Saturday, 29 August 2009

Toyo Ito does the Cote D'Azur

Having hopped onto a boat in order to overcome the slight headache of a hangover, as well as the nauseating memory of having been caught with Karl Lagerfeld in a small nightclub, together with his entourage (and the unpleasant zone of high pressure created around him by the desperate weight of people trying to take pictures with their camera phones, and perhaps, just maybe, say something to him), I spotted something across the bay. In my inability to quite properly tell if it was what I thought it might be, or whether perhaps it was just a doppleganger by virture of distance -a normal building impersonating a famous one- the situation seemed entirely suited to the area, this funny place where you constantly think people are famous, because they all dress to look as if they are, as if they are moving images from OK magazine, and somehow it is difficult to distinguish, as in the end everything and everybody is suffused with a warm glow of aloofness and celebrity. But occasionaly there are summits, points of notoriety that are known outside of the area, and which, like Karl Lagerfeld and (apparently) Leonardo Di Caprio, serve to keep the aura strong enough amongst the rest of the look-alikes, to keep them consistently levitated above the ground in the popular imagination (a sort of vote-of-confidence). Even if at first glance they may be mistaken for any other of the imposters, even often looking less the part than them for the lack of being as flashy or manicured, they rapidly stand apart as people begin to notice and smell the "authenticity", like when Chirac walked down the Port in his Hawaian shirt looking rather ugly and shabby, but as he walked, and people began to notice, rapidly attracted enough of a crowd that the traffic was stopped. It is these peaks of true notoriety that fuel the imaginative speculation which both brings people to St Tropez to see the famous, and which brings the wealthy to be seen, both groups being satisfied in that the people who come to see assume that everyone they are seeing must be "someone", and those who come to be seen, even if "nobody" are flattered by the deflected attention.

I was pleased to see as the boat drew closer that this was indeed a moment in which this principle had been transferred into the architectural realm. I was correct, and it wasn’t an imposter, or a fake, and as the low white box became a collection of dark and light triangles, it became clear that Toyo Ito’s Serpentine Pavilion had been brought to the Cote D’Azur for a touch of formal celebrity, a little moment of contemporary architectural glamour in the sun. Only there were no crowds taking pictures on their IPhones and body-guards keeping people at bay, just me with my camera.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Port of St Tropez as Inverted Amphitheatre

In winter the Old Port of St Tropez is like most other seaside towns on the Cote D'azure, with cafes facing the small boats moored in the docking area in front of the harbourside buildings.

However with the advent of warm weather, and the arrival of the town's pyrotechnically wealthy summer residents, comes a transformation of the somewhat non-descript strip of road along the water. Similar changes must also occur in other superyachting venues, but the contrast between the sleepy, and admittedly rather drab banality of the area in its winter months, with the thronged spectatorship, and correspondingly ramped-up showmanship and display of its summer months is uniquely extreme.

The huddled quayside buildings fronting the port are outshone, dwarfed, and hidden in darkness as all possible space fronting them is filled with extremely large yachts that are all designed either in an aggressively spectacular mode of shining white and dazzling silver modern, or in an outsized nostalgic mode bedecked with subtle curves and wood finishes; either way, both types are uniformly arrested in flashy illumination -uplit, backlit, toplit, lit-from-under-the-water- which, in combination with the open terraced design of the backs of these boats, insures that their occupants may be seen, theatrically framed and enlarged, from the port, turning the whole strip of the town into an inside-out amphitheatre, a vienna opera house of dancing millionaires, and billionaires eating nouvelle cuisine next to models, turned in on istelf, so that all the boxes are facing outwards, piled on top of each other like so many exquisitely crafted stages of theatricalised excess and privilege.

The cafes facing this inverted arena of stacked stages, having lost their view beyond the boats afforded by their winter absence, become incomparably more popular thereby, becoming hosts to packed audiences, who can both sip, and sup, while speculating on the origins and identities of the yacht-bound class, gyrating and guzzling and lapping up the attention from both the seated cafe spectators, and the incredibly numerous throngs pressing along the dock-front in order to peer into the realm above, beyond, but in clear sight, amongst the franticaly glittering lights, on the sparkling decks in front.

Friday, 14 August 2009

La Thoronet Abbey (L'abbaye du Thoronet)

A short film, made of photos taken with my Canon 30D, showing some of the moments that struck me during an unfortunately short visit to this wonderful Abbey (one of the three Cistercian sister abbeys from the 12th and early thirteenth centuries in Provence). The spaces that can be seen in order are the southern aisle and the approach to the aisle's corresponding apsidal chapel, a small room situated a half level above the dormitory, the terrace area above the cloisters, the lean-to barrell vault of the northern aisle in the chapel, the nave, the Chapter-House, a nave-pier, the fountain positioned in the cloister courtyard, and whose roof can be seen as an hexagonal pyramid in the footage from the terrace, and final two exterior views, one from the south, and another of the exterior of the apse. The place had a strong influence on Le Corbusier, culminating in the realisation of the sublime La Tourette monestary designed by him for the Domincan Order. I will be going back at some point in the not too distant future to spend a day there, and hopefully an evening, in order to get a better understanding of its appeal.

The embedded video above is cut in half, to see it full size, go to the youtube page here

This is a photo of the corner of the dormitory -a long rectangular hall with a barrel-vaulted ceiling- in which a staircase was added at some point to access both the attic above, and an intermediate level in the adjacent structure, creating a rather dynamic, turning compression of penetrated solids pressed between the vault, floor and walls...