The Wende A Museum of Art and Culture Behind the Iron Curtain

The Wende Museum is a unique depository of memories from the Eastern European countries beyond the Iron Curtain that endured Communism-labeled fascism during the Cold War. It is dedicated to preserving this period’s art, culture, and stories.

West and East Europe divided by the Curtain Wall

When my friend Elisa Leonelli sent me a recent article she wrote about her visits to The Wende, we followed after her steps. It was quite a surprise. We found very appealing both the museum’s content and the space that architect Christian Kienapfel of Paravant Architects created within Culver City’s old National Guard Armory.

Engels, Mark, Lenin, Stalin

 

Bust of Lenin, Istaravshan, Tajikistan, 1965

The Cold War era started with the end of World War II and ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was a conflict between American-led democratic capitalism and Russian-led Communism. It includes the atrocities committed by Stalin and the Gulag it created; it includes Russia’s invasion of Hungary and the Prague Spring’s crashing; and it also includes the obsessive period of McCarthyism that contributed to a distorted view of socialism.

The Wende Museum (wende in German means in English, “change, turning point”) is the brainchild of Justinian Jampol, its founder and director. It raises awareness to the world behind the Iron Curtain. Arts and artifacts, censured literature and publications, and human stories about everyday life can now be seen, read about, and listened to. The artifacts exhibited in the 13,000 square foot space are only a fraction of the collection, which is more geared to educate and entice curiosity rather than to enshrine masterpieces. Segal Shuart Landscape Architects designed a pleasant rear garden to accommodate outdoor events.

My personal experience with the subject is indirect. I heard stories from Ruth, who spent her teens in Communist Romania. While we were students in Rome, we befriended Romanian artist Ion Nicodim, who in 1963 made a tapestry, Ode to Man, (approximately 32 x 15 feet) that was donated by the Romanian government to the United Nations. We traveled throughout Romania during Ceaușescu’s regime and felt the oppression in the air. In 1976 we visited then Berlin divided Berlin. Years later, in 2018, we made two documentaries in the unified city.

Ode to Man, by Ian Nicodim, 1963

The film included in this article brings some visuals of paintings, murals, and monumental sculptures from that period (such as GDR’s painters Heinz Drache and Willi Sitte,) and also artworks by some Eastern European contemporary artists that became famous in the West, such as Christo and Marina Abramović, and younger ones still living in those countries, such as Pazza Pennello (Kyiv, Ukraine,) Jana Želibská (Bratislava, Slovakia,) and Ewa Juszkiewicz (Warsaw, Poland.)

The Wende Museum is an inducement not only to learn about a recent past but also to us warn about the dangers of fascist movements at the present time.

The Kiss – leonid brezhnev and Enrich Honecker, 2009, Berlin Wall

With Piazzolla at the Bowl An Historic Event at the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater

The concert of Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas / The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, at the Hollywood Bowl, on August 26, 2021, was of historic importance. A public of about 15,000 people came to the concert conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, with the performance of Karen Gomio as a soloist.

Astor Piazzolla

Unlike Vivaldi’s concertos, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons wasn’t originally intended to be in four movements.  Piazzolla wrote the first of the four compositions, Summer (Verano Porteño) as a standalone work for Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz’s play The Mane of Gold (Melenita de oro). Autumn (Otoño Porteño), Spring (Primavera Porteña), and Winter (Invierno Porteño) came around five years later, in 1970. Piazzolla alludes to some of Vivaldi’s melodies in his own series, yet his composition is unique. The pieces were conceived for his quintet of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneon, of which he was a virtuoso.

Piazzolla was not only one of the 20th century’s great musicians, but he was also one of the most prolific. His over 3,000 compositions include avant-garde tango music, opera, symphonic compositios, and music for film.

The concert at the Bowl brought the extraordinary performance of Karen Gomio, a musician born in Tokyo who developed her career in Montreal and New York. She now resides permanently in Berlin.

