Saturday, February 25, 2012


Photo courtesy of kayodeok

The project of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron for the Tate Modern in London, on the bank of the Thames, reminds me in many respects to the Jewish Museum in San Francisco, by Daniel Libeskind. Both are contemporary adaptations carried out on old disused power stations, although in this case, the laureated Swiss architects opted for a more rational composition than the one proposed by the famous Polish designer. This waterfront renovation project has had a similar effect to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, revitalizing physical, environmental and culturally an area that was deteriorated not long ago.

Photo courtesy of R. Nagy


Bankside Power Station is located in a prime location on the River Thames, enjoying a magnificent sight to the famous St. Paul Cathedral (both structures are symmetrical, presided by a vertical element in the middle:  a fireplace in the case of the station, and a huge dome in the Cathedral).
Originally designed in 1947 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who also designed the famous English red telephone box) and completed in two stages only in 1963, it is a steel structure covered with brick. The basically massive form of the building is interrupted by groups of fine, thin vertical windows that allow controlled lighting inside.

The building houses a turbine room of 152 m long and 35 m in height, and a room for smaller caldrons.
At the center, a long chimney of 99 m in height, which was intentionally made slightly smaller than the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, contrasts with the horizontality of the building.

Photo courtesy of Jon May
The station ceased to operate as such in 1981, and it was often threatened to disappear due to property speculation. In fact, in 1993 it began to be demolished, but this act was finally prevented by the intervention of the BBC.


The history of the Tate galleries dates back to the nineteenth century, when the National Gallery of British Art was created in 1847. In 1887 Sir Henry Tate was one of its major benefactors and the gallery mostly focused on Victorian art. Art collections grew until 1954 when the Tate was separated from the National Gallery and specialized in Modern Art. The gallery began to expand and was renamed as Tate Britain, then opened  branches such as the Tate Liverpool (1988) and the Tate St. Ives (1993). In 1996 Tate announced the purchase of the Bankside Station and organized a competition for what would become one of their most important venues: the Tate Modern.

The contest, won by the architects Herzog and De Mouron, was conceived as a plan to revitalize not only the station but also the surrounding area.

Lighting a garden before the Tate Modern
The creation of a pedestrian bridge over the Thames, called the Millennium Bridge, connects the new museum with the city center, particularly the Cathedral of St. Paul, the most important building in London.

Photo courtesy of Dave Gorman
Photos courtesy of Mergerita Spilutini
In this stunning view from Google Earth you can see the shadow of the long chimney of the Tate Modern over the Thames, and the connection with St. Paul's Cathedral across the Millennium Bridge, designed by Norman Foster.
See location on Google Maps

The proposal  Herzog and De Meuron was the only one who contemplated the preservation of the station building for the most part, considering it as a source of power and energy, which could be applied in turn to design.

For remodeling the building the huge turbine hall was recycled as an internal square with a gentle slope,  which is accessed by stairs descending from the street level.

The photo at the left shows the room from the plaza level, appreciating the slope of the ramp. The right view is from the entry level, about to descend the steps.

The room receives the dramatic effect of light from the both the vertical windows and overhead lighting. This  large space is devoted to exhibitions of large sculptures or installations. Next to the square, two levels of shops have been located.

Photos courtesy of Gabo and Cejayclarck

Adjacent to the turbine hall, the boiler room has been renovated to house art galleries, arranged in three levels and organized thematically into four groups: History/Memory/Society, Nude/Action/Body, Landscape /Matter-Environment and  Still Life/Object/Real Life.

The relationship of the galleries with the large square is spatially and visually remarkable, successfully combining monumentality and intimacy, and is highlighted by bright boxes attached to the facade of the gallery that serve as a balcony to the turbine hall. The glassy surface of these greenish balconies contrasts with the severe black metal of the structures that support the nave.

Some elements of the old station as the fuel tanks have been recycled to house art objects.
At the top, the building is crowned with a sober two-stories glass addition which houses areas for members of the Tate as well as a restaurant with stunning views of the waterfront. At night this area acts as a lamp, in contrast to the massive volume of the brick station.

