Monday, June 28, 2010

Dîner en Blanc - Receive a text. Race to the specified location wearing the best white vestments. Guys: set up table, tablecloth, cutlery, dishware, glassware, pour champagne. Girls: serve food. Start first the first course. (All in under 15 minutes)

This is Dîner en Blanc, a flash mob interpretation of the Parisian summer-time supper al fresco. In 2008, the event was held at the Champs Élysées. 2009, Place de la Concorde. 2010, Le Louvre. Each year, the location is kept secret - participants receive text and twitter messages just 15 minutes before it begins - so as to rely on the flash mob's lighting quick speed to set everything up before authorities can intervene. The 2010 dinner was reportedly attended by over 10,000 and the event continues to grow each year.

Some complain that the recently epic proportions have depleted the event of its prestige, others are quick to praise its widespread publicity. Either way, the dîner has gone viral, spreading to other cities like Berlin and Montreal.

New York has yet serve as a host to the Dîner, perhaps because its patience for flash mobs has been worn thin by iPod dance-a-thons and pantless subway days. But the city still offers several underground eateries; most of which are near impossible to find and even more difficult to book. Perhaps our time and effort is better spent ironing a white suit, waiting for the elusive text message and hoping there is a cab nearby ready to whisk us away.

Photo Credit:  Balthazar


Sunday, June 27, 2010

If you've seen Pedro Almodóvar's recent film Broken Embraces, you may have noticed the amazing landforms of Lanzarote's vineyards. The vineyards are located in and around the Denominación de Origen wine region of Lanzarote known as La Gería. The striking feature of these vineyards is their traditional method of "protected" cultivation. Single vines are planted in pits with small stone walls surrounding each pit. The accumulated pits create a desolate moonscape hybridized with what looks like a larval population of grapevines, all of them shockingly green against the dead grey of Lanzarote's volcanic earth. The agricultural technique is unique to La Gería, designed to protect the vines from Lanzarote's constant wind and to collect rainfall and overnight dew. However the visual effect gives it even more singularity and a much stronger sense of otherness.

This sensibility is adeptly captured in Almodóvar's film, precisely at a moment when its plot takes a decisive and fatalistic turn, one which requires a beautiful and foreboding landscape to equal the characters' dangerous romance. The intertwining of these two elements, land form and narrative form, subsequently serves to amplify the sensation of discomfort while swallowing us in the lushness of things that we want to love but know that we should not: bleak landscapes, adulterated love. Surely, Almodóvar selected this place for precisely this kind of isolation.

Of course, this makes me curious about which places he overlooked before settling on the vineyards of La Gería - a question that might never be answered. Still, Lanzarote has certainly been added my list of desired (albeit other-worldly) destinations.

Photo Credit: u_did


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summertime is an interesting season for architects. While the academic population breathes a collective sigh at the conclusion of yet another school-year, architectural practice is revving its engines for an upcoming sweaty season of production. Staff sizes balloon with summer interns. Principals previously distracted by academic calendars give focus to practice with a new urgency. Clients eager to spend weekends (or weeks!) by the beach pull the contract trigger, if anything to finally clear that task from their to-do list. After all, who wants to worry about architecture over the summer? Except for architects...

"Summer architecture," not unlike the summer of love, is an interesting phenomenon, where it is simply too hot for the black suit, and the concept of a casual Friday claims more and more of the week's other days. Mondays are often buzzing with the download of weekend adventures, followed by a check of the inbox (not much there, of course, since everyone else was also away), and a rallying of the troops. Everyone has a bit of sunburn on their nose, plus a smile and a burgeoning air of eagerness. The workshop is buzzing and the double-click of the mouse has a noticeably bouncier rhythm, as if architecture in the summer has a healthy, restorative power. Some days in the office it feels like a yoga studio, or worse, a Silicon Valley start-up - a far cry from the fall, winter and spring when the atmosphere aspired to be a sophisticated 1960's ad-agency, replete with pocket-squares and meeting-martinis.

Architecture in the summer has its tell-tale signs: big models, bright colors, weak plans, v-neck t-shirts, and at least one odd romance or two. The summer then drags on and these things slowly develop (models, plans, romance...). The worst part of summer architecture is the end, when time runs out on not only the summer itself but also the work, and although it is the last thing we want to do the final week before it all ends, we charrette. Interestingly, this seems to be a fuel of its own right - much like the weekend trip to the ocean - and as we slip back into our autumnal alter egos, that final intensity is what we share on a Monday morning (most likely, after having worked Saturday and Sunday). And before we know it, we're back to pocket-squares, and the plans are looking a bit more robust.