Thursday, April 29, 2010

Art Deco v Art Nouveau - What's the difference? Part Two




Art Nouveau is older and very different in style to Art Deco. It took its name from Samuel Bing's gallery, Maison de l'Art Nouveau, in Paris. In Central and Eastern Europe it is also known as Jugendstil or 'youth style'. One of its main influences was Japanese art, especially the woodcuts of Hokusai, and its main period was from the 1890s to the early 1900s, after Japanese prints appeared in Europe. It was especially popular in Northern Europe, with Latvia and Scotland being two of the countries with some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. It is characterized by non-geometric curves and swirls, and the facades of Art Nouveau buildings are usually decorated with floral designs, human figures and faces.

I have chosen two buildings to exemplify the style:

1/ Elizabetes iela 10b, Riga. Riga has over 750 Art Nouveau buildings, more than any other city in the world, and it was a visit there that got me really interested in this subject. The main reason is that one of the most prolific Art Nouveau architects, Mikhail Eisenstein (father of the film director Segei Eisenstein) lived there, and the building at Elizabetes iela 10b, built in 1903, is generally agreed to be his finest

2/ Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse, Bucharest. This is a grand late nineteenth century, pedestrian thoroughfare, roofed with glass and wrought iron and lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. It has a typical Art Nouveau entrance, flanked by floral designs and human sculptures. It was designed by Catalan architect, Xavier Villacrosse, who studied in Paris. It is quite elegant and beautiful and when you see it, you will see why Bucharest was sometimes referred to as Little Paris.


Art Deco v Art Nouveau - What's the difference? Part One




When I travel, I usually take a guide book with me, and often come across references to Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings, but to be quite honest I never really tried to find out what the difference was. I just knew that they both usually dated from the early twentieth century. However, after a recent trip to Riga, which has some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world, I finally started to get a grasp of what that was. It is quite a common style in big European cities. Art Deco, on the other hand, tends to be more prevalent in North and South America, with some of the finest examples being in New York.


Art Deco was a common style of design from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s. It was intended to be elegant, sleek and modern. It took its name from the Internationales des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, but the term Art Deco was not widely used until it was popularized by art historian Bevis Hillier's 1968 book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s. So, how can you recognize it? Well, if you see a pre-war building with a streamlined look, then it's probably Art Deco. It is strongly influenced by the architecture of Ancient Egypt., with its pyramids and obelisks. If I tell you that the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are Art Deco, then you'll start to form an image of what it looks like: tall and sleek, with geometric patterns and curves, sometimes with a sinister touch: think Superman and Gotham City. But, be warned, if it's got flowery designs and faces on the front, then it's more likely Art Nouveau.

In my opinion, Art Deco buildings can often be quite brutal and ugly, but here are three I've seen that I liked (photos from top to bottom):

1/ Edificio Kavanagh , Buenos Aires.
When it was completed in 1936, Edificio Kavanagh was, with a height of 120 m, the tallest building in Latin America and the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. it was designed in a style which is a mixture of Art Deco and Modernism (that's another story), by architects Gregorio Sánchez, Ernesto Lagos and Luis Maria de la Torre. There is a funny story attached to this building: it was planned as an act of revenge by the developer, Corina Kavanagh. One of Corina's daughters had fallen in love with the son of the aristocratic Anchorena family, who lived in a palace and had built a church next to the site of the Kavanagh Building. The Anchorenas stopped the marriage to a member of a nouveau riche family, whom they perceived as being below their social status. So, to teach them a lesson they'd never be able to forget, Corina Kavanagh decided to build a skyscraper that would block the view of the church from their palace. It took all of her inheritance to complete it, and she spent the rest of her life living in an apartment on the 14th floor of Edificio Kavanagh. It is, nevertheless, a beautiful building, and it certainly has a 'wow' factor, because that's what I said when I first saw it.

2/ Palacio Salvo, Montevideo.
This 26-storey skyscraper, which dominates the skyline of Montevideo, was designed by the architect Mario Palanti, and constructed between 1925 and 1928. It is 95 metres high, but 100 metres with the antenna., and until the Edifico Kavanagh was completed eight years later, it was the tallest building in South America. Palacio Salvo may no longer be the tallest building in South America, but it is still the most popular image on postcards of Montevideo and remains a national icon for Uruguayans. I personally think it's one of the great pre-war skyscrapers, on a par with New York's Chrysler Building.

3/ Union Hotel, Bucharest.
Eastern European cities have many impressive Art Deco buildings from the 20s and 30s. One of the most spectacular is Bucharest's Union Hotel, which was built between 1929 and 1931 by local architect Arghir Culina. It used to be a hotel, but is now used as an office block.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Corner View - Animals

The theme of this week's Corner View is animals. I thought about elephants, I thought about lions, I even thought about my cat, Sid, but in the end I went with monkeys. The top photo is of a little marmoset I saw when I was walking through the forest on Ilha Grande, in Brazil, which is, incidentally, a place that would figure in my Top 10 Paradises on Earth. The second photo is of a family of macaques I saw by the roadside on a recent trip to Sri Lanka. What got me in both cases were their facial expressions (and their fashionable hairstyles).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Corner View - Earth Day

April 22nd is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which was started by Gaylord Nelson in Philadelphia to raise awareness about the environmental crisis, after he saw the effects of an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. It is now celebrated on nearly every country on Earth.

Gaylord died in 2005, but his name lives on, especially at the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and also at the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness,
although, great man as he was, I'm not sure I'd name my son after him.

The first photo is of one of my favourite wilderness camping areas on Earth: The Tuwaiq Escarpment, which runs through the centre of the Arabian Desert. The second is one of the few parts of the world still relatively unspoilt by man: the Rub' Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, which straddles Saudi Arabia and Oman, and which is equal in size to France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Corner View - Vending Machines

The theme of this week's Corner View is vending machines, which are commonplace in rich First World cities: I think the most I ever saw was in Tokyo, which is one of the few places in the world where there are vending machines on nearly every street, dispensing beer. Third World countries tend not to have such sophisticated devices, but they have their own versions like this mobile shop I saw in Cambodia.