Category Archives: Architecture

Architectural Abstractions – The World Health Organization Building

Two different takes on the WHO building downtown DC. This time shot in bright, strong, contrasty sunlight. Due to the geometry of the building I was aiming for geometric abstractions, composing so the context of the structure was absent and what is visible has to be taken non-literally.

World Health Organization, Cylinder
World Health Organization, Cylinder

Pointing the camera vertically to create these images really pushes the perception into unreality – you’re dealing with three texture sets, not anything particularly identifiable. Mid-century architecture like this is a rare commodity in DC – most buildings are either glass-and-steel cubes, neoclassical faux-palaces, or Art Deco boxes of varying degrees of interest and value, so this really stands out.

World Health Organization, Thirds
World Health Organization, Thirds

World Health Organization

I previously posted some b/w abstracts of this building, taken on a cloudy, rainy day. Here it is on a glorious, cloudless sunny day. Yes, that actually is the color of the sky; no Photoshop trickery was used to create that.

PAHO/WHO Building
PAHO/WHO Building

I love the dramatic contrast between the clear, textureless blue sky and the geometric dynamism of the brick latticework over the building facade.

Changing Light- Glass Cubes

this is a brand new office/retail/residential complex here in DC. I pass it all the time on my way to and from work, social outings and various and sundry obligations. I’ve seen it in all kinds of light, at different times of day. I particularly like watching it come to life as the sun goes down.

Glass Cubes, Evening Light
Glass Cubes, Evening Light

The color changes as the sun goes down and the lights go on. At any time, the abstract geometry of the place makes it highly clinical, but the mood shifts. It actually looks more alive at night.

Glass Cubes, Night, Face
Glass Cubes, Night, Face

A different take on abstracting the geometry of the space. The glowing red exit sign adds a tiny touch of humanity in what could otherwise look like a set from Tron, the movie about a virtual world inside a computer. 

Glass Cubes, Exit Sign
Glass Cubes, Exit Sign

Paris in October – part 34 – Art Nouveau in Chalon-sur-Saone

On the Boulevard de la Republique there is this fascinating Art Nouveau building that stands out amidst its neighbors. Having spent 10 days in Barcelona, perhaps the global epicenter of Art Nouveau, it’s hard not to be sensitive to it. A Gaudi building this isn’t, but the sculptures over the doors that support the first floor balconies are particularly notable – they look like they’re organically emerging from the stone, or perhaps swirling in and out of a magical smoke from some genie’s lamp.

Entrance, 16 Boulevard de la République
Entrance, 16 Boulevard de la République

The archway over the building entrance (#18) is obviously stylistically linked to the entrance archway to the courtyard behind the building (#16 Blvd de la Republique), but in no way a mirror.

Entrance, 18 Boulevard de la Republique, Chalon-sur-Saone
Entrance, 18 Boulevard de la Republique, Chalon-sur-Saone

Here is the full facade, so you can appreciate the context of the doorways. I wonder what it housed in the past, and for what purpose it was built. Today there appear to be offices in the building on the lower levels, and possibly apartments on the upper floor.

Facade, Number 16-18 Boulevard de la Republique, Chalon-sur-Saone
Facade, Number 16-18 Boulevard de la Republique, Chalon-sur-Saone

I did not see anything else like it in town, in my admittedly extremely brief survey of Chalon, which makes me wonder all the more about the motivation for building it. How did this come to be? It’s obviously prior to the (now gone) Kodak presence in Chalon. It also doesn’t have the feel of being the residence of a single wealthy family, like the Gaudi commissions in Barcelona.

Paris in October – part 31 – More Notre Dame in B/W

These are a few more from that last remaining roll of b/w I didn’t develop until yesterday. Just some additional looks at Notre Dame cathedral in black and white.

It’s hard to view the cathedral without trying to interpret the towers as a graphical element. They’re the most recognizable element to the church, perhaps other than the rose window. The main body of the church is actually rather narrow and delicate, relative to its perception. All those flying buttresses make it seem much more massive than it is. The tower facade, though, really establishes that perception because when viewing it straight on, it seems like a solid wall, and that the church behind it must be equally as massive.

Twin Towers, Notre Dame
Twin Towers, Notre Dame

Trying to look at the towers is a vertigo-inducing experience. They are quite tall, and the nature of the decorations make you keep looking up to see all the details to the very last set of gargoyles some 226 feet in the air. Getting up in the towers to view them up close and personal is vertigo-inducing as well – it’s a nearly 400-stair climb to the top of the tower (which I did NOT do – I’m too out-of-shape to attempt something so heart-stressing). At one point in time, Notre Dame was the largest building in the western world – you can still easily spot it from the 2nd tier of the Eiffel Tower, despite the intervening buildings, several miles and the bend in the river between the two landmarks.

