Amsterdam, Things I Saw, Where I've Been

Elle’s In Design Amsterdam

Elle’s In Design Amsterdam was this last weekend. It cost 12E for a yellow wristband and the book pictured in this display. I’m still not sure what else that cost covered since none of the venues looked for the wrist band and all welcomed the public – including the non – yellow wristband toting ones. Nonetheless, it was a great way to explore design stores and galleries in the city. Lots of new discoveries and plenty of opportunities for free booze and snacks.

Lobster House
Confetti covered floors in a studio exhibiting paint by Farrow & Ball, bubble like lamps by Alex de Witte (right) and vintage furnishings from FrabriekNL (upper left).

We picked up our tickets at the Lobster House + Studio and sat down for a coffee while trying to decipher the walking tours in the book. Good thing the coffee was decent because the guide was not very clear.

We decided to check out the tours in Utrechtsestraat and De Oude Binnenstad on Saturday and parts of De Jordaan, De Leidsebuurt and De 9 Straatjes on Sunday. Here are some highlights:

Ruigwerk – Kerkstraat 404 –
home of Wijnlab, where you can make your own wines! There were some food meets architecture related exhibits in there but my fave was the paper menu – origami meets food. They did hand out 50E discounts for the wijnlab so I’m assuming that the costs are fairly high – but hey you do make your own jug!

Mobilia Woonstudio – Utrechtsestraat 62-64
This design store is huge and a great source of ideas. The table (pictured) by student Liza Pater of Houten Meubilerings College was worth the climb up the winding stair cases. Loved the movable pieces.

This was a random contemporary art gallery we walked into on Warmoestraat located next to the infamous condom store. Don’t recall the name of the gallery but just look for it adjacent to the masses of tourists pointing and laughing at the collection of condoms at the Condomerie on Warmoesstraat 141.

Chris Kabel – Warmoestraat 145 –
This was the highlight of the whole weekend for me. Chris Kabel designed this façade for a residential building by Abbink X de Haas architects and housing cooperation de Key. Aluminum sheets are perforated with a pattern that allows the shapes to be bent up or down. When bent up the surface catches the (sun)light and bent down the surface is shaded. In this way intricate graphics can be applied onto the building using cheaply produced perforated panels without the use of expensive laser cutting. If I had taken better pictures, you could see that the faced of the building had an eye on it created by the light and shadows of these panels.

The Oude Kerk was an interesting juxtaposition of old and new – and an excellent example of the disorganization behind the Elle event. By the time we arrived, around 17h, the church was being set up for Nuit Blanche Amsterdam, an event listed in the Elle booklet, but not scheduled to start until 19h. It was unclear what was part of the Elle event and what was not and it was just a bit chaotic in there – as one would expect when setting up an event. While I would have loved to enjoy a Vedett in the Oude Kerk, by the time we returned (at 19h) there was a long queue and the staff was still unable to tell us if our wristbands would allow us entrance.

Lensvelt – Herengracht 178
One of our stops on Sunday and also quite the treat. 15 designers/brands were featured inside this canal house, including 3D tiles by D-tile, clever bathrooms by D-Line, penis sculptures by Joep van Lieshout, the iconic mirror Ultrafragola and a collaboration between Karl Lagerfeld and Cassina.


In Design Amsterdam is in its 10th year. I would think by now it would be better organized. Such a shame because there were so many great up-and-coming designers with projects on display that just got lost among the frenzy. The City Guide was poorly constructed with randomly placed dots for a walking tour instead of providing a clear path to be able to truly explore the hard work and creativity of the artists and designers that were part of the program. I may be biased – as organizing these types of experiences is what I do for a living – but there really was a missed opportunity by Elle and the participants here that could have been avoided with just a few simple adjustments. Perhaps it will improve next year.


UPDATED Remembering Oscar Niemeyer

Mural of Oscar Niemeyer in Sao Paulo by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra

I was deeply saddened by Oscar Niemeyer’s passing in December of last year. His work and persona are at the core of my affection for Brazil and the Brazilian culture. I think fellow iconic architect Norman Foster captured my admiration best in his tribute to Niemeyer:

“It is said that when the pioneering Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited Brasília, he likened the experience to landing on a different planet. Many people seeing Niemeyer’s city for the first time must have felt the same way. It was daring, sculptural, colourful and free − and like nothing else that had gone before. Few architects in recent history have been able to summon such a vibrant vocabulary and structure it into such a brilliantly communicative and seductive tectonic language.” (Read other tributes here.)

Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra amazingly captured the vibrancy of Neimeyer in his recently completely 170 ft mural on Avenida Paulista, one of the main arteries of Sao Paulo.  Here are some more shots I found on MyModernMet:

If ever you plan a trip to Brazil, I highly recommend spending a day in Brasilia to marvel at Niemeyer’s work.  I lost my phone that day so I wasn’t able to take pictures but my memories of that day are one of my most vivid. More impressive is the sense of awe that I experienced as I walked into his Cathedral. My trip was April 2011 yet that feeling is just as powerful today.

Here are some of my previous posts about Niemeyer:

Brasilia in pictures: 50 great buildings, 50 years

A Tribute to Oscar Niemeyer in 3D

UPDATED: Great set of photos of Niemeyer’s work can be found here.


Parrish Museum

New Herzog & de Meuron building

I can’t believe I’m just now discovering the Parrish Art Museum in Watermill, on Long Island’s East End. For those not from the New York area, the museum is located near the tip of Long Island – where many modern and contemporary artists lived and work, including some of my faves: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Esteban Vicente, Roy Lichtenstein, April Gornik, and Cindy Sherman. Or for the more pop culture inclined, it’s near where Serena from Gossip Girl often spends her summers.

The Museum’s holdings now consist of more than 2,600 works ranging from early nineteenth-century landscape paintings through American Impressionism and into the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. And for the first time in the museum’s history, the Parrish Art Museum’s permanent collection will be on view in the inaugural installation in our new Herzog & de Meuron-designed building (see above). The new building is worth a visit alone. Adding to the must do list asap!

April Gornik from the Parrish Museum Collection


Disused Spaces


Three of 13 amazing examples of disused spaces brought back to life – some in concept and some completed.


Back in 2009, the firm crafted a grand proposal to turn the complex into a recreation and climbing destination, but lost the competition to a design for the Annie M.G. Schmidt Huis. Now the developers of the area think NL Architects’ original proposal could still work and they’ve asked them to perform a study for an adaptive reuse of the third silo. The results of that study led to ‘Siloo O’, a world-class climbing and mountaineering facility that makes use of daylight, the existing infrastructure and could become an important attraction for climbers around the world.


An abandoned Catholic church is now a spacious, modern residence in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Zecc Architects carefully preserved the dramatic aspects of the church’s architecture with soaring ceilings, stained glass windows and even a dining table made from the preserved pews.


An old zoo in Torino, Italy has become the Street Art Museum, with the former animal enclosures painted with often-surreal scenes. It’s part of the Border Land Project, an urban regeneration initiative that helps utilize and raise awareness about neglected spaces.


Gaudí Pop-Ups

The reason may be timing. Gaudí’s high-cultural reputation and mass appeal are fairly recent phenomena, as is the notion that serious art befits 3-D treatment; a convergence of these trends may have produced this book. Born in 1852 into a family of copper­smiths, Gaudí developed his singular style in prosperous, fin de siècle Barcelona, where modernism held sway and a patron class had sprung up to provide commissions. When he died in 1926, after being struck by a trolley while walking to Mass, a bereft city turned out to mourn. Over the next few decades, Gaudí’s reputation waned. Many critics and fellow artists saw his work as overwrought and idiosyncratic, narrowly preoccupied with Catalan identity and pious Catholicism. In “Homage to Catalonia,” a firsthand account of soldiering in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell describes Gaudí’s immense, still-unfinished masterwork, La Sagrada Família (the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family), as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world. . . . I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.”

Gaudí’s rehabilitation from modernist dead end began in the 1960s and accelerated with the end of the Franco regime. As the biographical sketch in “Gaudí Pop-Ups” notes, his works have been named a Unesco World Heritage site — a sure sign of global cultural approval. However, the book omits the back story of Gaudí’s fall and rise, relying on well-chosen photographs and McCarthy’s pop-ups to convey the visual impact and sheer wondrous appeal of his most loved Barcelona designs. The accompanying text is concise and unobtrusive.

