Vancouver in 3 Days: Where to Go, How to Get There, and What to Eat as an Architect in the City...

After five years since our move to the US, we decided it was high time that we expand our travels beyond the borders of the country. The province of British Columbia has always held a strong allure to us for its stunning landscapes and fascinating culture. So I was thrilled when the better half planned a surprise getaway to Vancouver for my birthday.  Four days felt awfully inadequate but we decided to roll with it. A short early morning flight transported us to a very warm sultry Vancouver. The airport with its wonderful First Nation sculptures and totem poles hinted at the rich history of British Columbia. A large ‘living wall’ affirmed Vancouver’s reputation for being one of the early adopters of environmental sustainability. The Skytrain took us through the suburbia to a very urban jungle that is Downtown Vancouver. We Airbnb’ed at a condo right in the heart of Gastown, one of the historic neighborhoods that is a surreal mix of high-rise buildings and cobbled maple tree-lined streets with vintage streetlights and a historic steam clock to boot!

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Gastown

We realized immediately that this was a city where public transportation was supreme. The ‘waterfront-town’ is densely populated with a small footprint of 44 sq. miles. Across the peninsula is North Vancouver, accessible by the sea-bus and by road. We got ourselves travel passes and set out to explore our hood, Gastown by foot. We were within walking distance to the famous 17mile SeaWall that forms the waterfront wrapping around the city. One could see the snow-capped tips of the Grouse Mountain in the distance. The SeaWall starts at Canada Place – known for its iconic Sails of Light. Right next to it is the impressive new convention center – a majestic waterfront development with a six-acre living roof, the largest in North America in a non-industrial context. We hopped on a bus that took us to the famous Stanley Park. Unlike the Golden Gate Park which is fairly introverted and embedded in the heart of San Francisco, Stanley Park fingers out from the city, thus allowing views of Vancouver that change as one walks the wall. We took trails into the park at different points alternating between dense wild shaded vegetation to emerge again at the perimeter wall delighting in a different view of the city. We exited the park and headed to our pad by bus, exhausted but excited about our dinner plans. We had reservations at the popular Forage known for it’s locally-sourced innovative menu.  It did not disappoint my vegetarian palette. We strolled back home taking in the expanses of open urban spaces between the dense high rise condos. The lights had started coming on and the city glowed, draped by the ever-present shimmering water. This was a truly urban oasis where people lived outdoors than in their cramped condos. The city felt safe.

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From Sea Wall

Stanley Park

On day two, we walked to  Medina Cafe, a Mediterranean restaurant with a solid reputation for unique flavors and the best Belgian waffles in the city. We beat the long queues and got ourselves a table within the hour. Pleased with brunch, we set forth to take the sea bus to North Vancouver. We landed at Vancouver’s carnival style farmer’s market at the Lonsdale Quay – a visual treat with its fresh produce and local vibe.

Lonsdale Quay

We proceeded to our next destination- the Lynn Canyon public park with its suspension bridge and miles of hiking trails. Per our host’s recommendation, we chose Lynn Canyon over the more popular touristy Capillano Suspension Bridge park. We hiked for a few hours and then took a taxi to the foothills of the Grouse mountain. The Grouse mountain is accessible only by a gondola skyride that takes you over the forest to the a chalet on top. An alternative is the daunting but highly popular Grouse Grind hike aka ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’ involving 2800 odd steps through dense forest. We took the gondola — let’s say only because we were out of time. Ahem. The chalet at the top houses a few restaurants and a theater. A short hike took us to our first sighting of two rescued grizzlies that live there. They seemed very indifferent to our presence. We walked around the chalet to capture the panoramic vistas of the city across. A bus, a sea-bus and a train took us back into the city within the hour. Soon we headed out for our Italian night — to Lupo, a Vancouver icon in the entertainment district of Yaletown. Located in a charming heritage house with interconnected rooms, the menu was limited but inspired. We concluded a fabulous birthday dinner with a creme brûlée that was to die for. We walked home. The streets and landmarks were beginning to feel familiar…

