Monday, 21 November 2016

More Mexican Art Deco

I first visited Mexico in 2013. I wanted to see the art of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo  and all of the other great Mexican artists. I wanted to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan and the other sites that preceded the colonial period. And I also wanted to visit some of the wonderful Mexican art deco buildings that I had seen on the Art Deco Mex Facebook page. I was not disappointed, in fact I was inspired to return to see more of this beautiful, colourful, exciting country and recently visited for the third time in four years.

On my two previous visits, I spent a lot of time in the La Condesa neighbourhood, admiring the spectacular collection of art deco buildings in Avenida Amsterdam, Avenida Mexico and the surrounding streets. This time, thanks again to my good friend Eduardo of Art Deco Mex, I was able to see some of the many deco buildings in Colonia Roma, adjacent to La Condesa, as well as discovering more treasures in the Centro Historico and in the cities of Puebla and Oaxaca.

Edificio Anahuac
Colonia Roma was established at the beginning of the twentieth century and has a more European feel than other parts of the city due to its Parisian style streets and classicist buildings. During the 1950's the Beat writers including Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs spent time here and today the area remains a bohemian enclave where many writers and artists live. Colonia Roma also has some wonderful art deco buildings including the stunning Edificio Anahuac at 109 Queretaro. The stand-out external feature is the dramatic entrance with its wavy green tiled external lobby, ornate glazed door and stylised numbering above the entrance. 

We were lucky enough to be able to see inside the lobby and one of the flats in the building as one of the residents was standing on one of the street facing balconies when we arrived and Eduardo charmed her into letting us in! The communal area includes a now disused name board to show who lived in each apartment, a brightly coloured staircase with hints of California style and a small lodge once used by a concierge. The apartment was very small and had lost most of its original features but it was possible to imagine how stylish the building once was and the current resident was enthusiastic about art deco and the building's history. Edificio Anahuac was constructed in 1932 to the designs of Francisco J. Serrano, a prolific architect with several other buildings around the city.

Apartment building on Colima
Edifico Rio de Janeiro
Many of Mexico City's art deco buildings are undocumented in that the details of the architect and the year of construction are often not known. We were able to sneak a look inside one such building on Colima. Behind a fairly austere exterior, albeit one with some rather nice corner balconies, we discovered a beautiful staircase, the bannister of which has some splendid art deco motifs. Eduardo told me that there are many such buildings right across the city and that he regularly discovers more when out walking. I think a book is in order! 

Plaza Rio de Janeiro is a short walk from Colima and is home to one of the city's most interesting buildings. Designed by R.A. Pigeon and built in 1908 in the art nouveau style, the interior, including the doors was given an art deco remodeling in 1930 under the direction of our friend Francisco Serrano. The lobby and the atrium around which the flats are arranged is stunning with gorgeous wood panelling, a fountain, spectacular detailing on the staircase and stylized lettering on the elevator door. The main door is pure art deco with decorative lines, waves and discs. After dark the lobby is illuminated giving fantastic views of the interior from the tiled floor to that lovely fountain. Again, Eduardo managed to gain entrance to the lobby for us.

Edifico Rio de Janeiro
Edifico Rio de Janeiro
There is a bit of a story attached to Edificio de Rio de Janeiro. Widely known as "the witch's house" because of the gables which resemble a witch's hat, a previous resident, one Barbara Guerrero was known as a witch and referred to as La Pachita. Prominent people would consult her for advice which she would give without charge.

Art Deco cinemas can be found all over the world and Mexico is no exception. During my recent visit I was able to admire a number of cinema buildings, both in Mexico City and in Puebla. Several of the cinemas are now used for other purposes, mainly shopping centres but at least one of those I visited is still used for theatrical performances. 

