Monday, August 18, 2014

Beautiful Skeletons

I've always appreciated beauty. Even as a 7-year-old child who watched the sun setting on the island of Samos in Greece, as an old man guided his donkey across the pebble beach. Even then, the beauty of that moment was not lost on me--that image is imprinted in my memory. I visit it often, and I see it now. It was striking!

This is how architecture has affected me. It can be ugly, yes, and not thoughtfully constructed, but what I prefer to focus on is how the architecture of a structure changes, as you move through it or around the exterior, and how light and weather affect and change the design.  Upon visiting a city for the first time, I try to find a walking architectural tour to use as my introduction to the place. I did this in Chicago, and, while I enjoyed the history of the buildings, the memorable part was the looking up and around as I walked. A favourite photo is one that I took of a contemporary office building with mirrored windows. The reflection of an older city government building apparent in those windows made a beautiful statement for me--something about looking back as we move forward--a metaphor to stay connected to the past in a positive way.

Not long ago I watched a documentary on South Carolina ETV, John Portman: A life of building. How impressive! Never heard of him before (shame on me), but now I'm in love with so many of the beautiful images from the interiors of his buildings. I've even been in some of them, looked up and enjoyed the design changing with the light, the shadows and even with where I was emotionally in my life. A thoughtfully designed structure has a way of enveloping you when you need it, so that you feel comforted during tough times; it can make you feel as if it's moving with you, like a friend who walks beside you on a sunny sidewalk through the city one Sunday afternoon; it can even make you feel as if you're floating in space!

These images are of some of Portman's hotel interiors. So much for the eye to take in and deliver to the brain. Very pleasing. Very satisfying. The two on the bottom remind me of beautiful skeletons. Such beautiful skeletons!

For me, this beautiful documentary was satisfying visually, but it was also satisfying on another level--John Portman is a South Carolina native (yay for the local boys) who not only designed several key buildings in Atlanta's skyline, but also the Marriott Marquis hotel in  NYC's Times Square. This Marriott hotel played a big role in the clean up and redirection of Times Square--the first step in the process. All sorts of metaphors in this story, skeletons and all!

Architecture can be an exquisite metaphor--the beautiful skeleton supporting life, people, activities and even emotions. If sometime you see me walking around a city's buildings with my head in the air, it's because I'm looking at the changing design of the city's structures--the patterns on the sidewalks made by a building's shadows, the geometric lacework of power lines and bridges against a sun-setting sky or even the beautiful skeletons.