Archive for the ‘architecture’ category

Beauty Within and Without – Visiting the Franciscan Monastery

November 21, 2015

In Northeast Washington DC, in the Brookland neighborhood, sits the lovely Franciscan Monastery.  Earlier this week, a group from my camera club took a field trip there.

Although I had been to the Monastery before, it was only in springtime, and I didn’t venture inside.  That time of year, tulips are lavishly planted on the grounds and around all parts of the garden areas.

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A statue of Mary, arms full of flowers, in the lower level of the gardens, the week before Easter.

Franciscan Monastery

More tulips near the Church, with the Rosary Portico in the background.

On my more recent visit, although there were still a few roses in bloom here and there near the Portico, most of the visual interest outside the Basilica came from the Rosary Portico, the statuary, and magnificent trees in the last stages of fall color.

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A magnificent oak (I couldn’t identify the kind) serves as a backdrop for the Rosary Portico, which frames the main area surrounding the Basilica, and the Ascension Chapel (right background).

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The Rosary Portico contains plaques (not visible here) with the text of the Hail Mary shown in nearly two hundred ancient and modern languages.

Around the corner from the Basilica, planted next to a stone building that was closed when we visited, I spotted what seemed to be Ilex verticillata (winterberry) shrubs in fall color, still hanging on to their berries.

Franciscan Monastery

Ilex verticillata with berries. Guess the birds hadn’t discovered these yet!

Eventually we made our way into the Basilica and before starting to photograph, had a fascinating tour about the history of the building – including a walk through some catacomb areas. Then we re-emerged into the sun-lit interior, where for an hour we were allowed to photograph to our heart’s content, using tripods as we looked for large vistas and small detail images. Hope you enjoy what I came home with.

For more information on the Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan monastery, visit its website or read more about it in Wikipedia.

Cylburn Arboretum and the Vollmer Center

November 6, 2015

Several weeks ago, my friend Sarah and I drove up to the Baltimore area to visit the Vollmer Center at the Cylburn Arboretum and walk the grounds. (We were also there to take in an exhibit of photos by my colleague Roger Foley, from a recently published book called On Walnut Hill, about a private garden in Baltimore.)

Cylburn Arboretum, over 300 acres in size, is open to the public year-round, with an historic mansion (available to rent for events) and miles of woodland walking trails. There are some cultivated garden areas up near the mansion, including one small garden space with a gazebo that was serving as the setting for a wedding when we saw it. Cylburn Arboretum

There were also a number of beautiful old dissected Japanese maples on the grounds.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

It was the area nearest the Vollmer Center (and the Center itself), however, that I found most appealing the day we visited. The Center, designed by GWWO Architects, is nestled down in the landscape below the Cylburn Mansion, built into a slope and boasting views into the surrounding trees that were nothing short of spectacular the day we visited. It is modest in both size and aspect but extremely well designed, and has a number of  “green” features, including geothermal heating and cooling and composting toilets. Hope you enjoy these photos of it and its surroundings, and do plan a visit if you’re in the area.

A Visit to Chicago’s Lurie Garden

September 25, 2015

In late July, I made a short visit to some friends in Chicago whom I hadn’t seen in many years. High on my list of sights to take in were two iconic but very different gardens – the Chicago Botanic Garden about twenty miles north of the city, and the Lurie Garden, sited downtown on the south side of Millennium Park. Happily, I was able to work in a visit to both, but let’s take a look in this post at the award-winning Lurie Garden, built about ten years ago on top of the Lakefront Millennium parking garage – right, a parking garage – smack in the middle of downtown, next to the Chicago Art Institute and a stone’s throw from the famous “bean” sculpture.

Visible from the second floor of the new modern wing of the Art Institute, the 3-acre public ‘botanic garden’ adjoins a bandshell ‘headdress’ sculpture designed by Frank Gehry that anchors the Great Lawn, a public venue for concerts and other events. The garden is divided into ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ Plates, separated by what is (somewhat preciously) called ‘the Seam,’ a boardwalk boundary between the two.