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Day three – we walked a different section of the SeaWall to board an aquabus that took us to Granville Island- an old industrial hub that has been revived by local artists who set up their workshops in these factories. Weekends draw large crowds from the city. The tiny peninsula is animated with live music and fresh food at the large public market, accompanied by shopping unique finds at the artist workshops and boutiques. We picked up a few tchotkches and set forth to the piece-de-resistance of the day, the Museum of Anthropology by the Canadian modernist, Arthur Erickson. The museum is set in the large lush campus grounds of the University of British Columbia. The campus boasts of a good number of modern buildings but the museum was the jewel in the crown. The collection focuses on artefacts of the First Nation, the Canadian Aboriginals of the NorthWest Coast, though it has an extensive ethnographic collection of cultures from around the world. The strikingly modern building cleverly reinterprets the post-and-beam architecture of the First Nation people in concrete. Staggered concrete frames are spanned by vaulted skylights that filter natural light strategically into the museum spaces. The varying heights of the vaults along with a gentle slope in the floor, gradually expands the volume of the central exhibit area. The space culminates in a frameless glass wall that seamlessly merges into the outside. The outdoor landscape is marked by a reflecting pool and a few reconstructed Haida houses with signature totem poles acting as coordinates.  We were unable to do justice to the vast collection housed in the museum but it was really the architecture that was our main focus. It inspired, and humbled, leaving us in a contemplative state of mind. Like all good museums, the MoA has a great gift shop. We picked up some wonderful prints of modern reinterpretation of First Nation art by local artists.

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The mythology of the First Nation and their survival despite colonization and repeated pressures to assimilate, runs strong. At the MoA, we had discovered the works of Bill Reid, a true Renaissance man who drew from his Haida roots as a sculptor, carver, goldsmith and artist. Reid was one of the pivotal figures that championed the cause of the First Nation people and gave their art legitimacy in modern history. Born to a mother who was a Haida, Bill immersed himself in their culture and became one of the leading artists of his time. We knew we had to make time to visit the Bill Reid Gallery set right in Downtown Vancouver. The next day, we chose to skip the larger Vancouver Art Gallery and visit this tiny gem instead. Tucked away in the bustling downtown neighborhood, this building though surrounded by high-rises doesn’t get dwarfed. Well-proportioned and thoughtfully detailed, the gallery is carefully curated with permanent exhibits by Bill and a few by his protégés. The silver and gold jewelry display by Reid are spectacular. The gift shop offers a varied collection of original aboriginal art. We couldn’t be happier with our decision to visit here on our last day. It felt like an appropriate homage to conclude our first venture into British Columbia.

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In a little over three days, we had gained some insights into the story of the First Nation people and into the cosmopolitan urban pulse of Vancouver, it’s most populous and popular city today. As someone born and raised in India, there was a comfortable familiarity with Vancouver’s British influences- be it describing temperature in degree Celsius, distances in kilometers or getting a ‘bill’ at the end of a meal 😉 We explored the nightlife on our last night. No vacation of ours is quite complete without a sampling of the local music scene. Gastown was perfect for our quest. We walked the streets exploring a few bars and clubs. We settled on one which had a live jazz session. It was evidently a neighborhood haunt as the regulars seemed to know each other. It wasn’t touristy. We had lucked out with warm sunny days for our entire vacation concluding with a smattering of rain as we made our exit. This was a fun trip- a teaser that had whetted our appetite for more. We knew we would be back…soon. – Anjali

Jazz Bar

Barcelona: The Common Ground between Gaudi and Tapas...

This fall my wife and I traveled to Barcelona with a contradicting agenda:  Relaxation and exploration.

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We’re no strangers to Western Europe, but neither us had made it to Spain in our previous travels.  We decided to stay in the city for a full week, wanting to sink in and get to know Barcelona.  The only items on our agenda were to relax and gain a renewed perspective.

We stayed at a small apartment on the edge of the Eixample and Gracia districts with ceramic tile floors and a vaulted brick ceiling.  Heavy wood French doors opened onto a small balcony that had enough room for a cafe table and chairs.  The street below buzzed with cars, scooters and pedestrians.