Open the pages depicting Park Güell, the stunning garden Gaudí created for an unrealized suburban development, and observe the delicate, palm-leaf ironwork on the entrance gates; then get a bird’s-eye view (impossible to achieve in person) of the park’s beloved salamander fountain, encrusted with shards of bright tile, or trencadís. The paper-­engineered version of the Casa Batlló, a plain mansion in Barcelona’s Eixample district that Gaudí remodeled into a glittering piece of anthropomorphism, is similarly satisfying: from the sparkling facade, McCarthy juts out the famous skull balconies that draw gawkers on the street below.

To do justice to Casa Milà, the sand-colored mountain of a structure that was Gaudí’s last secular project, McCarthy provides a pop-up of the apartment building’s “most spectacular feature,” the rooftop terrace with its chimneys camouflaged as sculptures. Consistent with Gaudí’s lifelong blending of religion and history, these organic shapes suggest “guardian warriors and veiled women . . . citadels and mosques.”

Last, and best, are the pop-ups of La Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s obsessive focus for the last 14 years of his life. Fittingly, the church’s signature spires unfold into the tallest paper structure in the book, which closes with McCarthy’s ingenious rendition of the light-filled basilica, its ranks of columns seeming to advance toward the reader. Gaudí meant this space to hold 13,000 worshipers, and when you enter the real church, all seem to be present. Hence, a great pleasure of “Gaudí Pop-Ups” is having the artist to yourself: open the book, and there are no people.

Polly Morrice is a frequent contributor to the Book Review.


A Floating Pool For NYC’s East River, Plans A 2015 Opening


By all accounts, Pool was destined to languish in its creators’ portfolios, a forgotten project of summer 2010. The idea–to build a floating pool in the East River–was expensive, long-term, and so nonchalantly radical it seemed like half a joke.

But in the year since they unveiled their proposal, the three young designers behind Pool–Archie Coates and Jeffrey Franklin from Playlab, and Dong-Ping Wong from Family–have been hard at work. They raised $41,000 on Kickstarter, funding a summer of water filtration system research. They built a team of designers, Columbia science professors, and ARUP engineers, and set up a riverside science lab. They secured the support of senators, city advocates, and newspapers–their idea even got retweeted by Jay-Z, himself a budding civic philanthropist.

On October 1st, the team launched a second wave of fundraising, with a new website and a campaign called EVERYBODY Pool. Their goal is to raise $1 million over the next six months, through a partnership with nonprofit Storefront for Art and Architecture. If they’re successful, they’ll be able to fund the construction (and very pricey permitting) of a prototype pool over the summer of 2013.

What’s so difficult about building a floating pool, you ask? After all, Copenhagen did it. What distinguishes Pool from a big, expensive above-ground pool is its filtration system. The team wants to actively improve the water quality of the East River, by constructing the pool out of a unique series of filters that would make the notoriously toxic waters fit for humans. The pool would release 500,000 gallons of filtered water back into the channel every day. And after a year of testing systems in the river, they feel confident enough to install a test pool, with a tentative goal of opening the Pool in summer of 2015. Beyonce, they hope, will play opening day.

At a Monday night party at the Brooklyn Brewery, only two blocks away from the river, the team thanked its supporters with beer and brats. “Over the past year, we’ve tried to put the pool in front of everyone who will need to eventually approve the project,” Dong-Ping Wong told Co.Design. “There’s usually about 30 minutes of them saying things like ‘that’s cute.’ or ‘good luck with that!’ And sometimes a little cynicism, along with questions. ‘Have you talked to this guy?’ and so on. Then, after about 30 minutes of that, they start to get excited.”

Ten or twenty years ago, Pool would have seemed impossible. But the design team points recent precedents, like the High Line, to illustrate how community organizing and social networking can leverage big, crazy ideas. After all, if two Chelsea freelancers could rally a city behind an elevated park, why can’t three Brooklyn architects do the same for a pool?


I love doors. Especially this one by Teatum+Teatum.


My first thought was, with all the rain in London, the perforations seem impractical. Actually my first thought was: ooooh pretty. I’m still curious how these doors are constructed. Nonetheless, ooooh pretty.  Actually, my first thought was ooooh pretty.  Still curious how those doors are constructed.  Nonetheless, ooooh pretty.