Lurie Garden

A view of the Lurie Garden’s Light and Dark Plates, separated by the Seam, from the modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute.

Two outer edges of most of the garden are visually enclosed by what is called the ‘Shoulder Hedge,’ taking its name from the Carl Sandberg poem which referred to Chicago as the “city of big shoulders.” The hedge is big indeed, fifteen feet high (there are metal girders that act as frame and guide for pruning) plantings of dark evergreens, designed to protect the lower perennial plantings from visitors leaving the Great Lawn after events there. When I visited, mid-summer plantings of ornamental grasses, Amsonia hubrechtii, coneflowers and daisies were in full bloom in the Light Plate area.

The Lurie Garden won the 2008 American Society of Landscape Architects General Design Award of Excellence, honoring the Seattle landscape architecture team of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and the planting genius of Piet Oudolf (who was responsible for the perennial planting design). The following description of the garden comes from the ASLA website:

Chicago built itself up from marshy origins and continues to rise ambitiously skyward. A refinement of nature and natural resources has accompanied Chicago’s willful development. Similarly, the site of the Lurie Garden has been built up over time. It has been elevated from wild shoreline, to railroad yard, to parking garage, to roof garden. Lurie Garden celebrates the exciting contrast between the past and present that lay within this site.

The strong grid layout of Chicago’s streets highlights striking physical features that are not orthogonal. Railways form sensuous braids that merge and swell through the grid. Angled roads radiate out of Chicago like crooked spokes from Grant Park’s location in the center of the city. The paths and other forms of the Lurie Garden, and their relationships to the formal grid structure of Grant Park, are inspired by these patterns and by the strong forms of Chicago’s bold, urban, and Midwestern landscape.

Although I visited in mid-summer, the garden’s website photographs demonstrate clearly the beauty of the landscape year-round. If you’re visiting downtown Chicago in the coming year, I urge you to stop by the Lurie Garden and experience its pleasures for yourself.

CityGuides II – SF Architecture and Private ‘Public’ Spaces

July 25, 2015

If you read my last post, you know I’m a fan of San Francisco City Guides, a volunteer-run series of wonderful walking tours within the city. When I last visited, in June, I wanted to take their Tales of the Castro tour, but it had been cancelled for Pride Weekend (probably a wise decision given the other events scheduled for the area that weekend).

Instead, I opted for a walk called ‘South of Market Architecture Stroll,’ which promised to focus on architecture and history in and around the Financial District. To my delight, it not only delivered on that promise but also included a look at a number of privately owned ‘public spaces’ (or POPOS, as they’re called in San Francisco).

More about those in a moment. First, however, a look at the Bell Building’s amazing interior space – primarily the lobby, but  quite a show. Located at 140 Montgomery Street, the Bell Building was built in 1925. Parts of its exterior walls on one side of the building still have a bell motif with ‘telephone book’ pages above them.

Bell Building, San Francisco

One side of the Bell Building, at 140 Montgomery Street. Note the ‘telephone pages’ motif at the top, with repeating “bell” symbols at the bottom.

Inside the lobby, the Art Deco motifs are stunning.

At one point, there was discussion of turning the building into condos, which didn’t happen. Today, the primary tenant is Yelp (not all their employees, just some).

Much of the rest of our tour (although not all) involved seeing POPOS, or ‘privately owned public open spaces.‘ Since 1985, San Francisco has required developers constructing projects in defined areas of the city to provide publicly accessible spaces in the form of terraces, parks, atriums, and other spaces for use by the public. These spaces may be inside a building, on top of it, or completely outdoors. Buildings with such spaces are required to post signs (which must be a specified size or larger; apparently initially some building owners used miniscule signage to discourage people from learning about their POPOS!). Like this.