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The Eixample was once a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of the dense Gothic quarter.  In recent years, it has become home to high-end retail and trendy dining.  The neighborhood scale is defined by large blocks and tree-lined boulevards that terminate in octagonal intersections intended to provide increased openness and ventilation.

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In sharp contrast, the Gracia to the north is an energetic, unpredictable neighborhood. Many streets are scaled to fit only pedestrians or scooters.  Dense blocks of cafés and markets open up into unexpected plazas with children playing and adults socializing.  The Gracia feels like a tight-knit community   ̶  a city within a city.

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The northern tip of the Gracia is capped by Antoni Guadi’s Park Guell.  The park reflects Gaudi’s naturalist style and free-form organic tile mosaics.  At first glance, the park resembles a greatest hits album.  All of Gaudi’s architectural styles fit neatly into one park.  A closer look reveals an artist in his prime experimenting with organic shapes and skewed structural forms.

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Later, we found Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion tucked among stately civic buildings.  Van der Rohe’s flawless modern details provided a few quiet moments and a lot of inspiration.  The pavilion is constructed primarily with steel, stone and marble slabs  ̶  heavy materials that paradoxically achieve lightness, texture and a unique warmth.

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We explored the city’s culinary scene alongside its architecture and found that both traditions are deeply rooted in history.  Tapas and pastries rule the streetscape.  Every block of the city seems to boast a beautiful pastry shop and multiple cafes spilling onto the sidewalk, where residents enjoy their ritual late-afternoon beers and salty snack

Just as Gaudi experimented in his work, many local chefs in Barcelona are taking risks by studying food on a molecular level and reassembling tastes and textures into something modern yet familiar. Bodega 1900, located in the Poble Sec neighborhood, presents itself as a classic Vermuteria – a casual gathering place for tapas and Vermouth.  Chef Albert Adria, a stalwart in molecular gastronomy, uses modern cooking techniques to recreate classic tapas in unexpected ways.  Though many of Adria’s dishes are conceived through the lens of modern technique, they remain soulful and deeply rooted in Barcelona’s culinary history.

Experimentation seems vital to the Catalan capital; Barcelona remains vibrant by respecting its collective history and embracing artists that forge a new path forward.

On our final morning in Barcelona, we embraced the spirit of experimentation by emptying our pockets of all our spare Euros and purchasing enough pastries to cover our small kitchen table.

 

 

A Year In Review – Kat Hebden...


A year ago I traveled from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco to work as an Architectural Graduate. I had not been to America before but chose to live in one city for the duration of my stay because I hoped to experience an intimate sense of place and people in such a diverse and vast country. On a Saturday afternoon I emerged from the 24th Street Mission Bart Station into a vibrant world of color and music. What followed was an unforgettable 13 months immersed in new landscapes and communities with the opportunity to be part of an innovative and design-focused studio, Feldman Architecture. I learned so much from my colleagues, who became mentors, neighbors and lifelong friends.kat4kat2Kat1

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In between exploring the hills of San Francisco I was lucky enough to visit ten states, but California with her redwood forests, endless coastline, lakes and mountains was home. My path quickly fell off the Lonely Planet page with the overwhelming hospitality of new friends and their families. I spent my first white Christmas listening to country in Yosemite, fished the shores of Tahoe on the Fourth of July, surfed the breaks of San Diego Thanksgiving morning and hunted for matzah in the Mission. It was great to be able to celebrate each holiday once and also to be in San Francisco to enjoy other occasions such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and title wins for the Giants and Warriors.

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My friends taught me how to shoot, how to shuck an oyster and crack a crab, how fast to run from each wildlife species and the intricacies of football. How to go forward on a horse and backward on a kayak and to be more adventurous, confident and spontaneous. I learned of site, materiality, climate and craft. The intent of the pilot visa I was issued is to encourage cultural exchange between our countries. I could not have imagined how much I would learn and now carry with me from this experience. The photos I have included are of California but remind me of the people I shared the memories with. I would like to thank everyone at Feldman Architecture for their support, incredible generosity and for every opportunity and experience they gave me.

