Modern architecture is often derided for being austere, yet over the past few years, I’ve definitely noticed some clever, playful things inspired by the work of Mies van der Rohe, Arne Jacobsen and Le Corbusier. Toys, gingerbread houses and even a bird house have brought a certain down-to-earth charm to some of the most iconic buildings of the twentieth century, making them more accessible to people who wouldn’t necessarily know the difference between Ronchamp and Fallingwater. Here are some of my favourites.
If I had a backyard with birds in it (especially birds wearing black turtle necks), I would definitely buy Monique Engelund‘s tribute to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.
Mavis Gallant at the Standard, Montréal, May 1946 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-11524).
I’ve never read a Mavis Gallant short story, something that, as I write this blog post, I’m ashamed to admit. But every so often I come across a mention of this escaped Cannuck — who has lived in Paris for over 60 of her 90 years — that re-asserts her importance in the world of writing. As a result, I have a certain sketchy understanding of her life through the Globe and Mail, the Walrus, the National Post and other media outlets. The first time I really took notice was in a charming 2008 radio interview on CBC’s Writers and Company, but it wasn’t until last week, when I listened to another CBC radio interview on Ideas, that her life strongly resonated with me. She seems to have achieved something that I find deeply admirable — independence — and I wish I knew how to do the same.
I just finished reading a review of Titanic by Slate Magazine’sDana Stevens. The review is premised on the fact that when James Cameron’s epic was first released in 1997, Stevens snubbed it for being “a schlocky, sentimental blockbuster that would force [her] to listen to that Celine Dion song again.” She claims, admittedly snobbishly, to have been too busy with her nose in Walter Benjamin to see the movie in theatres, and, before its current 3D re-release last week, only ever half watched it on TV while distractedly folding laundry. Stevens goes on to admit, however, that after finally seeing it on the big screen, she can understand the mass hysteria that surrounded the film 15 years ago. “Titanic isn’t subtle or tasteful or novel,” she writes “but it’s indisputably big and bold and beautiful.”
Last week Canada’s Federal Government, in its first majority budget, announced that it would cease funding Katimavik. I’m sad for all the future young people who will not be able to participate in this great, 35-year-old program—an invaluable volunteer-leadership initiative that enables Canadians between the ages of 18 and 21 to get hands-on work experience while traveling the country.
I did Katimavik between the winter and summer of 2004. Over seven months, I lived in Tweed, Ontario, St. Stephens, New Brunsick and Lorette, Manitoba. I volunteered at an elderly care facility, a charity second hand store, in a primary school and for a municipality. I learned, among other things, how to bake bread, tend a lawn, grow vegetables and organize a charity fashion show. I even published my first piece of paid writing. It was a short article for a Winnipeg magazine called Swerve (now OutWords), and was about coming out of the closet and marching in my first Pride parade, two of my biggest Katimavik firsts (next to my first piercing—my tongue!). My Katima-group, which consisted of 11 young people from across Canada, had three gay guys and two bisexuals. I couldn’t have come out in any better, more supportive circumstances. I (almost) had my first real sexual encounter too (if drunkenly molesting a housemate counts—sorry Cody).
To a certain extent, I feel like I’ve grown up in a time heavily influenced by Andy Warhol. My world view had been undeniably filtered by the celebrity-drenched culture that he explored, documented and, dare I say, championed. I’ve lived my fifteen minutes of fame on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and now this blog. When I visit almost any major art gallery in a foreign city (or, for that matter, in my hometown of Toronto), I inevitably find one or more of Warhol’s most iconic silk screens — the soup cans, the Marilyn Monroes, the Liz Taylors, the Maos, the Evlises, the Jackie Kennedys. But even if I don’t see one of his pieces directly, I am bound to see something by one of the legions of artists that he either directly mentored or inspired (Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and so on).
On Saturday I made an architectural pilgrimage to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The drive down from Pittsburgh, where my boyfriend and I spent the weekend, rolled though tree-covered hills and small, quaint farming communities. It was so restful and pleasant that I almost forgot where we were headed and why.
The tour of the house is only and hour long, but it’s undeniably worth it. The place is like a mid-century modern fantasy land, with bold horizontal lines in rich black walnut, rough-cut stone, ochre-coloured concrete, and dark red window mullions. There is a deep, comforting warmth to the rooms (this isn’t a cold, hulking, Corbusier-style modernism) and at times an almost Victorian feel. The hallways are tight and dark, and there’s an upstairs/downstairs divide between the servants quarters and the rest of the place that feels really old fashioned (the house was designed in the 1930s, which is easy to forget considering that it feels much more contemporary). There’s also a sense of playfulness and levity—the built-in sofas have a cream-coloured upholstery, and are cheerfully accented with square pillows in ketchup-y red and mustard yellow. Most remarkably, walking from room to room, there is just such a clear and palpable feeling of enthusiasm—it’s clear how much Frank Lloyd Wright enjoyed crafting the house. It almost comes across as spontaneous, like jazz, or as though the design just popped out of his head like a witty turn of phrase.
I hope the clients—the Kauffman family—enjoyed spending time in its cascading planes and fluid walls. I imagine I would have loved lounging in either of the pools, or deciding which of the many terraces to sit out on to read the latest New Yorker.
I normally don’t find politicians hot. John Baird? Yikes. So scowly. And, let me be clear, I don’t think you’re hot because of your hunky, boy band good looks (seriously, were you ever in 98 Degrees?). And it’s definitely not because you’re father was Pierre Elliot Trudeau (although he was hot too), or because you can box (not that it hurts), or because you’re over 40 but still look good with your shirt off (although, again, that definitely doesn’t hurt).