The coupling of Piazzolla’s Seasons with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 surprised me. It seems to me that the music of Bela Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, and Gershwin are much closer to his spirit. And also the music of great jazz composers and performers, such as Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck.

In the film I included brief segments of interviews with some musicians that played with him for many years, such as Pablo Ziegler and Fernando Suárez Paz. To learn more about his complex life, Maria Susana Azzi’s detailed and knowledgeable biography is highly recommended, particularly the expanded new edition in Italian.

For brief a scheme of his life, you may watch my recent Piazzolla Con Brio film.

Hollywood Bowl Marquee

 

The Ford in Hollywood Theater Setting as a Hidden Treasure

When you go to the Long Beach Opera, expect the unexpected. The program fitted our expectations: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Kate Soper’s Voices from the Killing Jar (2012.), an all-women performance. Jenny Wong directed the music, the choreography was directed by Danielle Agami, and the singing was by soprano Laurel Irena. Yet the greatest surprise was its staging at The Ford Theater by the Cahuenga Pass, next door to the Hollywood Hall.

The Ford is, since its renovation, a hidden treasure, a cultural gem, one of the best-kept architectural secrets of Los Angeles.

The Holywood Bowl and The Ford Theater

In 1918, Christine Wetherill Stevenson (1878-1922) bought a 60-acre land known as Daisy Dell, including the Hollywood Bowl area. An amphitheater was built in 1920 as a venue for the religious-themed Pilgrimage Play. In 1929 a fire destroyed the original theater, and in 1931 a new one was built made of cast concrete to resemble the ancient architecture of the Holy Land. In 1952 the Pilgrimage Theater closed for two years due to the construction of the Hollywood Freeway. It came to a final close in 1964.

Following popular periodical productions, including rock band performances, an extensive renovation started in 2014, designed by architect Brenda Levin and landscape architect Mia Lehrer. The renovation was dedicated in 2017. In 2019 the theater’s operation was transferred to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Ford’s 1,200-seat setting is unique, not only by comparison to the nearby 17,500-seat Hollywood Bowl but also to classical amphitheaters. The Greek amphitheater was conceived to have a natural horizon behind the stage. The Roman amphitheater had its stage built, and therefore could more easily adapt to urban environments. What is unique at The Ford is that nature beyond the stage is steeply uphill, a background of a different character than historical precedents.

The picnics areas are also very different than the ones at the Bowl; their terracing makes them humanly scaled, more intimate.

The project faced many challenges. First and foremost, a lot of water flows off that hillside. One of the deferred maintenance problems was the infiltration of water into the theater. There was also needed to stabilize the hillside. Acoustics was a significant issue, considering the proximity of the Hollywood Freeway.

Besides its design qualities, The Ford’s renovation stresses the importance of the relationship between a building and its setting on the land.

Frank Gehry 2021 A Playful Ninety-two Years Young Master

We are not surprised by Frank Gehry surprising us as an architect. We know that he is also prolific as an artist. What surprised me this time is that, at ninety-two, following a pandemic year when he had to lay 170 people working at his office, is that he has not stopped pushing the envelope of creativity. 

Gehry’s dual exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills (June 24 – August 6, 2021) is remarkable. The ground floor exhibition is titled Spinning Tales and shows several hanged Fish Lamps made for the first time in polyvinyl and copper. This last version of his fishes evolved through large-scale sculptures, such as Standing Glass Fish at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, 1986; the 22-meter high fish for a fish restaurant in Kobe, Japan, 1987; and El Peix (The Fish) at the Barcelona Olympics, 1992.

The upper floor immersive installation, Wishful Thinking, is based on a scene of Alice Adventures in Wonderland. Framing the show is a mirror wall and a textured chain-link fence. This artwork echoes preceding architectural works such as the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, 2000; the Marqués de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain; and the Biomuseo in Panama City, 2014.

