Sleep Here: Drake Devonshire

Photo by George Whiteside

Photo by George Whiteside

Outside the Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s most picturesque agricultural regions, an upright player piano sits halfway between the parking lot and the front entrance, its strings sutured to amplifiers and extended to reach the inn’s parapet. As guests arrive, the exposed strings vibrate in the wind and Chopin fills the air. The gentle greeting, conceived by sound artist Gordon Monahan, sets the tone for this new type of getaway: the country inn as an art-filled, hipster-friendly retreat.

The lodgings are built around the historical Wellington Iron foundry, which dates back to 1860, now with a new campus of barn-like additions surrounding it on all sides. Together, the cluster of buildings amounts to a 1,200-square-metre interior with 11 guest rooms, two suites and a dining room and bar that seat 75. Various other anterooms offer Ping-Pong, canasta or karaoke until dawn, and a covered patio functions as an event space and an extension of the dining room.

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OMA’s Milstein Hall at Cornell University

Milstein Hall at Cornell University. Image from dezeen.com. Photography is by Philippe Ruault

Last week, on my way down to New York City, I stopped at Cornell University to see their new Architecture, Art and Planning building, Milstein Hall. The OMA-designed facility looks like a Mies van der Rohe-style box propped up on a concrete ant hill, floating not incongruously between the kind of Victorian and Georgian structures one imagines at an Ivy League school. Some of the design is quite subtle — part of the exterior is clad in elegantly stripped Turkish marble — while some of it is showy and loud — a giant, 50-foot cantilever reaches over University Ave., almost-but-not-quite touching the 150-year-old Foundry Building across the road. I wasn’t sure if this latter gesture was an act of aggression — like a bully announcing its presence to a meek, helpless victim — or one of kindness, like an outstretched hand between a young spunky kid and an old, fair lady. This ambivalence basically describes my reaction.

What I liked: The building is porous. As people walk or bike by, there are interesting opportunities to look into spaces that are normally much more cloistered in a school: a lecture hall that has windows on three sides, or a submerged auditorium/crit space with large clerestories.  Continue reading

New York To-Do List

Over the Victoria Day long weekend, my boyfriend and I are driving down to New York City. We’ve gone every year for the last four, and each time we visit we discover new reasons to love the city. In 2011, for example, we rented road bikes and toured around Manhattan, then crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge, checked out Prospect Park and went down to Coney Island. It took us a whole day and we were exhausted by the time we hit the Atlantic, but it was great. We were both impressed by the miles of dedicated bike lanes that made cycling feel so much safer than in our home town of Toronto.

We might bike around again, but I think this trip is going to be more arts and culture focused. Here’s what we’re thinking of seeing.

Milstein Hall at Cornell University

Milstein Hall by OMA

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Getting to Know Jean-Paul Lemieux

Jean-Paul Lemieux's Evening Visitor, 1956, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa

On Saturday afternoon I took a drive out to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The gallery is just outside of Toronto — in Kleinburg, near Canada’s Wonderland — but it’s log-and-stone buildings and treed surrounds makes the place feel like an Algonquin retreat. It’s a refreshing escape so close to the city, and while there I was delighted to discover a great Canadian artist that I hadn’t previously heard about: Jean-Paul Lemieux. I only noticed a couple of the Quebecer’s works among all the pieces by Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, but Lemieux’s paintings made an impression with their minimal, graphic quality. I like how he captured the desolate, vast landscape of rural Quebec — in particular the harsh, snowy weather and long grey skies.

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Getting to Know Andy Warhol

The Andy Warhol Museum, front facade, 1994, photo by Paul Rocheleau

On Saturday, after I spent the morning at Fallingwater, I went to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Here are my thoughts on the experience:

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).

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

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.

Beijing To-Do List

I have to admit that booking a trip to Beijing was somewhat compulsive. I’ve just started a new job and the airfare is quite expensive. But a friend of mine is going to be living there for the summer, and casually mentioned over lunch a few weeks ago that if I wanted to come for a visit, I could stay with her for free. Who could say no to a free room? Although I know very little about Beijing, I’m really excited to be going, and I’ve started putting together my to-do list. Of course, The Great Wall of China, Beihai Park and the Forbidden City are high priorities, as is a walk through one of the surviving hutongs and trips to the 2008 Olympic venues (The Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube). Here’s a few of the other things I’m thinking:

Sanlitun Soho by Kengo Kuma

When I was finishing architecture school, I basically stole the design for my final year project from Japanese master Kengo Kuma. But I’ve never seen one of his projects in person (I’ve just been a fan from books and magazines). I’m not sure if his Sanlitun Soho is one of his best works, but I’m curious if his spaces are as graceful in person as they are in architecture magazines.

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