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Chicago

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What can I say about Chicago except that it’s one of my favorite cities? Do I need to tell you that it’s home to almost ten million people and the third-largest city in the U.S.? Do I need to mention that it has the second busiest airport in the world? No. You can read all that on Wikipedia. I’ll just let these impressions speak for themselves.

Written by Thorsten

August 8, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Central Embassy Mall in Bangkok

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Gucci, Prada and Paul Smith – they’re all at Bangkok’s newest luxury mall ‘Central Embassy‘. It opened on May 9, 2014 on Ploenchit Road – within walking distance to at least three similar high-class shopping malls. Though I’m not sure who needs yet another mall with stores for the super rich, the architecture is fascinating.

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Most of these pictures were taken simply looking up at the seven floors of the shopping center in its atriums. All in all, the space is vast – and that’s probably the biggest luxury in a crowded city like Bangkok.

And since Central Embassy isn’t a mall where they just play muzak, there were even some flautists and a string quartet taking care of the entertainment the day I was there.

Written by Thorsten

May 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Baroque splendor at Dresden’s Pillnitz Castle

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If you take a boat up the Elbe river from Dresden, you’ll see the baroque-style Pillnitz Castle on your left. The castle and surrounding buildings display some decorative Chinese elements. These “Chinoiseries” were fashionable in Europe in the 18th century, when the castle was built.

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In the castle gardens, one of the prime attractions is a camellia tree that is more than 230 years old. It was planted in this spot in 1801 and has grown to a height of almost nine meters (more than 29 feet). A special glass house was built around the plant to protect it from the cold of winter. Every spring, this old camellia tree is covered with some 35.000 red blossoms.

Related post: Dresden goes Disneyland

Written by Thorsten

April 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Exploring Phnom Penh’s architecture by cyclo

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part of a former Chinese temple in Phnom PenhThere’s some interesting architecture in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Anything from Chinese temples and French colonial buildings to the post-independence works of Vann Molyvann.

Khmer Architecture Tours offers guided tours through the city, that explore and explain some of the most fascinating architectural sights of the city.

I took part in one of these tours today. And even though I’ve been to Phnom Penh numerous times, it was actually the first time I’ve taken a cyclo. I have to say the ride was very pleasant (though probably more for me than for the cyclo driver).

The good thing about the Phnom Penh architecture tours is that you get to see some monuments that are easily overlooked: an old Christian church, for instance, that Cambodian squatters have subdivided into dozens of private dwellings. remnants of a church in Phnom PenhThey have built walls and ceilings inside and created living quarters for entire families. Only rarely do you see a pillar or an arch up above, proving that this really once was the interior of a church. Outside, the church is also hardly recognizable any more because additional houses have been pasted on to its outer walls.

The poorer people of the city desparately need living space, so they’ve built add-ons and lean-to’s just about anywhere they could find space. They’ve converted balconies and galleries to extra rooms, forever changing the facades of many buildings. And they’ve built additional rooms and houses in former courtyards and gardens.

That’s understandable from the point of view of those who desperately need a place to live. Yet on the other hand, it’s also disfigured many an architectural monument in Phnom Penh. And some of them may soon be lost forever.

If you’d like to see more of what New Khmer Architecture can look like, you may want to check out this album of architecture photos I took in Phnom Penh in recent years.

 

Written by Thorsten

October 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Don’t demolish the Cologne theater (Schauspielhaus)

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Please support the petition against the destruction of the Cologne Theater or Schauspielhaus. http://mutzukultur.de/

Photo: SurfGuard/flickr

Granted, the Schauspielhaus isn’t spectacular post-war architecture, but it has an aesthetic of its own. And the building is part of a larger architectural ensemble by Wilhelm Riphahn that is thought through.

In a city like Cologne, which hardly has any architectural coherence, destroying such an ensemble would be a crime.

Rebuilt from the ruins of war

More than 70 percent of Cologne was reduced to rubble by the bombs of the Second World War. In the post-war years, the city was hastily rebuilt.

Interestingly, one of the first big construction projects the citizens of Cologne started after the war was building a new opera house and theater. And architect Wilhelm Riphahn was assigned with the task.

Much of the 1950’s and 1960’s architecture in Cologne is nothing but mediocre. But Wilhelm Riphahn’s buildings have a higher quality. In addition, they are integrated into a grand design, a larger post-war reconstruction plan for the whole city.

Parts of that grand design are still visible on Cologne’s Hahnenstrasse and on Offenbachplatz, where Riphahn built the Oper, Schauspielhaus and Opernterrassen.

Big plans but no money

In recent years, many of Riphahn’s buildings have been torn down or disfigured through so-called modernization. The architectural ensemble made up of the opera, the theater and the Opernterrassen restaurant on Offenbachplatz, however, could still be saved.

But city officials doomed it for destruction. The city council voted to tear down the Schauspielhaus and the Opernterrassen and to preserve only Riphahn’s opera house.

In 2008, an architectural competition for a new theater building was called. The jury awarded architects JSWD and Atelier d’architecture first prize, but very bluntly said that “architecturally, the project does not meet the expectations. … The architectural form … lacks one essential necessary property: an identity that is adequate for the purpose of the building.

Some of the features that made the jury award this design first prize  have meanwhile been scrapped due to lack of funds (e.g. the so-called “Lichtgraben”).  So it’s already obvious that what might be built in the end will be even worse than the architectural plan. And that wasn’t very inspiring to begin with.

If you ask me, I’d say the design for the new theater looks like a giant department store or like a parking garage.

In any case, one thing that’s certain is that it will be much more expensive to build a new theater than it would be to renovate Riphahn’s 1960 Schauspielhaus.

Let’s preserve this integral part of Cologne’s post-war modernist architecture.