The Centro Historic in Mexico City has many fine art deco buildings, including the Orfeon Theatre at Luis Moya 40. I came across this building quite by chance after having visited the wonderful Museum of Popular Art at Revillagigedo 11, itself a great art deco building. Built in 1938, it was designed by the American architects, Drew and John Eberson. It was originally intended that the theatre should seat up to 6,000 people, in 1945 it had a capacity of 4,628. In 1996, after many years of neglect, it was given a full restoration part funded by the Disney Corporation. Today it seats just under 3,000.

Teatro Orfeon
Teatro Coliseo
The former Coliseo Cinema in Puebla was another find. Built in about 1940 it is now a department store but the exterior is still intact and what an exterior it is, covered in chevrons, portholes, vertical windows and zig-zags. Puebla is renowned for its Baroque style architecture and I did not expect to come across art deco here. The Coliseo was not the only example of the style that I found as I also came across a neglected but still elegant apartment block in Avenida 4 Poniente, close to the famous Uriate Talavera ceramics shop and factory. I have been unable to find any details of the architect or date of construction. And whilst on the subject of unexpected art deco, I also came upon a rather nice building in Oaxaca with clear deco influences including "rule of three decorative details on the facade and on the corner summits. Eduardo once said of art deco in Mexico that "you can find it everywhere". He was right.

Apartment block, Puebla 
Deco influenced commercial building, Oaxaca
Edificio Cosmos
Back to Mexico City. Edificio Cosmos stands on the traffic-filled Eje Central in the Centro Historico.  Cosmos has it all - portholes, elegant balconies, corner windows, fabulous lettering and what appears to be a glazed stairwell. The ground floor is given over to retail and the side street has several cheap food stalls, some of which seem to deposit their rubbish beside the Cosmos. Unfortunately the building is in need of some loving care. Again, no details of the architect or date of construction.

Polanco is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Mexico City. As well as glitzy shops and fancy restaurants, Polanco plays host to the modern architectural gems - the Soumaya and Jumex museums. It is also home to Pasaje Polanco, a California style development with both commercial and residential buildings. Another one of Serrano's projects, it was completed in 1938. The internal part of the Pasaje includes some first floor residential units which with their rounded walkways and tropical planting reminded me a little of the Tiong Bahru district of Singapore. I only managed to take one photograph here before a very determined security guard told me I couldn't take any more. Shame. It's not the best picture but it gives you a hint of the grandeur.

Pasaje Polanco
There are art deco buildings to be found in most parts of Mexico City and even somewhat unexpectedly in other parts of the country too. One of the things I most enjoy about the city is strolling the streets and spotting some of the many deco details on the facades, doors and upper levels of buildings. Many of them contain references to the pre-colonial period, whilst others have wonderful lettering and numbering or classic deco motifs. Let's finish with a little indulgence and some lovely deco doorways and details from Mexico City!

You might also like Mexico City art deco - you can find it everywhere. or Picture Post 35 - Mexico City - the abandoned Fronton or Journey Mexico's recent post on Mexican design (please note that this is an external blog) 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Picture Post 58 - Puebla's stunning new museum of baroque

Puebla is home to almost 6 million people. It has a long history, was the site of an important victory against French forces in 1862, produces the world famous Talavera tiles and is home to one of the largest Volkswagen factories in the world. The city also has a large collection of baroque style churches and other buildings and recently acquired a stunning new museum designed by Japanese architect, Toyo Ito. I was able to visit the museum during my recent visit to Mexico.

The Museo International del Barroco opened earlier this year. It's collections include paintings, furniture, ceramics, clothing and religious objects as well as partial reconstructions of baroque churches and even a theatre! Extensive use of inter-active technology is made in line with current developments in displaying and promoting heritage collections. I liked this approach to presentation which ensures appeal for both traditional museum visitors and newer, younger audiences. At the time of my visit there was also a superb temporary exhibition of baroque items drawn from international collections in Belgium, Spain, Austria and even Liechtenstein.

As much as I enjoyed the exhibitions, the main reason for my visit was to admire Toyo Ito's spectacular architecture. A series of brilliant white folds, curves and cylinders, the museum is set in a brand new eco-park on the outskirts of the city. The contrast with the bright blue Mexican sky adds drama to the experience of a visit and is a bit of a show stopper especially on a first visit!