At the end of the chimney, the artist Michael Craig-Martin also placed a luminous element. This artist was responsible for the spectacular opening of the Tate Modern in 2000, using laser beams projected onto the structure.


After the enormous success of Tate Modern, with nearly 2 million visitors a year (becoming the most visited museum of modern art in England) a series of expansion projects have been planned . The most important to be built over the old oil tanks, has also been designed by Herzog and de Meuron.

The first proposal of the architects for the expansion, marked a stark contrast to the existing building. It was  glass pyramid shaped as a ziggurat, with protruding elements in the form of boxes, in several directions.

This proposal aroused much criticism in the community, so the extension was redesigned as a block pyramid whose brick facade have a dialogue with the Bankside Station. It is a fairly dynamic, although it is basically a massive volume with thin horizontal grooves. This new approach not only fits better to the surroundings and needs of the Tate Modern, but it used a number of resources that will make it environmentally efficient, conserving energy as much as 40%.

It is expected to be ready for the Olympics in 2012.


Night view of the Cathedral of St. Paul taken from the cafe at the top of Tate Modern

Tuesday, February 21, 2012



Chicago, so-called the "Windy City" (I experienced the reason of that nickname when the wind broke a couple of  umbrellas), is the second city  in the U.S. and one of the 10 most influential cities in the world. In fact, Chicago is remembered by the labor movement that led to the Haymarket Revolt and their claim for the 8-hour day (which is why we celebrate Labor Day on May 1st). They were also famous for its gangsters duringthe 30's, the blues and the Chicago Bulls. The clear urban grid meets the Lake Michigan and is broken by the Chicago River,  treasuring architectural jewels such as those of the Chicago School, the Louis Sullivan's Carson stores , Mies Van der Rohe's buildings and the Lake Shore Drive Apartments , Frank L. Wright's Robie house.

In this opportunity we will focus on the city's waterfront Development (or urban development facing water bodies), particularly on the recently remodeled or Millenium Park, located on the shores of Lake Michigan.


Since 1850 until recently, the Millennium Park was a site owned by the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1917 construction began on the adjacent Grant Park. Given the presence of railroad tracks and parking lots, these areas suffered from neglect and deterioration, despite the efforts of certain groups of neighbors to recover it.

Old view of Millenium Park (upper right area) divided by railways and isolated by the Columbus Highway.
Millenium Park in 1987, almost completely abandoned.
Photos courtesy of Thomas Yanul.

Millenium Park for redevelopment.
Google Earth Image

The idea of ​​converting the abandoned park into a center of social and attraction near the Lake Michigan by means of art (architecture, sculpture and music) was developed in 1997 by Mayor Richard M. Daley, and acquired a significant interest due to the participation of world-renowned architect Frank O. Gehry. The construction of the park would lasted from 1998 to 2004.

Aerial view of Millennium Park after redevelopment.
Photo Wikipedia

Compositional elements

The park is divided into two areas: an area of ​​gardens, laid out like a Cartesian arrangement, parallel to  the Michigan Avenue, and the other more free, defined by a virtual elliptical "roof" and presided by Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion. The park is linked to the lake via a bridge, also designed by Gehry, that crosses over the Columbus Highway.

To solve the problem of the existing railway, it was decided that both the train yard as parking lots were to be built ​​under the park, so the park is considered terrace-largest in the world.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Frank Gehry.

Frank Gehry's sketch of Pritzker Pavilion 

At a cost of $ 52 million (including 15 million to hire the architect) the most significant element of the park, and an icon that is preceived when approaching to the lake from the city, the Pritzker Pavilion bears the unmistakable stamp of the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry .

Lateral approach to the Pritzker Pavilion
Photo C. Zeballos

Gehry, who in 1989 received the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious architecture award, uses his well-known vocabulary of organic forms and sculptures, metal ribbons that twist like a silver cloud and that define the bandshell pavilion. With a capacity for 4000 seats and various acoustic and digital equipment, it is one of the most technologically advanced outdoor-concert halls  in the world.