During the last nine years, I documented three of his architectural masterpieces: Disney Hall in Los Angeles in 2012, the Lou Ruvo Center for Mental Health in Las Vegas in 2013, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris in 2018. This is the first time that I approach his artwork unlinked to a building. Although the scale and complexity of architecture and art can be very different, this exhibition proves that one medium can feed into the other.

Fairfax Mishmash Disjointed Places, Events and Architecture

Mishmash: a confused mixture of things.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Fairfax Avenue is an excellent example of an urban mishmash of disjointed places, events, and buildings. The documentary visually shows many of the incongruities and contradictions that characterize our time.

The contrast between the long line of colorful young people hoping to find a deal at the funky Dolls Kill store, and the background of a historically Jewish neighborhood since the mid-1900s, couldn’t be stronger.

Zigzagging along a three-mile stretch of Fairfax Avenue, my scanning included:

  • The now-defunct Silent Movie Theatre, aka Cinefamily, Fairfax Cinema, Brain Dead Studios.
  • The Directors Guild of America, at Sunset Blvd., and Fairfax.
  • The Writers Guild of America West, at Fairfax and Beverly.
  • The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial.
  • CBS Television City.
  • Samy’s Camera.
  • The Original Farmers Market and The Grove.
  • Little Ethiopia.
  • The Petersen Automotive Museum.
  • The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
  • The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA.
  • Some examples of street art.

Around the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, we encounter three architectural works that resemble a conference of monologues in different languages without translations.

 

The Petersen Automotive Museum is an adaptive reuse of a building designed by Welton Becket in 1962. In 2015, the architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox wrapped it with stainless steel ribbons in the act of large-scale exhibitionism.

Pritzker Price-awarded Renzo Piano’s design of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, soon to be inaugurated, is more subtle. While maintaining the facade of the original May Company building, it reshaped its six floors from within. Inside there will be immersive permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, an education studio, two state-of-the-art theaters, and public special event spaces. The sphere-shaped theater in concrete and steel will float above the ground floor level.

The original LACMA buildings were designed by William Pereira in 1965 and by Holzman Pfeiffer Hardy in 1986. Neither were gems of architecture. However, the decision to demolish them and substitute square footage with a new one designed by the Pritzker Price-awarded Peter Zumthor is an act of brutality and lack of imagination. The Amoeba-shaped plan, which reminds Oscar Niemeyer’s own house built in 1951, is far less organic when reviewing its poor use of space, at a tag of $750 million.

Is intellectual hubris better than political hubris? Time will tell.

Spring 21 & Mumuki Plants, Planting and Piazzolla Music

My short documentary “Spring 2021 & Mumuki” is about plants and planting;

it is about growth, renewal, decay, and death;

it is about being in touch with the land;

it is about Astor Piazzolla’s “Mumuki;”

In the early afternoon of June 3, Ruth asked me to accompany her to the site of a yet-to-be-built permaculture master plan she designed. I said OK. I had no agenda, but I took the Go Pro 6 and the Lumix with me, just in case.

We crossed the recently completed Gateway Bridge over the Long Beach-Los Angeles harbor and reached the site in San Pedro. The contrast with the bridge’s high-tech and 10,000-year-old agriculture was striking. While Ruth helped Peter Rothe, a designer, with his planting, I wandered around.

During the weeks since the completion of “Piazzolla Con Brio,” I have been reading Maria Susana Azzi and Simon Collier’s excellent biography of Piazzolla. In it, the composition “Mumuki” is mentioned, which I didn’t know. It sounded Japanese. I went to listen to it. It touched me deeply, differently than other of Piazzolla’s works.

Mumuki was a term of endearment that Piazzolla applied both to his wife, Laura and to one of his dogs, Flora. It is relatively unusual for a work composed for quintet in that the bandoneón is silent during the first three and a half minutes as the beautiful melodic lines are passed between guitar, violin, piano, and bass. When I started to edit the film, I thought of bringing Mumuki into it.

I don’t know what Piazzola may have been thinking or feeling when he composed it. I am sure that it was nothing remotely close to my images, but I felt a link, a kinship. I included it entirely. Mea Culpa.

