¡Pura Vida! A Taste of Nature, Architecture, Permaculture and Lifestyle in Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida! from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

“¡Pura Vida!” is a phrase used daily in Costa Rica, which means “pure life” or “simple life.” It is not a slogan; it is a lifestyle, a way of being. Although I had initially planned to make a visual memoir as my 100th documentary, I ultimately decided to dedicate this occasion to our family experience in Costa Rica six years ago. Why? To raise awareness for the urgency of the need for a change in lifestyle as needed today. 

Covid-19 has globally brought us to a turning point. As it impacts the minds of billions of people since post-WW-II, the American Dream has reached a dead-end. It is simply non-sustainable. For the planet to survive and thrive, we must collectively change our mindset. Costa Rica offers a model worth studying carefully. 

The 25-minute documentary presented here tells much more than I may describe in writing, so consider this blog complementary to the film. Our trip was a 1,000+ km long drive nine-day vacation on a moderate budget, which we planned to combine between nature, permaculture, and architecture. 

The Trip

Gabby created the initial itinerary after consulting with Gabriel Saragovia, who lives in Costa Rica. Gabriel is the son of my old friend Efraim Saragovia, with whom I studied architecture at Israel’s Technion, and now lives in Florida. The father and son duo became sustainability-conscious developers of resorts in Costa Rica. They built Rio Perdido, an award-winning project, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our first stop was at La Ecovilla, a community of forty families from different countries, thirty of which having school-aged children. They focus on permaculture, not just as a source of food, but also as a tool for education. 

Finding La Ecovilla was not easy since the streets do not have names, and no signs were pointing us in the right direction. After climbing a rugged road carved from stone, surrounded by jungle-like vegetation, we found a nicely designed gate in the middle of nowhere. When it opened, it felt like entering another planet: Organic Architecture-inspired homes, homegrown food, and community areas geared towards creating a harmonious life with nature. In other words, a meaningful message for a future based on alternative values to a consumption-based society. 

After spending a few hours exploring La Ecovilla, Gabby navigated the one-lane Route 34 road through a tropical storm to our next stop, adjacent to the Manuel Antonio National Park’s entrance. 

The next morning, we were the first visitors of the day to enter the Park. Following a hike through the jungle, with toucans and sloths, we reached a beach that made me feel like a Spanish conquistador stepping on the soil of the Americas for the first time. Our company was birds chirping, iguanas sunbathing, and monkeys swinging between the branches. 

Our next destination was Malpaís, on the northern side of the Nicoya Gulf. We drove to Puntarenas to board the ferry which would take us to Paquera, a 1½ -hour ride surrounded by a view of islands and the sinuous coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The path to our destination was an unpaved, bumpy road through the countryside of small farms and ranches. Occasionally we would see a herd of cows grazing on the rolling hills. 

The hotel we stayed at provided a sense of idyllic peacefulness. Without ostentatious luxury, its sparse buildings were immersed in a tropical garden surrounded by dense jungle.

We first explored Malpaís, a laid-back small village with a rocky shore of bizarre volcanic formations and a jungle forest reaching the shore. The main road that links Malpaís with Santa Teresa was the area’s main street, with shops, markets, and stores. 

After a few hours of walking on the beach and talking to people in the village, I got a sense of the vibe. It attracts young, educated people, escaping the traps of urban life. The crowd was quite international, with a strong American, Argentinean, and Israeli presence, which made us feel like a good fit for the place.

On our third day, we explored Montezuma, a small village known for its multi-ethnic bohemian atmosphere of young people looking for an alternative lifestyle. It is also known for its beaches, rivers, and waterfalls. 

It took us most of the next day to reach Rio Perdido, first having to drive back through the Nicoya Gulf. When we finally got there, our first impression was a sense of overwhelm.

“In the middle of nowhere,” five design firms – C2 Arquitectura, Vida Design Studio, Project CR+d, Garnier Arquitectos, and OUSIA Design – led by Gabriel and Efraim Saragovia, had created a masterful architectural complex with virtually no land movement

In respect to the existing natural land it sits on, the facility includes a unique thermo-mineral gorge with eight hot springs. The hotel’s main area was conceived to minimize the number of columns and ease the view of the surroundings. The prefabricated bungalows elevated above the original topography, give a sense of peacefulness, with a 180-degree view of vegetation. The place also has multiple swimming pools at different water temperatures.