Imposing presence of the Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry.
Photo C. Zeballos

This 40 m structure is composed of series of steel plates arranged over a metallic frame, so that its imposing, cumbersome and voluptuous presence is merely a  scenographically displayed facade.

Detail of the back of the Pritzker Pavilion, where the scenographical nature of this architecture can be seen.
Photo C. Zeballos

Besides the bandshell there is an expansion  lawn that can host up to 7000 people, which has been covered with a metal tube frame that defines an elliptical space .

Detail of the pergola as an extension of the Pritzker Pavilion

The acoustics was developed in collaboration with the company Talaske , who first provided the conditions for the musicians to hear themselves on stage, and secondly to expand the sound to the audience with the maximum fidelity.
In that sense, the pergola has not merely a visual role but also an utilitarian purpose as it holds the speakers system that offers the audience a surround sound and the feeling of being inside a concert hall. The walls of the bandshell reverberate the sound, while a second set of speakers facing the audience spreads the sound from the stage.

Scattering of sound through the speakers in the pergola.
Image courtesy of Talaske

The bandshell is the scene of the Grant Park Music Festival, a classical music event outdoors, the only free show of its kind in the country.

Spectacular lighting effects on the Pritzker Pavilion during a night of concert.

Cloud Gate. Anish Kapoor.

This unique sculpture, popularly known as "The Bean" is a 22 m long, 14 wide and 11 high element, and despite its light appearance weighs over 100 tons. Defined by its author, the award-winning Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, as a "gateway to Chicago, a poetic idea about the city that it reflects" the work is a sculpture made of polished steel, representing a drop of mercury that falls on the square.

Hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor
Photo courtesy of Peter Schulz
Cloud Gate, photo courtesy of April
The concave surface of the "Gateway to the Clouds" reflects precisely the sky and the surrounding skyscrapers, while the central concavity plays the distorted reflection of the passers-by and the surrounding environment, especially at its base or omphalos .

The Crown Fountain

Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the fountain is composed of an interactive installation consisting of two glass brick towers, which contain computerized LEDs that produce a series of changing images, especially related to citizens of Chicago.

Crown Fountain, photo courtesy of Manuel Longo

Each of these towers is 15 meters high and 7 meters wide and 4.5 m thick. The design and construction of the sculptural group reached 17 million, 10 of which were donated by the Crown family.

When I visited the park in March 2005 they were just a couple of big screens,  like huge TVs showing changing images. But in April 2006 a water fountain of 71 m x 15 m was installed and that made this sculpture much more attractive, since it interpolates water games with the graphic images displayed. An interesting effect happens in the moment when the face on the screen makes a gesture as if he were blowing and the person's mouth poured a stream of water over the fountain.

Interaction between the image and water play, photo courtesy of yewuan

Click here to see a video of the interaction of people with the fountains, which makes it very popular in summer.

Despite controversy provoked by its high cost (U.S. $ 500 million), which has tripled the original budget, in addition to having postponed its opening for 4 years (originally the Millennium Park should have been inaugurated in 2000, hence the name), Millennium Park has become the most important public space in the Chicago's lakefront, a space where people interacts with the architecture, landscape, lake, art and music.


Friday, February 17, 2012


Paoay Church. Photo courtesy of Hun Garces .


Some of the most notable examples of colonial architecture in the Philippines are located in the provinces of Ilocos, Luzon, north of the archipelago. It is a pleasure to visit Ilocos, because of its idyllic scenery and its rich culture and history, expressed in villages of clean and tidy streets that contrast with the chaotic traffic jams in Manila.

In this post we will review two types of colonial architecture: religious, in Paoay, and civil, in Vigan.

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH IN Paoay (1699-1702)

San Agustin Church in Paoay. Photo courtesy of Rene Stack.

One of the most conspicuous examples of the so-called earthquake baroque architecture in the Philippines, which is the Church of San Agustin in Paoay (1704-1894), declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

Paoay is a small village situated on a plateau, linearly organized along Marcos Avenue, which connects it with other surrounding towns.
The church nave, curiously, is oriented parallel to the main road, while preceded by a large atrium  from a side street.