You may watch two videos of Mumuki’s performances:

  1. By Piazzolla’s Quinteto Nuevo Tango, recorded in 1984:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXjmKmxeuiY

  1. By Pablo Ziegler’s Ensamble, with Karen Gomyo at the violin, recorded in 2012:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK18SiLa24I

Works by Astor Piazzolla:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astor_Piazzolla#Work

 

Opera on the Rooftop Parking Long Beach Operas production of Les Enfants Terribles on the rooftop of the 2ND&PCH Shopping Mall

The Long Beach Opera did it again! The production of Les Enfants Terribles at the rooftop parking of the new 2ND & PCH Shopping Mall follows a long list of avant-garde creations by this cultural institution. It includes, among many others, productions such as Orpheus & Euridice (at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool,) The Diary of Anne Frank (in two parking garages,) Fallujah (at the Army National Guard Armory,) Frida (at the Museum of Latin American Art,) and the Piazzolla-Ferrer’s Maria de Buenos Aires (at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.)

 

In architecture, “adaptive reuse” refers to the repurposing of an existing structure for new use. I can see here an analogy. Following the steps of former LBO director Andreas Mitisek, LBO’s new director, James Darrah, created a fantastic spectacle amid a pandemic crisis by repurposing a parking area for an opera performance. 

 

Jean Cocteau wrote the Les Enfants Terribles novel in 1929. It is the story of two siblings, Elizabeth and Paul, who isolate themselves from the world. Growing up without a father and a bedridden mother, they live through several dramatic episodes that end up in tragedy. Out of this story, Philip Glass created an opera. Its representation by the Long Beach Opera is an out-of-the-box creation. 

 

The parking roof was laid out, including ten screens, speakers, projectors, and theatrical lighting. The music could also be listened from the 89.1 FM radio station in the car. Most of the vehicles were parked on the edges, at Covid-safe distance one from the other, while at the center were three pianists directed by Christopher Rountree, the lighting and sound control equipment, and the wardrobe.  

 

While the public was acceding the area, projected pre-recorded videos were seen on the screens. During the performance, a cameraman recorded close-ups of the actors, singers, and dancers, which were simultaneously projected over the screens. The performers moved between the cars, creating a completely immersive experience. 

 

This event reminded me of Luca Ronconi’s production of Orlando Furioso in various Italian and foreign town squares (such as Spoleto and Milan) during the 1970s. It then shattered the theatrical structures built up over centuries and brought theater back to the streets and city life settings. This production, besides its qualities, sends a powerful message for the rethinking of post-pandemic architecture and urbanism. 

Piazzolla Con Brio Astor Piazzollas Music, Influences and its Reflection in Architecture

Many places around the world celebrate this year Astor Piazzolla’s centenary of his birth (1921-1992.) A full-page article published recently in the Los Angeles Times triggered some personal memories about my encounter with Piazzolla when I was seventeen years old. I decided to make a documentary on him, his music, his influence on some contemporary musicians, and some contextual background on Buenos Aires, the tango capital. I also included in the film some works of architecture conceived in a similar spirit to the one that inspired Piazzola’s music. “Piazzolla Con Brio” (Con Brio means in a vigorous or brisk manner in musical vocabulary) sound and images deliver the message more powerfully than this blog. Yet, I’ll bring here a few observations.

Piazzolla Con Brio Documentary – Poster

 

Buenos Aires’ Impact

 

“Three teachers influenced my music,” Piazzolla said. “Alberto Ginastera, Nadia Boulanger, and Buenos Aires.” Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was a leading 20th-century Latin-American composer known for his use of local and national musical idioms in his compositions. Piazzolla, his first student, studied for six years with him. Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979,) conductor, organist, and one of the most influential teachers of musical composition of the 20th century, helped Piazzolla to find his voice. And Buenos Aires helped Piazzolla to become a Porteño, the way are called the inhabitants of Buenos Aires. 