Passive cooling techniques were applied throughout the facility that requires little to no maintenance. An “aerodynamic architectural structure” proved to be very effective in properly channeling the currents during the 4 months of heavy winds that this area experiences. Water use was taken into consideration as part of the reforestation effort for the native plant species. The treated water is directed towards the irrigation of thousands of plants.

Besides the architecture, the Rio Caliente hot water river is in itself, an important reason to visit the place. It is not only relaxing, but also has medicinal properties used by the natives for generations. 

For those in search of adventurous excitement, this ecotourism includes a state-of-the-art Zipline course which loops across the main canyon, tubing through the winding currents of Rio Perdido and trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking.

 Our final stop was at the La Paz Waterfall Garden and Zoo, near the Poás Volcano. This is a lush tropical forest with a huge waterfall, and many species of local wildlife, including birds, insects, monkeys and leopards.

 L.A. 2020

We are currently living during the worst global pandemic of the past century, the worst recession since the 1930s, and now we are on the cusp of one of the most critical elections in recent American history. The future is now, and it is daunting. Costa Rica, besides its natural beauty, is a stable democratic republic with a long list of attributes: it is the greenest country in the world, home to the highest density of animal species; It produces 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, has had no army since 1949, has spends 7% of its budget on education (U.S.: 3.5%.) There is much to learn from this small country.

In short: ¡Pura Vida!

Leonardo vs. Coronavirus Renaissance Thinking to Rethink our Lifestyle


Raphael (1483-1520) was twenty-six years old when he started to paint The School of Athens at the Vatican. To represent Plato arguing with Aristotle at the center of the fresco, Raphael depicted him as Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), who, at the time, was fifty-seven years old.  He is making a gesture characteristic of Leonardo: his right index is pointing up to the heavens.

Five hundred and one years after Leonardo’s death, the heavens have fallen upon Planet Earth with a virus, COVID-19, commonly known as Coronavirus. What would Leonardo have done if he had to confront such a pandemic?

Leonardo’s areas of interest included drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, engineering, literature, scenography, paegentry, astronomy, botany, paleontology and cartography. The meaningful importance of immersing himself into such a wide range of subjects is in bringing the experiences in one field into another.

His skills as an artist allowed him to draw the human anatomy that he learned through dissections, and his learning from anatomy allowed him to express muscles and gestures on the surface of his subjects. Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile could not have been painted without his understanding of how the lips muscles function. He designed flying machines after observing how birds fly. His observation of rivers helped him to conceive a new capital for France, Romorantin, which included two palaces and waterways for outdoor spectacles, irrigation, street cleaning, flushing out horse stables and carrying away rubbish.

Leonardo was a genius, but he was not the only one navigating multiple subjects. Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) studied and wrote about physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. Renaissance men include Michelangelo (1475 – 1564,) Galileo (1564 – 1642,) Franklin (1706 – 1790,) Jefferson (1743 – 1826,), Goethe (1749-1832,) Einstein (1879 1955,) Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1955,) and more recently, Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983,) ( Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011) and Calatrava (1951.)

Learning from Leonardo include being relentlessly curious, seeking knowledge for its own sake, retain a childlike sense of wonder, observe details carefully, get distracted, find time to loaf, let the perfect be the enemy of the good, think visually, wander across all the disciplines of the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities, indulge fantasy, create for yourself, not just for patrons, collaborate, take notes, be open to mystery. Practicing mental mapping and lateral thinking may help.

There is some good news from having to get secluded in our home. We learn that much of the work we do can be done without having to spend hours driving and burning tons of carbon. We may learn from China’s capability of building two hospitals in two weeks by developing methods to accelerate the construction of housing.

Coronavirus won’t be the last cataclysm that humanity will have to confront. As the world population continues to grow towards 10-12 billion people by the end of the century. We are challenged by colossal problems such as sustainability, climate change and increasing urbanization. We must change our lifestyle, and to do that, we must change our way of thinking. The renaissance way of looking at reality offers us an important path.

 Despite all the fear that the Coronavirus is spreading in the world, perhaps there is also good that will come of this, perhaps this is the time to rethink our value systems, to reunite with family members and even wit ourselves.