Kia ora is a Te reo Maori greeting also used to give thanks and feels fitting here.

Kia ora friends,

Kat

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The Broad Museum...

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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles, during its first few weeks of opening. I suppose it is only in our youth that we consider actions that require us to leave the comfort of our beds, drive for six hours, and arrive in a city at 5:00 AM for the sole reason of visiting a museum.

With no tickets, our only recourse was to wait in line. We thought we had arrived early. We also thought it was autumn. We were wrong on both counts. People actually cheered when an attendant emerged from the building pushing a cart full of water bottles.

Standing outside, it struck me that the museum’s building will inevitably draw its context from the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The contrasts seem clearly intentional: containment vs accumulation, repetition vs fragmentation.

 

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Within the museum, there is a very simple, but experientially, very strong differentiation between the lower and upper floors. I would liken it to the Titanic: the dark, subterranean underbelly of the engine room almost defies belief that just a few floors above, people are dancing in a sparkling, luminous ballroom.

In the lobby, the dark walls have been molded perfectly smooth. And within this polished surface, the gentle slopes and curves of the wall give way to a singular void, where people are swallowed whole to be led upward. It’s not merely a simple change in elevation; one quite literally emerges from the cave below into a place of light.

– Humbeen

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Sou Fujimoto Exhibit...

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A quick report from my visit of “Sou Fujimoto: FUTURE OF THE FUTURE” exhibit at Gallery-Ma in Tokyo.

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You can see the rigor/seriousness for the exploration of new and unconventional ideas in these models, but you can also see that there is a sense of humor and curiosity in his approach, and I really enjoyed that duality. Some of the models looked like ideas only kids would come up with: a pine cone as a shelter?

You also saw ideas being recycled/reimagined/reinvestigated. In some instances, parts of models were literally repurposed and reincorporated into the subsequent iteration of the study models. Forms were derived from these explorations, but the explorations were never just for the sake of form-making.

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I have seen a number of great exhibits in this space over the years but I found this one to be extra special. It helped that they had amazing contents to work with, but I was really impressed with the presentation. The two rooms and the courtyard were filled with a series of study models. The scales of the models worked really well with the scales of the spaces, and the models were curated to tell a very concise visual story of  the Sou Fujimoto’s philosophy through the evolution in his design.

– Tai

Fujimoto 3http://www.toto.co.jp/gallerma/ex150417/index_e.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axbGK5gydSA

 

Zen Buddhist Temples in Japan...

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Earlier this summer, I had the chance to visit Japan and traveled to many Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto. Kyoto is located in an inland river valley and is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges. Many of the temples I visited are situated on the outskirts of the city at the base of the mountains where the city ends and the forest begins making for an incredible contrast between urban and rural space. In a way, these temples are a transitory space with one foot in nature and the other in setting is perhaps best described in the Japanese concept of ma, which can mean blankness or distance. Ma is a transitory experiential concept; for example, it is the silence between sounds which gives shape to music.
IMG_2439The focal point of many of these temples is a garden with a large open space and meandering paths. The temples themselves surround these open spaces, which can consist of ponds or dry landscape gardens, or karesansui , and are highly manicured. While these gardens are essentially courtyard spaces, they are never seen in isolation from nature. Often, a view from the engawa, or veranda, of a temple will extend from the garden to the mountains or city beyond which demonstrates the concept of shakkei or borrowed scenery. The karesansui are so detailed that attention is paid to the scale and coloration of the millions of tiny white rocks and sculpted moss that resonate when seen against the fine backdrop of the trees or buildings beyond.

IMG_3009These gardens cultivate an appreciation of ma and therefore an awareness of one’s own consciousness. Like viewing a painting, they are meant to be viewed from afar and are physically inaccessible. Walking through the temple grounds, the emptiness of the gardens heightens one’s awareness of the physicality of the structures themselves and the details of construction in the same way the color blue when placed against the color red highlights the redness of red and vice versa. In this way, the ma of these gardens makes nature more natural and the cities more concrete.

-Aaron

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