The land where it sits is sandy, so the original buildings were frequently destroyed by earthquakes. Its builders, Augustinians priests, managed to counter the seismic effects by building thick walls and massive,  volute-shaped buttresses .

These sturdy buttresses are the epitome of colonial earthquake resistant architecture.

As Father Pedro Galende writes:

"The walls were made ​​of stone called capaza, and bricks 1.67 m thick (a braza). The main nave was supported by 14 harigues (molave ​​posts) of 60 m long (72 varas), 15 m wide (17 varas) and 7 m high (8 varas) in the transept and 5.10 m (6 varas) in the main nave. The ceiling was covered with strands of caña de Boxo, the windows had shell panes. "

The triangular façade has an affinity with the Gothic style, because of the verticality of the pilasters and the pinnacles that crown the composition, though some say that has some influence of the Buddhist monument of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia.

Another feature of this and many other Philippine churches is the separation of the bell tower with respect the main structure of the church.

Paoay church, Ilocos.
It is common to find that, unlike Mexico or Peru, the bell tower is separated from the nave of the church.

"The first bell tower was built with wooden posts 3.50 m (4 varas). There were three bells. Fr Thomas Torres enlarged the tower [...] from 1753 to 1756. It was made of chopped coral stones, 12 per 16 inches thick, with molave braces put together, with the help of pulverized limestone mixed with molasses. "

The interior of the church is a nave whose coverage is supported by a collar roof structure.

Inside the church


Vigan, Ilocos. Typical  kalesa emphasizes the old flavor of this urban space

The charming town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, is the best preserved example of Spanish colonial architecture in Asia. Its streets laid out in a gridiron pattern, according to the Laws of the Indies, housing a collection of well preserved colonial buildings, with white walls and picturesque balconies. While some of its features will inevitably evoked the architecture of my home Arequipa, Peru , the fact is that there are differences with respect to Latin American cities, as Vigan was influenced by Chinese and Ilocano cultures.

Vigan, Ilocos. Detail of the balcony. The windows instead of glass use a translucent seashell.

Vigan, an ancient port located on an island near the Abra River, was born in 1574 as a strategic point of trade with China. The population, Chinese and Filipino, also expressed their mixture in the architectural styles, made of wood and sloping roofs, inspired by the bahay kubo, the traditional Filipino house.

Meanwhile, the Spanish preferred coral stone architecture, called bahay na bato, combined with elements of wood, mostly in the balconies and shutters.

Sometimes the first floor was made of stone upon which a wooden second floor was built.

The urban layout is similar to a checkerboard, typical of Spanish colonial cities, but has an eccentric plaza to the north, linked to a secondary square. Many of the streets maintain a compact profile with no setbacks.

These town, however, was about to disappear during the Second World War. During the Japanese occupation, a general settled in Vigan in 1943. When in 1945 the Allies began to reconquer the Philippines, the retreating Japanese usually left the villages they had occupied in ashes. However, this general was married to a Filipina. Before escaping from town, he left his family in the church of Vigan, promising to preserve the town and not burn it down, in exchange for protection for his family. This is how Vigan survived intact to this day.

The house where the general inslaló Japanese.

Given its historical value, the quality of his factory, his urban scale and the conservation of its monuments (one of the few places not affected by war), Vigan has also been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site . Despite being significantly marketed for tourism, is quite an experience traveling to the sleepy little streets that seem to be frozen in time, whose cobbled stone pavement resound to the clatter of horses' hooves.

Click here to see views in 360 of the Town of Vigan .

While Mexico was closely linked to the Philippines, there is also Peru's cultural influence to a lesser extent, particularly on religious issues. Peru's San Martin de Porras is one of the most popular saints in this Catholic archipelago. In addition, Santa Rosa de Lima, is "officially" the Patroness of Peru, the Americas and the Philippines.
I was very surprised when I commenting that issue with the locals, nobody seemed to know about it...