The building's design seeks to incorporate baroque principles. This is demonstrated through the fluidity of the design with the curved walls avoiding the rigidity of many museum buildings. The use of light to draw visitors from one space to another is also a reference to baroque principles with light symbolising the victory of good over darkness whilst locating the museum within the new park emphasises links with nature. Issues of environment and sustainability were also considered in the design and extensive use is made of external air in order to reduce the building's energy consumption - and also costs.

In addition to the exhibition spaces, there is a central patio and pool, open to the public and accessible from several points within the building. Hidden from the exterior, it provides yet another stunning visual experience, again with that beautiful contrast between the white of the structure and the blue sky. and water. The exhibitions are set out on the ground floor where there is also a gift shop offering a range of baroque related books and other items as well as some regional craft products. The upper level is devoted to research and education and is accessed by a dramatic white staircase immediately visible on entering the lobby. There is also a cafe on the first floor.

I know from many years of working in the cultural sector that providing wonderful buildings to show off even the most wonderful of collections or services can fail if the human element is neglected. The Museo International del Barroso addresses this fundamental concern through its wonderful, friendly and knowledgeable staff who welcome visitors not only on their arrival but also in each of the galleries. The staff have an obvious pride in their building and exhibitions and are keen to make sure people get the most from their visit. It was also good to see the eco-park being taken care of with a team of workers looking after things - and also wishing "buenos dias" to passers-by. I will certainly visit again.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Tel-Aviv, more beautiful Bauhaus

Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus architecture secured UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2003. There are more than 4,000 such buildings  in the city, which means that there are always more to discover and enjoy simply by walking the streets. The World Heritage Status stimulated great interest in the built heritage and although a significant number of the Bauhaus structures remain in poor condition, many have been restored or are under restoration.

107 Dizengoff, Yehuda Stempler, 1935.
Recently I came across two apartment buildings that I hadn't noticed before, one of which has been lovingly restored as well as a stunningly restored and extended building on Dizengoff Street. The Yehuda Hetzroni House at 107 Dizengoff was built in 1935 to the design of architect Yehuda Stempler. The original plans show two residential floors above commercial space on the ground floor. The facade is asymmetrical with long balconies that curve around the corner, parallel to the gorgeous curved glazing of the commercial space. A stairwell divides the front and rear wings and features a vertical "thermometer" window. The restoration has recently been completed, using original materials. Two more floors have been added, together with a partial floor and pergola - reflecting the Bauhaus philosophy of shared, social space on the roof. Nitza Szmuk Architects carried out the work and have been responsible for much of the restoration carried out in the city. Original architect Stempler, went on to design other Bauhaus style buildings in Tel-Aviv, including the Reis House in Meggido Street, completed in 1936.

On my most recent visit to the city, I rented a room in an Eclectic style house in Bialik Street. This might just be my favourite street in my favourite city due to its collection of Bauhaus and Eclectic style architecture. I especially love the Bialik House (which you can read about here) and the Reuven Rubin Museum which I visited many times. Walking through some of the side streets between Bialik and Dizengoff, I stumbled on two great Bauhaus buildings that I hadn't come across on my many visits to the city.

Zvi Brook is a small, quiet street accessed from Bialik by a flight of stairs between the City Museum and the Felicia Blumenthal Centre. The Ephraim Stroud House at number one Zvi Brook was built in 1934 and designed by architect Victor Jachun. As with the Hetzroni House, it was listed in a detailed presentation plan drawn up in 2008 as one of the requirements of the UNESCO listing. Located just behind the original City Hall, part of the building was once used as a kindergarten for the children of local authority employees working at the City Hall. The Municipal Waterworks Office was also located here.