 Maybe a little perspective of what really matters to us is a lesson that it takes a pandemic to teach. Maybe it takes an “excuse” like Covid-19 to create.

Last Supper, 1490

Dear Bernie – Notes on Architecture A visual open letter to Senator Sanders on his "Housing for All" program.

Dear Bernie,

As the next President of the United States of America, and as one of the world’s leaders in times of global crisis, you will have to deal with many complex issues. From the thirty-three major items listed on your website, I will refer here only to the one titled “Housing for All.” In your program, it encompasses 10 million permanently affordable units at an estimated cost of $2.5 trillion dollars. This scope, big enough to generate many jobs, has ramifications that are much larger than just housing. It includes infrastructure for mobility, schools, hospitals, factories, sustainability, urban farming, and much more.

On Housing

The quantitative problem must confront some serious questions: what to build, where to build, and how to build. From the present US population of 330 million, the projection for 2050 is 440 million, that is, an additional 110 million people. If we calculate 2.5 people per dwelling unit, 44 million new dwelling units will be needed, at an average of about 1.5 million per year, for the next thirty years.

An increase in density is inevitable, but how? We don’t want to create high-rise housing monstrosities. Higher density does not necessarily mean high-rise buildings. Paris has a high density with only 4-5 floors of high buildings and large green areas. There are many ways of increasing urban density.

An easy one could be done with the stroke of a pen, by allowing an increase of density on single-family units. One could hit two birds with one shot by requiring that owners adding units to their properties must own electric cars that could be parked within their land or in public parking structures within walking distance.

Another way of dealing with density is mixed-use. Today, in most cities, it means commercial on the ground floor and residential above it. This approach could be expanded by including on the first 2-3 floors commerce, institutions, and working spaces for the residents living above. This would lower their dependence on commuting to work.

Where to build should be thought as it relates to public mobility. At a macro level, a network of bullet trains throughout the country could influence the location of complex developments between the two coasts, and between Canada and Mexico. In cities, mobility should be based on a combination of walking, biking, public transportation, and shared cars.

Bullet-trains network concept

How to build must confront the equation scope-quality-cost. The key to deal with this equation is design quality. To raise the bar, a few actions are needed:

  1. Fund architecture R&D

  2. Educate the public about architecture and self-help.

  3. Define areas of experimental zoning, unconstrained by obsolete building regulations other than for safety and accessibility.

Scope-Cost-Quality interdependence diagram

Beyond “Housing for All” in America

The wellness and security of the United States depend on the wellness of the planet. If America is to assume a leading role in dealing with a world expected to have a population of 10 billion by 2050, and of 12 billion by the end of the century, creating a large scope for the needs of the US can impact the rest of the world positively. One way of achieving this could be by creating a University of Planetary Management that would converge multiple disciplines in science, art, and technology. Eventually, such a university could have branches in various parts of the world.

Meghiddo Concept for a University of Planetary Management. Image: The Why Factory, MVRDV, Netherlands

I conclude this letter with two quotations. The first one is mine, published here on August 28, 2019:

“Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren bring leadership qualities that could help to invent the future with a wide vision and with greater optimism. (…) Why Bernie as number one? Because he thinks like a statesman. His broad agenda fits not only America’s long list of needs but also a world starving for leadership and direction. Climate change, sustainability, inequality, the arms race are not just American issues; they are global. If approaching them creatively, the planet could be transformed positively beyond anything we can think of today. Architecture could then play a pivotal role.”

The second is yours. It was made during your rally in Venice, CA on December 21, 2019:

“If we have the vision of a just and humane society in front of us, when we stand together, when we fight together, there is nothing that we can not accomplish.”

Connecting Edges Wake-up Calls from DocuDay to Jane Fonda


Connecting Edges is a film about five unrelated events that I experienced during the second week of February 2020: DocuDay, the Oscars, a pre-screening of the TV series HuntersFrieze Los Angeles, and a presentation by Jane Fonda of the restored film F.T.A. from 1972.
I thought of connecting dots between subjects that they contained: war, the threat to democracy, inequality, art, and architecture-related contradictions. Putting them together attempts to sound a warning for the times we live.