 

Buenos Aires molds the identity of its inhabitants, who see themselves as more European than Latin American. Italy exerts the most potent cultural influence, but Buenos Aires is a complex place that includes great architecture, art and has more bookstores per habitant than any other city in the world. Its people are also passionate about soccer, meat, pizza, wine, ethnic food, and, yes, tango. 

 

As a young bandoneonist, Piazzolla started playing traditional tango in the orchestra of Anibal Troilo, a composer, arranger, and bandleader. However, studying with Ginastera, he abandoned the bandoneon and decided to become a symphonic composer. He returned to the tango as a source of inspiration following Nadia Boulanger’s advice. 

 

Although Piazzola spent many years of his life living in New York and Paris, Buenos Aires’ lifestyle exerted on his identity was crucial.

 

Buenos Aires’ Architecture 

 

The population of Greater Buenos Aires is today about 15,000,000. The capital consists of 48 official barrios or neighborhoods, many of these having a strong local identity. The city’s original architecture was strongly influenced by French and Italian neo-classical architecture. It evolved into Modernism under French architect Le Corbusier, who built many of his main works in exposed concrete. One of the city’s most prominent architects, Clorindo Testa (1923-2013,) about the same age as Piazzolla, designed and built two important buildings: the Bank of London, now called the Banco Hipotecario, completed in 1966, and the National Library, completed in 1992.

 

Two concepts characterize the uniqueness of the National Library. The first lies in the idea of the strength of the part that lifts the reading rooms above the ground, burying the deposits of books underground. The second concept lies in the strength and monumentality of the building in the vicinity of existing parks. 

 

A minor but poetic work I bring to the film is the Xul Solar Museum, designed by architect Pablo Tomas Beitia and completed in 1993. Alejandro Xul Solar (1887-1963) was an Argentinean painter, sculptor, and writer. The over one hundred years old building that faces the street was his residence. The renovation and expansion project was designed to interpret the particular artist’s pictorial world.

 

Floralis Genérica is a sculpture made of steel and aluminum, a gift of architect Eduardo Catalano (1917-2010). The sculpture was created in 2002. It was designed to move, closing its petals in the evening and opening them in the morning.

 

The former Grand Splendid Theater was designed by architects Peró and Torres Armengol and opened in 1919. In 2000 the building was subsequently renovated and converted into a book and music shop under the direction of architect Fernando Manzone. It’s been called the world’s most beautiful bookstore.

 

These five architectural examples relate to Piazzolla’s music in a number of ways. Clorindo Testa’s bank and library express energy and strength; the Xul Solar Museum and the Ateneo Grand Splendid bring a reinterpretation of the old with a new language; Floralis Generica tells of the creative interpretation of a flower.

 

Porteño

 

The film includes an abridged version of a poem I wrote in 1988, Porteño. It portrays how I then saw some aspects of my upbringing. You may read the unabridged version rolling down towards the end on http://meghiddoarchitects.com/selected-poems/ .

Astor Piazzolla

An Alternative Lifestyle? The Procedural Architecture of Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Arakawa & Gins from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

The little-known architectural work of artists Arakawa and Gins carries a powerful message: we can design a sensory interaction with our surrounding environment to physically and emotionally impact what we become as humans. In doing this, we are offered an alternative lifestyle to spaces conditioned by functionalism.

This approach is substantially different than just being impacted emotionally by a space conceived to respond to a given program. In their work, the senses’ hyper-activation is a programmatic goal, even if it provokes discomfort. They see the creation of discomfort as a positive stimulant.

Arakawa and Gins investigate the body-environment relationship by producing situations that dismantle and allow reconfiguration of sensing, perception, and comprehension. They call this approach “procedural architecture.”

Shusaku Arakawa (1936-2010) was born in Nagoya, Japan, and moved to New York in 1961. He was one of the founding members of the Japanese avant-garde Neo Dadaism Organizers, strongly influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s ideas. In 1962 he met American poet Madeline Gins (1941-2014.) Born in the Bronx, she grew up in Long Island, studied physics and philosophy, and became a poet, writer, and philosopher. From then on, they became partners in their creative activities as a married couple.