The Stroud House is a very large, asymmetric structure with horizontal cantilevered balconies and a striking thermometer window, made of glass and steel and running the full height of the stairwell.The "thermometer" joins the two different wings of the house and sits above the main entrance. The corner lot on which the unit is situated includes a communal garden. Restoration work was undertaken in 2013 by architect Nira Reichman and the Yuvalim group. This practice has also undertaken a number of conservation projects in Tel-Aviv including buildings in the both the Bauhaus and Eclectic styles.

1 Zvi Brook, Victor Jachun, 1934.

Trumpeldor Street is famous for its cemetery where many famous people were laid to rest including former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Tel-Aviv's first Mayor - Meir Dizengoff and singer Shoshana Damari as well as many writers, artists and other notable people. There are also several Bauhaus buildings in this street, including number 39. The Greenberg House was designed by architect Shlomo Ehrlich and completed in 1935. 

It is an extremely elegant building, constructed on a platform, with a layered, recessed facade, roof terrace and supremely stylish main entrance accessed by a flight of steps and sheltered by a curved canopy. The canopy is echoed at the summit of the apartment block with a similar feature at roof level. There are typical Bauhaus balconies to the rear of the building but these are obscured by mature trees. Ehrlich was one of the many Jewish architects that fled Germany in the 1930's and had been associated with the Bauhaus School before leaving for Tel-Aviv.

As already noted, there are approximately 4,000 Bauhaus structures in Tel-Aviv. This includes residential, commercial and community buildings and they can be found in almost every neighbourhood. Strolling is the best way to discover this most eclectic of cities and I look forward to making more discoveries when I next visit - in the near future!

39 Trumpeldor, Shlomo Ehrlich, 1935.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Elite Factory, Ramat Gan - modernism and chocolate!

Elite is Israel's leading company for the production of coffee and confectionary. Now part of the world wide Strauss group, Elite had very humble origins when Eliyahu Fromchenko began experimenting with making chocolate in his own kitchen in Russia in 1918.  Eliyahu was destined for great things in the confectionary trade and moved to Riga in Latvia where together with his brother, Leonid, he acquired the Laima company in 1925. By 1933, Latvia had become distinctly uncomfortable for Jews and the Fromchenkos sold the business to move to Eretz Israel. Laima survived the Second World War and the Soviet period and continues to be an iconic brand today. 

In 1933 Eliyahu commissioned the building of a confectionary factory in Ramat Gan, close to Tel Aviv, establishing the Elite brand in partnership with the Mosevic and Kopilov families. The first batch of confectionary was produced in time for Pesach (Passover) in 1934 with Shokolad Para (cow chocolate named for the picture of a cow on the packaging) being the most popular product.

By 1938 Elite had began manufacturing chocolate for the British Army and following the success of the "chocolate from the Holy Land" branding, commenced exporting to Jewish communities overseas. The company continued to prosper and opened a second factory in Nazareth in 1956. Confectionary production ceased at the Ramat Gan factory some time ago but local people still recall the smell of chocolate emanating from this much loved building in the town centre. Popular singer, Yehonatan Geffen even wrote a song in praise of the aroma of chocolate coming from the factory! In recent years the building has been home to the Shankar College of Design but at the time of my visit it looked abandoned with no sign of recent activity. 

The factory was designed in the modernist style by architect Shlomo Ponrov. Ponrov had studied at Harvard University in the United States and eventually became the City Engineer of Jerusalem following Israel's independence in 1948. He was also responsible for designing the Yerhovsky House at 17 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. The factory is an extremely handsome structure, in relatively good condition with some of the nautical references so typical of larger modernist structures in Israeli buildings of the 1930's. The entrance is particularly elegant with the curved "shelf" style canopy over the short flight of steps and the glazed, squared off corner. 