The Events

  1. DocuDay is a yearly event organized by the International Documentary Association. The day preceding the Oscars, ten nominated documentaries – five features and five shorts – are shown from 8:30 AM to midnight. Q&As follows each screening.
  2.  Watching the Oscars, together with another 23 million people. I correctly predicted two winners: the Korean Parasite and Joaquin Phoenix acting in Joker.
  3. Pre-screening of a pilot for a television series, Hunters. The message: fighting anti-Semitism. 
  4. Frieze Los Angeles, an international contemporary art fair showing emerging and established artists alongside a program of talks, films, and artists’ projects. The three-day event happens at the backlot movieset of Paramount Pictures Studios. 
  5. A presentation by Jane Fonda of the film F.T.A. from 1972, restored by HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association,) at the American Cinematheque. 

Connecting Dots

War. The two Oscar-nominated documentaries, The Cave and For Sama, both showing the crude realities of Syria’s civil population being bombarded daily by President Bashar Hafez al-Assad forces and by Russians’ airplanes. It has been realized by extraordinarily courageous filmmakers (four crew members lost their lives during the filming of The Cave.) Listening live to surviving witnesses – the main characters of both films – was heartbreaking. And listening to Jane Fonda presenting the anti-war film F.T.A. almost half a century after is was done raises the question: will we ever learn?

The threat to democracy. The Brazilian documentary The Edge of Democracy shows a reality that could spread to other democratic countries, including the United States. The resemblance between far-right President Jair Bolsonaro (“Well, the pope may be Argentinian, but God is Brazilian”) and President Trump (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”) is amazing. The dots also connect to Joaquin Phoenix’s speech at the Oscars and to some aspects of Joker’s message. Warnings about the dangers of resurrecting Fascism are also present in the TV-series Hunters.

Inequality. Director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite is more than just Oscar’s big winner. It is a film that also sends a warning about inequality and what it may lead to. A new French Revolution?

Art. The film Honeyland is one of the most poetic documentaries I have seen. Some of the scenes seem to be painted by Caravaggio. It also brings us to see a hidden world in a remote land, where resilience is key to survival. Its authenticity is in plain contrast to much of the artworks that I have seen at Frieze.  

Architecture-related contradictions. Putting together images of Paramount’s backlot fake New York facades, of Brasilia’s out-of-human-scale formalisms, of Honeyland’s main character house and of the caravan in which her new neighbors reside open serious questions about the future of architecture as expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright: “The future of architecture is the future of humanity; if humanity has a future, so will architecture.”

'>Vernissage at the Hammer The Opening of the Hammer Museum's "Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration" Illustrates the Public's Attendance and the Works of Four Artists

The Hammer Museum’s latest vernissage, “Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration,” was unexpected at various levels. The biggest surprise was seeing how many people of all ages attended. It was a welcomed abnormality, a good sign that there is life after Trump, climate change, and long wish-lists of We The People.

The first impacting artwork was at the entrance lobby: Leonardo Drew’s sculptural installation at an architectural scale made out of roofing material, wood, and sandpaper. As stated in the show’s presentation, it is “a monumental explosion of material and color that evokes the energy and entropy of an uncertain planet.”

Max Hooper Schneider’s idiosyncratic installation succeeded in getting one immersed in it. Beyond the visual impact on the visitor, knowing about his background in landscape architecture and marine biology informs his “destruction and construction” artwork.

The leading exhibition was “Paul McCarty: Head Space, Drawings 1963-2019.” It was less surprising. I had covered some of his work in Tangoing with Paul & Amigos. Although I am less interested in the conflicting emotions provoked by his visceral repressed memories, I do admire his journey of continuous experimentation, and also the scale of some of his drawings.

The work of New York-based artist Tishan Hsu’s intrigued me more for the formal originality of some of its sculptures than for their Minimalist message of emerging technologies’ aesthetics. Trained as an architect at MIT, and having had a carrier as an artist and teacher that spanned over four decades was revealing.

Anish Kapoor: Fluidity, Reflections, Space A spatial stainless-steel installation in Hollywood

Anish Kapoor is known as one of the world’s great living artists.  Since he won the Premio Duemila Prize at the 44th Venice Biennale back in 1990, his sculptural installations had a significant presence in many cities, including London, at the Tate Modern, Paris, at the Grand Palais, and Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum.