Tower, Notre Dame, Looking Up
Tower, Notre Dame, Looking Up

Here is a view of the incredibly detailed facade. One thing I did not realize until looking at this photo is the fact that all three main doorways are different. I always assumed that the left/right halves of the facade would be symmetrical. If you look carefully, the archway over the left hand door is a little smaller, and crowned by the angular, peaked molding. The right arch is larger and lacks the angular molding. Another detail that often gets forgotten – we assume that these cathedrals were all bare stone, and that the way we see them today is how they were intended. Au contraire – most cathedrals of the Romanesque and Gothic periods (the 7th-15th centuries) were brightly painted, inside and out. The statues on the exterior would all have been polychrome, as would the interior walls have been. Time, weather, wear and neglect have conspired to strip the coloring off the buildings. They did find some early medieval frescoes inside the old cathedral in Salamanca that had been covered up for centuries after an earthquake damaged both cathedrals (they’re kind of conjoined twins and share a wall).

Notre Dame Facade, Afternoon
Notre Dame Facade, Afternoon

I really don’t know why they built this mammoth viewing/reviewing stand in the plaza in front of the cathedral. You can ascend the steps on the front face, or you can climb the ramp up the back. This is the view of the towers from the ramp – the tarp-like covers on the ramp provide a starkly modern contrast to the gothic stonework of the cathedral.

Notre Dame Towers, from Ramp
Notre Dame Towers, from Ramp
Towers, Notre Dame Cathedral
Towers, Notre Dame Cathedral

The crowds at Notre Dame are non-stop, even at night after the cathedral is closed. This is a typical weekday afternoon on the plaza out front. The little house to the right is the rectory for the cathedral. Along the fence surrounding the rectory is where you will find the bird feeders – people who will sell you a scrap of day old bread or a stale churro that you can hold up in your outstretched hand to attract the sparrows who will hover over to get a bite.

Crowds, Square, Notre Dame
Crowds, Square, Notre Dame
Feeding Sparrows, Notre Dame
Feeding Sparrows, Notre Dame

Some architectural details of the fence around the rectory:

Capital, Fence Column, Notre Dame
Capital, Fence Column, Notre Dame
Fence Capital, Notre Dame
Fence Capital, Notre Dame

Beside the cathedral there is a park with views of the Seine, replete with benches, gardens and, as part of Haussmann’s renovations, public drinking fountains. I loved the way this looked backlit with the evening light. Consider it another one of my portraits of everyday objects.

Drinking Fountain, Notre Dame
Drinking Fountain, Notre Dame

And last but not least, the tradition that began in Rome of young couples buying a padlock, writing their initials on it, locking it to the railing of a bridge, and tossing the keys in the river as a symbol of how their love cannot be undone has come to Paris. It is so popular that it has infested three or four bridges across the Seine now, and the boquinistes with bookstalls along the Rive Gauche nearest the Ile de la Cité sell a variety of padlocks and permanent markers. It seems only natural that people would do this on the bridges closest to Notre Dame, as it is one of the most romantic, inspiring buildings in a city full of romantic inspiration.

Love Locks, Notre Dame
Love Locks, Notre Dame

(see, I told you you wouldn’t have to wait long for the next Paris post!)

Pleasant Valley Winery, by Mathew Brady, New York

Pleasant Valley Winery
Pleasant Valley Winery

This is not a recent acquisition, but something I’ve had in the collection for a while, before I started blogging about my collection. So here it is – the Pleasant Valley Winery in Hammondsport, NY – the first bonded winery in the US. It’s hard to say if this would have been done by Mathew Brady himself or one of his assistants. The winery opened in 1860, so this would have been done during the Civil War. The client would have been a big enough deal that you’d think Brady would have done it himself, but he was also busy enough with his studios in DC and New York, servicing high-profile clients, and doing some battlefield photography around Washington DC, it would be hard for him to have taken the two to three days it would have required for him to run out there by train (assuming there was a rail connection to Hammondsport from New York City, it would be entirely likely in 1860 that he had to change trains at least once, and quite possibly more, using railroads that topped out at 30-35 miles per hour. Today, following the likely rail route from New York City to Albany, then west to Hammondsport, it is over 375 miles and takes 6 1/4 hours on interstate highways).