Thursday, May 22, 2014

Art Nouveau

2004: Hector Guimard's Castel Beranger, Paris, France.
In my opinion, I am one of the most rational straightforward thinkers and live-rs I know. I love order and straight lines, generally maintain a low profile, don't self-promote much, wear pretty simple clothes and live modestly without any sort of frills or decoration (take that last piece however you will). So, in what might seem like a bit of a non sequitur in this paragraph, it might come as a complete surprise to people that know me that I absolutely love Art Nouveau architecture. It's curvy, flower-y and totally based in nature. And I absolutely love it. On a totally intellectual level, of course.

I fell in love with Art Nouveau in Susan Henderson's modern architecture class in my first year of graduate school at Syracuse University, a class that made an indelible impression on me despite the fact that I had difficulty paying attention or staying awake some days. There's no question that class put me to sleep more than once; it was those comfy chairs in the auditorium in the Newhouse School at SU (I have no idea why the class was over there and not in the Architecture School's Slocum Hall; it just was). The chairs in that auditorium were so comfortable that I almost fell asleep during an exam once. No lie.

That class taught me all about the formative strands of Modern architecture of which Art Nouveau was just a part. As material technologies evolved and the world mechanized, artists and architects embraced iron and later steel to express what they used to carve in stone or wood at the same time the craftsman was being replaced by the factory. That pre-Modern environment allowed architects like Claude-Nicolas Ledoux to strip down traditional classical forms and the Dutch pre-Modernists to design austere, geometrical buildings using new concrete technologies. It also allowed Art Nouveau to flourish across Europe for a couple of decades at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. It was a period that I find very rich before the Modernists came in and made everything totally geometric. Wow I didn't sound like an architect in that last sentence. Oh well!

1997: Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland.
While I was at Syracuse, I had the opportunity to travel abroad for a semester. An opportunity that I turned down, with some later regrets. But since I graduated from school, I have made it a point to visit a lot of this architecture that I love so much, almost all of which is in Europe. In 1994, I visited Hector Guimard's buildings in Paris, my first live Art Nouveau experience. I followed that trip with numerous trips across the United States to see Louis Sullivan buildings in Buffalo, New York and the midwest; two trips to Glasgow (in 1997 and 2007) to see the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh; a tour of Finland to see the Finnish version of Art Nouveau in 2000; and finally a 2002 vacation in Belgium and Holland to see Victor Horta's works, among others, in Brussels and all the Dutch pre-modernists I could see in a few days in the Netherlands.

Throughout all of my travels, I kept saying I wanted to go to Barcelona more than anywhere else to see firsthand the works of Antoni Gaudi. But year after year, I kept not going, preferring to drive across the United States or visit Las Vegas more than a dozen times or drink beer in Germany and Austria for a week and so on and so on. But tomorrow I am finally going to Barcelona, or at least a little bit closer to it before finally setting foot in that city one week from now. I am finally going to see the last major piece of the Art Nouveau that I love so much. Admittedly, Vienna is still out there for me, but Barcelona's got the real goods.

I'm not just going to Barcelona. How could I considering my pledge to see more of the world? My journey to Barcelona will take me through Madrid for three nights before heading to Morocco for the same duration. So in addition to checking one item off my architecture bucket list, I also get to explore Spain's capital and set foot on a new continent, even if north Africa seems like dipping a toe into the water. Of course I have a whole itinerary planned with float (all good itineraries need float) for each city. I hope to capture the spirit of each place and drink in all the flavor and history I can. The last time I was in Spain, I was about one year old. I'm looking forward to going back. I've been talking about this trip for too long. It feels good to be traveling again!

2002: Gustave Strauven's Maison Saint Cyr, Brussels, Belgium. 

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