The site has been the focus of a number of abortive schemes to build a large tower block, including one, now dropped, that involved a certain Donald Trump. Each of the schemes proposed so far have involved total demolition of the factory. I have been unable to find any recent information on the current position. It is to be hoped that this building which played such an important role in the development of Ramat Gan and of the Israeli catering industry can be saved. Eliyahu Fromchenko had a bit of a knack for survival. He wisely left Europe in 1933 and there is at least one report of him being rescued from execution during the Petlyra pogroms in Kharkov during the Russian Civil War. Let's hope his factory has similar survival skills.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Picture Post 57 - Heichal Yehuda Synagogue, Tel-Aviv

Menachem ben Sarum is a side street not far from Tel-Aviv's city hall. It is largely residential with blocks of flats, a large car park...and a stunning brilliant white building - the Heichal Yehuda Synagogue. Sitting rather incongruously behind the car park, the rear of the synagogue resembles a large sea-shell, glistening in the strong sunshine and contrasting with the bright blue Tel Aviv sky.

Built in 1980, the synagogue was intended as a memorial for the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in Greece, which was almost entirely destroyed during the Holocaust. Much of the funding came from the well know Recanati family who originated from Thessaloniki and the building is sometimes referred to as the Recanati synagogue. It is also called the seashell synagogue due to its shape and the fact that it was inspired by the shells on the beach in Greece.

The facade is highly decorative with three main segments each baring motifs connected to the Jewish holidays and designed by Israeli artist Joseph Chaaltiel. The summit of each section is curved and hooded, resembling a tallit. The main doors are particularly impressive and carry discs displaying the names of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Architects Yitzchak Toledo and Aharon Russo designed the building to hold 600 people - 400 in the men's section and 200 in the women's gallery. The shell design enables all members of the congregation to see and hear from wherever they are seated.

I like the idea of this soft, delicate looking structure being designed in the shape of a sea shell and the link back to Thessaloniki.When I was a child, we were encouraged to put shells to our ears in order to "hear the sea" in the same way that the Heichal Yehuda gives congregants an echo from Gree

Friday, 16 September 2016

Cinema Orot - Brutalist architecture in Beer Sheva

Beer Sheva is the largest city in southern Israel and is surrounded by the vast Negev desert. From the late 1950's onwards a number of new buildings were constructed here in the style that came to be known as Brutalist. The style has been the subject of much criticism over the years and not only in Israel. However, in many places a re-assessment is taking place with some of these buildings now receiving recognition and in some places receiving protected status, particularly in the UK.

My favourite Beer Sheva brutalist building is the now abandoned Orot (lights) Cinema at the corner of Hashalom and Hamaapilim streets in the city's Gimmel quarter. Designed by Yaacov Rechter under the supervision of Zeev Rechter, the cinema received planning permission in the late 1950's and was completed in 1960. Originally known as Orot HaNegev (lights of the Negev), the 800 seat cinema was commissioned by local businessmen, brothers Hillel and Shimon Felchinski.The first film to be shown was Bridge Over The River Kwai" in January 1960. Like many cinemas, the Orot struggled in the 1970's and 1980's and finally closed in December 1989 having been open slightly less than thirty years.

Following its closure, the cinema was purchased by a developer who planned to deliver a residential project but a prolonged dispute with the local authority led to the abandonment of this plan and the cinema now stands neglected, surrounded by dust and thistles and acting as a home to pigeons. Despite this, it remains a striking building with its accordion shaped exterior which strengths the structure and negates the need for internal pillars. The play of light and shadows on the external folds changes throughout the day adding character to the structure. It is possible to peep in through the broken windows to see the folds repeated on the interior wall. Somewhat surprisingly many of the wooden seats remain in place. The decorative metal front of the former ticket office also just about survives and again repeats the folds of the main structure.

The Orot may be in poor condition but there is some hope for the future of Beer Sheva's Brutalist architecture. Local architects Omri Oz-Amar and Hadas Shadar have been campaigning for UNESCO recognition of Beer Sheva as a World Heritage Site, representing the Brutalist architectural movement. Shadar is also the author of a book Beer Sheva Brutalist and Neo-Brutalist Architecture available at several bookshops including the Bauhaus Center in Tel-Aviv.

Zeev Rechter had previously worked in the Bauhaus style and was responsible for a number of buildings including the beautiful Soskin house in Tel Aviv.