do they do this to the trees in Burgos?
(On the Paseo del Espolón, beside the river Arlanzón)
To make them into vaults

Burgos, We walked along the river, and then down a narrow lane lined with trees to the royal Cistercian Monastery of Las Huelgas, founded in 1187 by Alfonso VII and his English wife, Leonor de Plantagenet (daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine), and closely associated with the royal court at Burgos.

"Huelga" means rest, but today it is better known as the word for workers' strikes.

The monastery is for nuns, and has ten rooms for "spiritual retreat". Women only.

On a small secondary road from Lerma to the monastery town of Santo Domingo de Silos

The monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, whose famous Romanesque cloister was built by the Saint himself in the 11th century. Once again we didn't arrive until it had closed at midday - but that leaves room for another visit.

The 18th century church, with a Greek cross layout, was designed by the neo-classicist Ventura Rodríguez, architect of the fountains of Madrid's Salón del Prado. It replaced a great Romanesque church.

The monastery is known for its recordings of Gregorian chants and as a place of spiritual retreat for lay people.

From further up the hill we could see the Convento de San Francisco, outside the town walls. 18th century.

 The Yeclas gorge, just south of Santo Domingo de Silos. Stumbled upon it and the walkway through. Result of erosion of soluble rocks, i.e. karst topography.

On the road back to Madrid, whizzing by red earthen fields in the falling light, approaching the Sierra de Guadarrama, and the spectacular sunset, product of suspended particles due to a month-long atmospheric high (all those blue skies in my photos). The "boina" over Madrid, pushing against the sierra. Fire in the sky.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Architecture as Fiction: Santa Maria de Bouro

All photos © Juan Rodríguez
The photographer Juan Rodríguez asked me to contribute a few lines about the Pousada de Santa Maria do Bouro for his large book of black-and-white photographs dedicated to the work of Eduardo Souto de Moura. Here is the text in full:  
"Architecture can sometimes become a kind of non-narrative fiction. It has no characters, no observable movement, no plot – or at least none of these things until we as actors come to live a moment of our lives upon its stage. But in the hands of an architect who is alert and exacting –who arrives at a site to listen and observe, and then designs the project by inhaling everything that must go into it and then breathing it all out again– architecture can become more than simply a practical solution to a practical problem. It can register, suggest or encapsulate essential aspects or properties of a culture, place or zeitgeist as effectively and seductively as a good novel."

"Or this at least can be argued in the case of Eduardo Souto de Moura's Pousada de Santa María do Bouro. When Souto first came to the site he found ruins: the crumbling walls, without floors or roof, of an 18th century Cistercian monastery on the banks of the Cavado River. When he finished the work some ten years later, he left behind the same ruins, but rendered in such a way that they had become not only inhabitable, but eloquent, whispering a thousand stories to any visitor who cared to listen – stories about their stone walls, their spaces and courtyards, the tiny village and the untamed countryside around them, stories that fuse in a timeless continuum the past and present of that particular place on the riverbank."

"Guests are not simply brought back to a recreation, mimetic but ultimately false and simulated, of the monastery's past, though they do sleep in former monk's cells and dine in the refectory and under the monumental chimney of its kitchen. Souto instead has given us the ruin as he found it, converting its lost past into a suggestion, a trace, a whisper that permeates and perfumes its present condition. At the same time, his exacting, minimal intervention creates an austere, elegant, zen-like realm of ease and repose that is imbued with an epicurean sense of how best to live life in this particular place at the present moment, a moment immersed in the accumulated stories of the past, as well as our own, hurtling trajectory into the future, both infused with an awareness of mortality."

Pousada de Santa Maria do Bouro
Juan Rodríguez, Eduardo Souto Moura at Work, Amag Editorial, La Coruña, October 2014, page 199
Buy the book: Editorial Amag