Monday, September 22, 2008

Mexico Trip - Palenque

All of four Maya ruins we visited are impressive. The huge pyramids make Teotihuacán the most spectacular; the small-scale ruins against the turquoise Caribbean sea make Tulum the most charming; the various architectural styles make Chichen Itza the most architecturally striking. But my #1 favorite is Palenque, a Maya city built between the 7th C and 10th C located in the state of Chiapas. Palenque gained its name from the village Santo Domingo de Palenque 9km away, since its original name was lost in time. Palenque seems more breathtaking due to its dramatic geographic setting. The morning mists in the mountains add an otherworldly atmosphere to the ruins.

First discovered in 1773, Palenque has been photographed and documented a few times by European expeditions. The first professional excavation took place 1949-1952 led by
Mexican archaeologists. The excavation still continues today, and archaeologists estimate that only 5% of the whole city has been uncovered so far! Since Palenque was deeply buried in the jungles for centuries, the process of revealing it was exactly the opposite of creating a new park: instead of building everything out of nothing, Palenque was unveiled by removing everything around it, a method of subtraction rather than addition.

Of all the visible structures in Palenque, the palace is the most fascinating to me. The whole palace is a maze: as you walk, you pass through different corridors, courtyards and rooms, while the tall tower always forms a visual center and implies the directions. Beautiful carvings are found on huge stone slabs in some courtyards. The palace is at once architecturally sophisticated and spatially interesting.

East of Palenque in Guatemala stands the larger Maya ruin Tikal. Hopefully I can get there someday!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cool Interiors from Paul van Dyk's MV

I watched Paul van Dyk's DVD Global, a MV collection filmed in several cities around the world. I was fascinated with the cool interiors shown in this MV Tell Me Why, hoping to find more info on the design.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin's glasses

Sarah Palin is starting a new eyewear trend these days. Her rimless glasses with titanium frames were designed by Japanese designer Kazuo Kawasaki. I do love the design and hope to get a pair if I could afford the price of $375.

Kawasaki was shocked by this soaring demand for his design under Palin's influence. But he asked American voters to pay attention to her positions on the issues, and not vote on image or his glasses. I hope for the same!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mexico City - José Vasconcelos Library

Before my trip, I saw the above interior photos of José Vasconcelos Library, a huge and modern library in Mexico City. But when I really got there, I was disappointed to find it has been closed for a while. The newly updated wiki page gives the following account -

The Library had to be closed down in March 2007 because of defects of construction. The Superior Auditor of the Federation detected 36 irregularities in its construction and issued 13 motions of responsibility for public servants of the federal government. Among the irregularities found was the misplacement of marble blocks at a cost of 15 million pesos (roughly 1.4 million dollars).

What a shame such a good design didn't get built well and so much money was wasted! I happened to find someone's blog with many pics of this library when it was still in use -

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mexico City - Luis Barragán

Luis Barragán is the most important figure in Mexican modern architecture. Visiting his house and studio naturally became a priority for our 2-day in Mexico City. Trained as an engineer, he practiced as a designer in not only architecture, but also furniture and gardens.

The solid surface at the entrance separates the house completely from the street. The interior presents a totally different world filled with light and colors. The main space is double-height, and divided by low walls. The huge window opening to the garden blurs the boundary between inside and outside. The nicely designed garden forms a mini jungle in the courtyard.

Barragán widely traveled in his earlier life, so a good collection of books and crafts from various nations are found throughout his house. Inspired by Le Corbusier and Mies, Barragán's design shows a pefect fusion between European modernism and indigenous cultures of Mexico.

Light and shadow was a major interest in his design, for instance, the play with light and shadow by adjustable shutters, the use of windows and skylights to embrace views and natural light. The subtle use of light and shadow simply adds a phenomenal quality to his minimalist style, which also had a strong influence on Tadao Ando.

The house is an introvert space speaking of its own language inside the
bustling city, a space of poetry written in light, texture and color. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for Francisco Gilardi House and Tlalpan Chapel, two of his excellent works in Mexico City.
(Note: Photos are only allowed at the roof terrace, so I had to use internet pics for other areas)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mexico City - Blue House

My travel motivation often comes from film. I had been dreaming about Mexico City since I watched the film Frida (2002). The images in the film are just unforgettable: the vibrant colors of Mexican architecture, the spectacular pyramids of Teotihuacan, and of course the imaginative paintings by Frida...I became more eager to see Mexico after seeing Sergei Eisenstein's fabulous documentary Que Viva Mexico! (1932) in which he captured the Mexican charm at its purest.

The 'blue house' where Frida grew up has become today's Frida Kahlo Museum. It's located in Coyoacán, a cultural neighborhood in the south of the city. Eisenstein was actually a friend of Frida and her husband Rivera, and visited them in this house before.

Before stepping into the exhibition rooms, I was already overwhelmed by the beauty of the courtyard: the bright blue stucco walls against textured grey stones, surrounded by evergreen tropical plants and primitive sculptures. A video of Frida dressed in traditional costume dancing around the courtyard was being played at one corner. The more I walked around, the more alive Frida appeared to be.

The interior houses her paintings, artifacts, photos and letters. The large and bright studio on the second floor offers perfect views into the courtyard. The dried oil colors were still lying on the table...

Wherever you go, the space is full of art, life, beauty and modesty. It was the first time I was so moved by vernacular architecture instead of a starchitect's works.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Paths in Mexico

Our past Mexico trip was unbelievable - We took seven flights and over 20-hr bus rides to get to nine places during the eleven days. Above is a map showing our itinerary inside Mexico (blue line for flight, red line for bus tour; click on the image for a better view).

The places we visited have different characters: from the global city Mexico City to traditional towns like Merida, from beautiful carribean beaches to lush tropical rainforests, and three major maya ruins with different charm...We had to skip places like Puebla and Oaxaca due to time constraint.

Mexicans are very friendly and happy people. Wherever we went, there were locals offering us help even though they don't speak a word of English. I really fell in love with Mexico and hope to return someday.