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Architecture

Cuban Style

Cuban Style

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Cuba’s rich and vast architectural history shows us how thoughtfully stylized almost every aspect of its design is.  There is an overwhelming feeling that can be defined by the word ‘ornate’ – even if in a modest way.  No matter what the influence may be -  Spanish Colonial, Moorish , Beaux Arts , Art Nouveau, Art Deco or Mid-Century Modern – it is highly sophisticated and detailed in its language.  Although in many places the structures are truly crumbling, the wealth and culture of decades gone by is still wondrously preserved.

The prevalent pattern of arches and columns is expansive in either the most simple or the most elaborate of classical forms.   Amongst the arched structures are images of the spectacular Catalan-vaulted brick and terra-cotta mazes of theaters and tunnels called the ‘Instituto Superior de Arte’, or the Cuban National Arts Schools.  This school for the arts was conceived and built by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the early 1960’s but quickly fell out of favor by 1965 with the Russian influence and has been abandoned ever since.

This mindful Cuban design is evident throughout the island – as seen in intricately carved stonework and woodwork, Lalique glass panels and sconces, vibrant Caribbean color, beautiful doors, those fabulous 1950’s cars, stained glass transoms, and endless balconies and stair rails with elaborately molded ironwork.  Also notice the influence of the bat, considered to be good luck in Cuban mythology and embraced by the Bacardi family.  However, the bat in the Colon Cemetery is considered bad luck as one is not to go to a cemetery at night when the bats fly!

Once again, I will let the images portray the experience of visiting Cuba far better than words so please enjoy the stylized detail.  And a special thank you to Chas Miller, Executive Director of the Soane Foundation, for sharing a few of his beautiful photos!

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Cuba

Cuba

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My recent trip to Cuba was nothing less than enriching as it instantly exposed the almost secret opulence of a preserved and rich cultural history. The Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation’s trip to Cuba was as wonderful as I can imagine a tour to be.   Chas Miller, the Foundation’s Executive Director, along with our wonderful Cuban guide Abel, diligently led us through Cuba visiting places that not many others can see. We were also so fortunate to have Tom Kligerman, who serves as President of the Soane Foundation, on our trip as he shared with us his architectural expertise and fascination of this magical island.

The Cuban people are proud of their country. During the 18th century, Cuba became the world’s largest sugar producer after achieving great wealth from its rich soil and sugarcane plantations. Cities such as Havana were filled with elegant stone mansions and exuberant palaces. Having endured several revolutions, it resumed its independence and wealth to later become known as the ‘jewel in the Caribbean crown’.

The island is literally a time capsule - it’s as if the clock stopped moving in 1960 upon the United States imposing the embargo against Cuba. The ubiquitous colorful 1950’s cars on the streets, the flea-market find vintage tableware at restaurants, and the very obvious lack of technology make one feel they are back in time over five decades ago.

The splendor of Cuba in its heyday between 1902 and 1959, is still very obvious beneath the crumbling facades of both interiors and exteriors. The classical architecture is pure – deteriorating but still in its original form with its integrity never having been compromised.  Breath taking examples of such architecture exists with Beaux Arts buildings, Moorish, Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences, and then the beginnings of modernism, which are all prevalent. Not having freedom or money for so many decades has in a very twisted way preserved a magnificent island.

The natural beauty, architecture, culture, food, music and the rich history make for an extraordinary Caribbean island to visit. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves now. You will get a quick taste of the beauty of Cuba!

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Musée Picasso

Musée Picasso

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The much anticipated reopening of the Musée Picasso Paris in 2014 is incredibly impressive.   For the last five years, a museum I had become enamored with over a decade ago has undergone a tumultuous renovation that is an artistic drama in and of itself. The museum’s public space almost tripled to 58,000 square feet, it’s budget virtually doubled to $70 million, and with allegations of mismanagement and dissent, museum directors were shockingly dismissed. Although the completion was delayed for years, it was still all worth the wait and hopefully the melodrama has all been forgotten!

Located in the Hôtel Salé, the gallery is one of the finest 17th century Baroque mansions in the Marais district of Paris.   Welcomed by an expansive interior courtyard and upon entering the fine Parisian house, one can see the interior architectural detail is as curious and beautiful as the art it houses. With four stories of small rooms, a vaulted ceiling basement and a loft like attic floor with exposed beams for Picasso’s personal collection, the experience of the building and its contents are truly a visual feast.

The Musée Picasso collection originated as a series of donations to the State from his heirs in lieu of paying inheritance tax upon his death in 1973. It was also Picasso’s request to his heirs that his personal collection be given to the State. Included in his self-curated collection are pieces he owned by other artists whom he admired including Degas, Cézanne, Miró, Matisse and Henri Rousseau amongst others.

As Picasso proclaimed himself to be the ‘the greatest collector of Picassos in the world’, the museum’s vast compilation of his archives contains over 200,000 paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints and drawings with thousands of works from all of these techniques, mediums and periods of his life on display. It is almost impossible to begin to describe the significance of the collection.

An additional bonus to the museum is its collection of 50 pieces of furniture and lighting designed by the Swiss sculptor Diego Giacometti. He had been selected by the museum director upon it’s opening in 1985 to create cohesive furnishings as a link between Picasso’s 20th century art forms and the intricacy of the 1659 Baroque Hôtel Salé in which they would reside. The bronze pieces are amusing and delicate with references to nature as evidenced by the animals and tulips in the lighting.

For anyone traveling to Paris, this should most definitely be on the ‘must see’ list of things to do. The Musée Picasso is far more than just a museum – it is many layers of historic art and architecture that leaves one feeling truly saturated with French culture!

http://www.museepicassoparis.fr/en/

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Gilded

Gilded

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While strolling the streets and taking in the sights of Paris and London, one cannot help but notice the lavish brightly shining gilded ornamentation that is fit for a King or Queen.  It's a gilding that exudes royalty and extravagance, be it old or new.  Not only found on architectural elements, gilding is brought inside and detailed on furniture.  I always love a little gold in a room - be it gilding or brass. It adds a layer of patina in what feels like history.  It's shine is pleasing to the eye and inevitably makes that piece more special.  Royalty!

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Floored

Floored

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The visual stimulation at the Musee du Louvre is beyond description – it's simply in every direction one looks.   I couldn’t help but look down though.  The miles of floors are timeless and simply beautiful.  They are subtle patterns and layouts of hardwood or more graphic designs of stone.  All of these are inspirational either to reproduce literally on floors or even bath walls, or more figuratively through painting or stained stenciling.  And who doesn't love an elongated hexagon pattern!  (notice the Gothic arch at the stair!)

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Arched

Arched

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Arches appeared in architecture as early as the 2nd millennium BC although it was the Ancient Romans who brought these structures into the architectural vernacular we know today.  This was ever so obvious in Paris where everywhere one turns, be it a corridor, an entry passage, a train station or a theater, the arch was present.  The beauty of the arch form is often ignored until we realize it's presence is ubiquitous.  The arch also speaks volumes of history.  Even in a modern setting, the arch's reference to classicism is both subliminal and obvious.  Look at arches - you will appreciate them!

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