Inspired by continuously transforming cells and by Leonardo’s approach to the interrelation between science and art, they insisted that research should be conducted “not in a library or laboratory, but where the living happens.” Their artwork and writings evolved towards architecture since the late 1980s.

The critical point of transformation from art to architecture is reflected in their “Process in Question / Bridge of Reversible Destiny and developed in 1987 as a 140-meter bridge over the Moselle in Espinal, France. The proposed unbuilt structure consisted of 21 sections that each offered different spatial experiences.

They suggested that the built environment should continuously challenge and surprise our senses. Although Frank Lloyd Wright had the same attitude on creating continuous changing spaces along the human path of his buildings, Arakawa and Gins saw these contiguous spaces as drastically different from another in form, texture, color, and light. They believed that changes in bodily perception would lead to changes in consciousness.

Arakawa and Gins first built architectural environment was the Site of Reversible Destiny in Yoro, Japan, completed in 1995. It is a 195,000 sq ft / 18,100 sq m park containing pavilions (referred to as architectural fragments,) undulating planes, shifting colors, disorienting spaces, 148 paths, and vegetation, including 24 breeds of herbs selected by Arakawa and Gins to emphasize the changing seasons.

The next built project is the Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, Tokyo, completed in 2005, with 8200 sq ft / 762 m2. It consists of nine residential units primarily utilizing three shapes: the cube, the sphere and the tube. Each apartment has a circular room at its center and includes three or four shapes. The floor of the central space is made of uneven compacted material. The entire complex is painted in fourteen colors.

In 2008 Arakawa and Gins completed a single-family home, the Bioscleave House, located in East Hampton, New York, as an “inter-active laboratory of everyday life.” At its center is a sunken kitchen and dining area surrounded by uneven floors.

Arakawa and Gins aspired to create buildings that people would “learn not die.” They firmly believed that their architectural works would impact the residents’ personal well-being and longevity and formalized their belief as the concept of “reversible destiny.”

Setting aside the belief-system that motivated and guided the Arakawa-Gins couple’s creativity, their contribution represents an important addition to the language of architecture.

For a visualization of the Arakawa and Gins approach to architecture, see the documentary “Children who won’t die,” (1 h 19 min) directed by Nobu Yamaoka.

Jack Reads Pronto Professore 2000 to 2021: Poet Jack Grapes recorded soundtrack of his Pronto Professore poem

Jack Reads Pronto Professore from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

January 2021. At the beginning of a new post-pandemic and post-Trump era, we are framed between the barbarian actions on January 6 and a new beginning on January 20. The world’s main agenda needs to focus on healing and growth. Furthermore, we need to reinvent the human condition.

While evaluating past achievements and failures, I rediscovered a long poem I wrote during May 2000, Pronto Professore. In November, the Italian Institute of Culture in Los Angeles sponsored a memorial to honor Professor Bruno Zevi. Since I was living in Tel Aviv and could not come to L.A. for that occasion, Jack Grapes volunteered to read the poem publicly in my stead. During the event, my friend Nathan Shapira recorded Jack’s reading and subsequently sent me a copy. It remained in a drawer for almost twenty years.

In 2018, while editing the documentary ZEVI, I inserted two segments of Jack’s reading and illustrated them. The video that accompanies this writing brings the public at large, for the first time, those two segments and the entire soundtrack. It seems to me that it remains actual.

Pronto, Professore

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?