 

Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai in 1954 to an Iraqi-Jewish daughter of a rabbi who immigrated to India from Baghdad with her family when she was an infant. His Punjabi Hindu father was a hydrographer for the Indian Navy.  This mixed and complex background had a powerful influence in his attraction to dualities: concave and convex, matter and void, light and darkness, negative and positive, earth and sky, mind and body.  The range of materials he uses and pushes to their limits is astonishing: stone, steel, concrete, fabrics. Many of his projects are at an architectural scale.  He collaborated with architects Frank Gehry in Chicago’s Millenial Park, Arata Isozaki in Japan, and engineer Cecil Balmond at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park.

Although his reflective artworks in highly polished stainless steel are easily recognizable, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole Kapoor into this style only.  His crude artworks in sculptural painting and amorphous concrete tell us of an artist in continuous research for new forms of expression.

The exhibit of Kapoor’s stainless-steel Double S-Curve at the Regen Projects gallery in Hollywood is good art news for Southern California.

Filmmaking Resume Segments of Documentaries Shot over the Course of Several Years

This documentary is titled Filmmaking Resume as a reference to short bits of architectural footage shot over the course of several years, and published in Architecture Awareness, Cultural Weekly and in this website.

 

Although I have also created short films on art, politics, and cultural events, my focus here is on architecture-as-space, the essential language of architecture. This short documentary illustrates fragments on the works of twenty recognized contemporary architects. As such, it expresses how good design can resonate on a much deeper level and lead to a higher quality of life.

 

In dealing with the human condition in the 2020 decade, some of my future films are likely to focus on topics such as housing, sustainability, and open urban spaces.

12/12 in L.A. & 3 Pianists A link between long-term thinking and what is doable today through architecture and the arts

This short documentary tries to connect dots between three disparate experiences that happened in a single day, 12/12/2019. The dots are a brainstorming session with old friends, a visit to a new working environment in Hollywood, the discovery of an art studio by the Los Angeles River dedicated to environmental art, and three piano performers.

It all started with a scheduled breakfast at Coffee Cup, a reunion of four former members of a group known as “Rethinking Greater Long Beach.” At the table were Professors Alex Norman (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs,) Jack Humphrey (Demography) Bill Crampton (Education) and myself.

After ordering sunny side up eggs for breakfast – out of the ordinary for me – and updating ourselves – we had not seen each other several years – we started our brainstorming session. This time, instead of rethinking Long Beach, we posed several questions at a global level. China thinks and plans long term, why can’t the US? Is Singapore urbanity number one, as Jack thinks after his recent visit? How many people can planet Earth take sustainably? What revolution is needed in education to face the future’s challenges? What are the dangers generated by Trumpism beyond Trump? Summarizing the results of our discussion, we voted. “Optimistic vs. Pessimistic.” The result: 1 to 3, respectively.

In the afternoon, Ruth and I made an unplanned visit to Second Home Hollywood. I only knew that it had been designed by the same architects that designed the Serpentine Pavilion near LACMA, Jose Selgas, and Lucia Cano, from Madrid. They had recently completed this new kind of working environment in London and in Lisbon.

We found Second Home Hollywood’s design impressive. Built with low-cost materials, and making intensive use of planting, the place is full of light, spatially vibrant and stimulates socialization. It is out-of-the-box thinking. Its success with young people is evident.

In the evening, we went for a first visit to Metabolic Studio, by the Los Angeles River, close to downtown L.A. Once again, we were surprised to discover a stimulant space to produce arts and crafts within an existing industrial warehouse.

Inspired by these three events in a single day, I decided to produce a short documentary, included here. While watching the Kennedy Center Awards 2019, I discovered Yuja Wang. Immediately it triggered the idea of bringing into the film the piece that she performed, “You Come Here Often?” by Michael Tilson Thomas. While researching for another two piano pieces, I first discovered Marco Mezquida, from Barcelona. He has played in many international jazz festivals. Then I discovered Joanna MacGregor. She is a British concert pianist, conductor and composer, who is also Head of Piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music. I found her playing of a Piazzolla arrangement fantastic! I couldn’t resist connecting the dots through a film collage.