Please sign the petition against the destruction of the Cologne Theater at:  http://mutzukultur.de/

Written by Thorsten

January 6, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Knai Bang Chatt – Pure Luxury in Cambodia

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Want to get away from it all? Come to Kep in southern Cambodia and check in to Knai Bang Chatt resort.

Knai Bang Chatt is a name that needs explaining. It means ‘rainbow around the sun’. In Buddhist symbolism, this rainbow is the halo around Buddha’s head.

But even if the name may be difficult to remember, the resort itself will not be once you’ve been there. It’s pure luxury, pure relaxation, pure paradise.

For Cambodian standards, the place is extremely expensive. But it’s worth every cent.

The resort consists of three large villas. They were originally built in the early 1960’s by a student of Cambodia’s most prominent 20th century architect, Vann Molyvann. He, in turn, had studied with Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus.

The villas were abandoned during the Khmer Rouge period and were left to deteriorate. In 2003, their fate changed, when two Westerners bought them and began to return them to their original architectural splendor.

Today, the resort looks like it’s straight out of ‘Architectural Digest’ or a handbook for interior decorators. Everywhere you look, there are flowers, Asian antiques and other decorative elements.

But as a guest, you never feel like you’re staying in a design store. The owners and staff make sure that you feel welcome and right at home.

They make it easy to forget the rest of the world while you’re there. And one simple way they achieve this is by having no TV-sets in the rooms.

What a wonderful idea.

Written by Thorsten

October 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Dresden goes Disneyland

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The Church of Our Lady, or Frauenkirche, in Dresden I felt uncomfortable when I visited Dresden this past weekend. It was the first time I’d been to the city in almost 15 years and a lot had changed since my last visit.

The most obvious change was that the central parts of the city around the Church of Our Lady, Frauenkirche, are being reconstructed. The idea is to give Dresden back the charm it had before the city was destroyed in one night of horrific bombings, February 14 – 15, 1945.

Altar in Dresden\'s FrauenkircheThe last time I was in Dresden, the Frauenkirche was still nothing more than a pile of rubble. But that pile of stones was a powerful monument to the destruction the war had left behind.

Meanwhile, the church has been rebuilt and now stands in its former glory. The inside has been recreated in the original color-scheme and is now once again a place for worship and curch music.old and new stones at Dresden\'s Frauenkirche

Whether to rebuild the Frauenkirche or to leave its ruins as a war memorial was a controversial discussion in Germany for decades. In the end, the “reconstructionists” won and the church was rebuilt, using all the original stones that were still salvageable and usable.

Today, you can see which stones are original and which are new – the old ones are blackened by time, the new ones are light beige.

the old rooftop cross of Dresden\'s FrauenkircheSo to some extent, this is an “honest” reconstruction. The evidence of the war and the destruction isn’t glossed over.

Nevertheless, what impressed me most in the Frauenkirche was the original rooftop cross, which is now on display inside the church. It is bent and battered, parts of it have broken off. It tells the story of the destructive force of the bombing raids – and if you’re a believer, it can also symbolize the triumph of good over evil and destruction.

Plastic surgery

The area around Frauenkirche used to be the heart of Dresden. Nothing much remained of it after the bombings.

rebuilt houses near Dresden\'s FrauenkircheThese days, many of the houses are being rebuilt. It’s a recreation of what once was. But to me, it looks artificial.

The houses around Frauenkirche may have been built to resemble the originals, but you can see that they are new reconstructions. If the houses were really old, you’d see sagging roofs or crooked windows. But here, everything is perfectly right-angled and painted in fresh colors.

These houses look like the ones you’d have in a model train set. They look like “Old Europe” in Disneyworld. But they don’t look lived-in.

Recreate the past or start from scratch?

But what do you do with a city that was as badly damaged as Dresden? Can you recreate it as it once was? Or should you make a new beginning and build a modern city?

Prager StraßeTo some extent, that’s the approach that was taken when the city was part of the German Democratic Republic. The communist city planners levelled the ruins and built broad new boulevards and pre-fab concrete housing units.

On “Prager Strasse”, they created a combination of new shops, restaurants and apartment blocks in the 1960’s.

It was any city planner’s dream – but any resident’s nightmare.

The dimensions were totally off, not on a human scale. And the “concrete brut” certainly wasn’t very inviting or appealing. It was your typical socialist-style shopping boulevard with lots of open space and little to do in that space.

Modernising modernity

Since German unification, there’s been constant reconstruction on Prager Strasse. The gigantic apartment blocks have been given a face lift, other buildings have been torn down and replaced with structures that seem more appealing today.

1960\'s architecture on Prager StrasseBut who knows how people will feel about these buildings in ten or twenty years.

Maybe they will wish the GDR architecture had been preserved. After all, it was testimony to a part of the city’s history. It was also concrete evidence of a philosophy of post-war urban reconstruction. And from an art-historian’s point of view, it was an architectural ensemble that made sense. Almost a Gesamtkunstwerk.

The future is the past

But unfortunately, Dresden’s try at modernism just wasn’t what people want. Human beings don’t feel comfortable in “living machines”. They want individuality, buildings on a human scale and maybe even the charm of yesteryear.

And that’s why you can’t really hold it against the Dresdeners that they are now trying to rebuild parts of their old town. That they are trying to make it as beautiful as it once was. That they are trying to pretend…

Semper Oper, DresdenMaybe we’ll just have to come back to this city in twenty or thirty years, when the reconstructed buildings around Frauenkirche show the first signs of aging.

Maybe then, we won’t even notice that they’re not original.

After all, that’s just how it is with the city’s Semper Oper now: rebuilt in the 1980’s, it already shows many signs of wear and tear. And the casual visitor today won’t even notice that the building isn’t even thirty years old.

Related post: Baroque splendor at Dresden’s Pillnitz Castle

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