A 'Public Open Space' notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

A ‘Public Open Space’ notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

Some of the POPOS have food and/or restrooms available (although you may have to look a bit for the latter). Some have quiet spaces away from the bustle of the street, in case you are between appointments or want a place to hang out other than a restaurant or coffee shop.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

The outdoor spaces are equally impressive, and often include art funded through the city’s “1% Art Program” which requires that large projects in  Downtown and nearby neighborhoods provide public art that equals at least 1% of the total construction cost.

There are so many POPOS that an entire CityGuides walk is devoted to them. You can also find a map online and lots of reviews by city natives of their favorites – just Google “POPOS.” I  hope to see more when I next return to the City By the Bay.

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Garden Shoots will be on vacation for the month of August. See you in September!

Walking with CityGuides in San Francisco – Part 1

July 10, 2015

Last February, I spent a long weekend in San Francisco visiting family. While I was there, I took a walking tour offered by San Francisco City Guides. This volunteer organization, started by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library over twenty years ago, offers free guided tours in countless parts of the city (donations are accepted at the end of each tour, to offset administrative and operating expenses). On this tour, I spent a fascinating two hours in the Mission District on a tour called “Mission Murals.” We started out at Precita and Harrison Streets, behind an elementary school. En route to the meet-up point, I’d already seen any number of murals.

Our guide (whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately – he was terrific) showed us murals on the back of the elementary school, then took us to the Precita Valley Community Center, where I struggled (unsuccessfully) to capture the mural in its entirety.

The Precita Valley Community Center is covered with a three-story mural

The Precita Valley Community Center is covered with a three-story mural

Many of the murals in the Mission have been created by PrecitaEyes Muralists, a nonprofit arts organization based in the community that sponsors ongoing mural projects in the Bay Area and internationally. Their artists are enormously talented. The final stop on this tour (which took up almost an hour, not surprisingly, was Balmy Alley, where virtually every garage door and building wall is covered in amazing murals.

It was a wonderful, colorful introduction to a part of the city I hadn’t known. Next post – discovering hidden ‘public spaces’ with CityGuides.

 

Back Behind the Lens

May 29, 2015

First of all, many thanks to my readers for putting up with such a long hiatus on Garden Shoots. In February, I broke a bone in my left hand and dislocated a tendon in one of the fingers. Typing was laborious and one-handed for quite a while. I’m happy to report that I am – finally – back to normal.

While I was taking this break, I did get to do some traveling, not to see gardens but to take some photography workshops. It’s amazing what you can do with only one fully flexible hand, and I also need to thank my friend and photographer buddy Sarah for helping to schlep my bags on the first trip. It was a workshop in Santa Fe (through Santa Fe Photographic Workshops) with the incomparable Sam Abell. Called “The Next Step,” it was focused on the process and intent of photographing. He encouraged us to be reflective about our work and – where  possible – “compose and wait,” paying attention, at the same time, to what would be included in our images.

At the end of the workshop, he spent time with each of us one-on-one, and suggested that over time, his own guiding principle has become “less is more.” Mine, too, as those you who know my work through this blog can attest.

Although I didn’t end up with a photograph-of-a-lifetime, it was a magical week. Here are some examples of what we did, on our two field trips, as well as on a side trip Sarah and I took to Taos.

Awestruck at the Library of Congress

February 21, 2015

The first time I visited the Library of Congress was in late 2005 (ten years ago, yipes!), when my camera club was able to arrange a field trip for us, complete with tripod permission. I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked in, I was speechless. So when I returned last month for another field trip, I understood completely when a young Australian  woman who had just entered said simply, “Oh my God” on looking up.

Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

One of two bronze statues on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress opened in 1897 and serves as the research arm of Congress. The Main Reading Room is open to members of the public only two days a year; the rest of the time, you need a Reader Identification Card which is valid for two years and obtainable on application. Photography is allowed (without tripods) on the floor on the two Visitors Days each year, and from a gallery above during other times.

There is an abundance of information online about the Jefferson Building’s artistic glories so I will not try to reproduce all of it here. Suffice it to say that the building is a marvel in both substance and aesthetics. Do not miss it if you are headed to our nation’s capital.


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