End of an Era Ray Kappe and Dion Neutra: Close of a 100-year Time in Architecture

With the passing of Ray Kappe and Dion Neutra in Los Angeles, a heroic era of architecture has come to an end. The tributary sources were two: Organic Architecture in the United States, envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright and, in Europe, Rationalism / International Style, headed by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pieter Oud, and Erich Mendelsohn.  These two tributaries bifurcated into many streams, becoming a present-day “delta,” mislabeled as “Modernism.” Both sources wanted to change the world. The first one, by changing people’s mindsets. The second one, by providing how-to solutions easy to apply.

Sources: Wright, Gropius, Neutra, Mendelsohn, Schindler

Ray Kappe’s most creative segment of his productivity belonged to the first source. His houses in Pacific Palisades’ Rustic Canyon remain excellent examples of an indoor-outdoor architecture conceived as a whole. Yet, in spite of this Wright-influenced architecture, Kappe continued to evolve, both as an educator and as an architect. In the last two decades, he embarked on the challenge of creating quality prefabricated homes.

Dion Neutra’s father, Richard Neutra, although aware of the difference between the two currents from having spent some time working for Wright, belonged to the European source. Later called “therapeutic architecture” adapted to California’s weather, it remained linked to the International Style.

Milton Goldman Residence, Encino, 1951

Dion Neutra and Eric Lloyd Wright in Malibu, 2017

Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs, 1946

When I read that Kappe didn’t like the term ‘modernist,’ I was not surprised. “He embraced the term ‘modern’ because it represented to be current with the latest ideas, technologies, and materials.” In that sense, as stated by Bruno Zevi, both Michelangelo and Borromini were, in the 16th and 17th centuries, modern to their times.

My first encounter with Ray and Shelly Kappe, Ray’s partner in work and life and an educator in her own right, was during the mid-1980s when they invited Luigi Pellegrin to give a lecture at SCI-Arc in Santa Monica. I was then asked to be the Italian-to-English translator. During Pellegrini’s visit, the Kappes invited us for dinner at their residence in Rustic Canyon. The conversation was definitely “organic.” Following that visit, Ruth and I met the Kappes several times. We sympathized with them. We felt that we had many ideas in common.

My encounters with Dion Neutra were more recent, at Carol King’s Salon, in Pasadena. Dion, who had worked with his father on many projects was, in the last few years, embarked on a one-man crusade to save some of the Neutra buildings from demolition.

The “architectural delta” of the early 21st century is melting into the ocean of the world’s challenges: climate change, sustainability, affordable housing, infrastructure, food production, universal health and education, preservation of nature, and much more. In spite of notable self-expressions by some architects, a meaningful new direction in architecture demands now an urgently needed change of mindsets, beyond that of architectural design language, towards a new meaning of what represents life quality today.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030

Doc Snippets Selected Documentary Segments

On a recent event at U.C.L.A., the 43rd Congress of the Romanian Academy of Arts and Science, I was invited by its Interim President, Prof. Ileana Costea, about what I do as an architect-filmmaker. I decided to edit “an extended trailer” of selected segments from my films. I called it “Doc Snippets.”

Beyond some short notes on my architectural practice and of my passion for film since I was a student, I saw the question “Why are architectural documentaries important?” as the most relevant. Why?

The transformation of the planet to accommodate 10 billion people by 2050 will demand the active input of all its inhabitants, which would include self-help. Architecture awareness is critical to confront planetary challenges such as climate change, sustainability, population growth, mobility, food production, conservation of natural spaces, visual pollution, and over-crowding.

My films, most of them on architecture-related subjects, try to inform the viewer about the relationship between quality-space and human scale, and about meaning in the configuration of spaces.

Architecture + People in San Diego Architecture 2019 in San Diego: Downtown, the Central Library, the Salk Institute

San Diego’s downtown transformation conveys an important message to many cities’ challenges. It is possible to increase density while maintaining high standards of design quality. It is possible to mitigate traffic by bringing efficient public transportation. It is possible to build high-quality public buildings within the budget.

It was late May when we first considered the possibility of registering for a Brendon Burchard “Influencer” seminar in San Diego in October. “We haven’t been there for about a decade. It sounds like a good excuse,” I said. We signed up. It was a good decision. What we saw and learned in a few days well exceeded our expectations.

“What’s new to see in architecture?” I asked Google while doing basic research.  A small, five-story, zero energy mixed-use building, Torr Kaelan, caught my attention. It had been designed by Rob Quigley, an architect unknown to me. Some of the building’s details reminded Carlo Scarpa’s design.  Googling more on Rob Quigley, I reached the San Diego Central Library project. I couldn’t tell much by looking at the photographs that I found online, but I marked it as a place to visit.

Torr Kaelan

We decided to set our base in Little Italy. I found a lovely small hotel, Urban Boutique, next to a European-style piazza known at Piazza della Famiglia.  It was located a mile-plus from the event we planned to attend. “We could do some exercise by walking the distance in less than a half-hour,” I said to Ruth. Once we arrived at the hotel, we parked the car and didn’t move it until we left.

We found the downtown area transformation, since the last time we had been there, very impressive.  It had become a thriving center easily accessible by foot, bike, car, or public transportation. Its urban scale was right, the traffic was moderate, and we noticed a number of new, well-designed condominiums.

Yet the biggest surprise was the central library. According to the architect, it had been conceived as “a 9-story archive of flexible space, sandwiched at the top and ground floors, with diverse and accessible public amenities.”  The library opened in 2013, following a protracted 17-year period of design and construction. This may explain the 1970s–1980s flavor. The material of choice was concrete, for both cost and maintenance.

A spacious atrium and a roof garden, accented by a symbolic dome, provided an urban identity to the building. We found the different areas well crafted, with some of the spaces quite spectacular.

The “Influencer” event, structured as good content (psychology, physiology, productivity, persuasion) wrapped with entertainment, was remarkable for the diversity of over two thousand participants. There were people from all over the United States and also from many other countries. Our new chanceful acquaintances included a woman from Soroka, in the Republic of Moldova, an actress from Istanbul, a French couple from Montpellier and other people ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their seventy’s.

Brendon Burchard “Influencer” Seminar

We couldn’t leave San Diego without revisiting Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla. It triggered memories. When we were in our late twenty’s, we worked in Tel Aviv for Ram Karmi. When Kahn visited Israel, Karmi invited him and his wife for dinner at his condo, and asked us to join them. At the end of the evening, he said “pick up Kahn at his hotel tomorrow morning and take him to see the Central Bus Station,” of which I had been working on its details for several months. The gargantuan building, then under construction, was mostly done in exposed concrete.

Until a scheduled late-lunch, at 3:00 PM, to be joined by Carmela, Karmi’s his first wife, we spent five hours with Louis Kahn all for ourselves! During the three-hour-long lunchtime, Louis Kahn talked most of the time. It was like listening to Socrates. Kahn’s intellect was very high, and his language was, at times, incomprehensible to us.

Back in 1971, we had made our first visit to the Salk Institute at the end of our “Frank Lloyd Wright’s pilgrimage,” during which we visited and photographed over one hundred of Wright’s works across twenty-five states.  At the time, the Salk Institute was one of the most famous buildings in the world. Seeing it again forty-five years later was less impacting, although now I could read that, while its work in concrete remained impeccable, its greatness was in its scale and in the way the large court opens to the ocean. 

The link between the architecture we discovered and the people we met produced a highly productive and rewarding weekend!

Shirin Neshat Magic Realism Without Smiles

Shirin Neshat is a great artist. She captures depth from the subjects of her photographic portraits, and she creates fiction in her films and videos at a quality level comparable to some of the works of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni. Their uniqueness also derives from her feminine sensitivity and her understanding of ancient cultures. In doing so, she opens for the Western World a window to look at the other, beyond itself.

Shirin Neshat at her studio

The exhibition at The Broad is named “I Will Bring the Sun Again,” from the title of a poem by the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. It presents over 230 photographs and eight video installations, curated by Ed Schad. The images take us to ancient cultures that include not only Persia’s ancient history and traditions but also to Morocco, Mexico, Egypt, and Azerbaijan, not as tourists, but as observers of displacement, alienation, and political oppression.

The exhibition inspired me to produce a short documentary as an homage to Shirin Neshat’s work.