I can hear you well,

as if you were just around the corner,

as if it were yesterday

when we used to dissect on location

the interior space of the Pantheon,

the interrupted rhythm of Santa Maria in Cosmedin,

the central split of Santo Stefano Rotondo,

the link between the interior and the facade of San Carlino,

the ascendant spiral of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza,

as if it were yesterday

when we listened to your lectures at the faculty’s auditorium,

the darkened room, the students occupying every available step,

lights and cigarettes’ smoke projected over three screens:

the Parthenon on the left, a drawing of young Le Corbusier on

the center, a photograph of Ville Savoye on the right,

you, walking up and down along the isles, a Muratti between your

fingers,

your other arm gesticulating,

arguing with history, arguing with yourself

like a Talmud student interpreting and reinterpreting

what does that choice mean rather than the other,

what is the relationship between form and content,

where does that space come from, is it ancient or modern,

how do we live a building, how do we possess light,

what does all this mean for us today,

what was the language of the time and its relationship to society,

how were matter, space-time and technology used,

why is that window there and not there,

why, why?

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?

I can hear you well

We need your help, give us your hand,

we are drowning in ignorance,

we are drowning in the drunkenness of power,

we are drowning in the mud of mediocrity,

we are drowning in the blindness of bureaucracy;

You left us a surgeon’s knife to operate on a patient

that barely breathes;

We injected on him with shots of asymmetry and dissonance,

of antiperspective tridimensionality and of cantilevered

structures,

but he does not react,

he is intoxicated by television,

he is intoxicated by yellow newspapers,

he is intoxicated by technological gadgets,

he is intoxicated with hyper-sex

with hyper-tourism,

with junk food,

with junk-music

with junk-houses

 

the patient doesn’t read anymore, doesn’t write anymore,

he speaks with fifty words,

he escapes towards hedonism or Messianism,

he lost his site,

he lost his vision

he lost his trust in the future,

he lost his trust in humankind,

he lost his trust in himself.

 

Pronto Professore, can you hear me,

I can hear you well.

I turned to Michelangelo for help

but his urbanism is too complex for today’s planners;

I called Borromini, but the public doesn’t want tormented souls,

the public wants “happiness”;

I talked to Wright…are you kidding!

His language is incomprehensible; the universities

must produce graduates fast and at a reasonable price,

what is necessary is formulas, slogans,

“how to do this, how to do that”,

a page by Wright is too charged, makes you waste time,

it is much easier to copy from fashion magazines;

I called the poets – Gaudi, Scarpa, Bruce Goff, John Lautner;

I called the visionaries – Fuller, Soleri, Pellegrin…

 

You say that one must remain optimistic

in spite of the periodic regressions of history;

You think that after 1988 there is light at the end of the tunnel

in the rebellious adolescence of the Deconstructivists,

in the recycling of kitsch, banality and trash, but

what shall we do of the abyss that exists between

quantity and quality?

 

As we talk the world’s population continues to grow

one hundred and sixty six human beings per minute,

ten thousand per hour

two hundred and forty thousand per day;

 

We need,

more houses,

more schools,

more factories,

more sports centers,

more cultural centers,

more power plants,

more parking structures,

more freeways,

more airports,

more prisons,

more cemeteries.

 

What shall we do, Professore

shall we produce one hundred Guggenheims per hour?

shall we produce “readymade” pseudo Venice, clean, odorless,

like the one made in Las Vegas,

or shall we leave it all to the “do it yourself” suburbs, happily mediocre?

 

Who shall take care of the Leonardo’s subtleties that you quote:

the fog,

the mist

the rain

the ungrateful climate,

the heat,

the clouds,

the shadows and the transparencies,

the smells and the perfumes,

that is, the matter-less materials of architecture?

 

And then, let’s take a good look at this patient,

who is he, what does his face look like?

It is not an architect, Unknown Soldier of the existential battle;

Our patient is the captain of industry that produces nano-technologies,

our patient is the minister that makes decisions of billions with our money,

our patient is the real estate speculator that sells houses as merchandise,

is the bank director that lends money to old projects,

is the lawyer that knows how to convince us that black is white and

white is black,

is the general that considers a war plane more important

than four thousands apartments for the elderly,

is the mayor with a vision that doesn’t go beyond the next elections,

is the elite that proclaims itself as educated:

the judge,

the school director,

the accountant,

the physician,

the scientific researcher,

the fund-raising lady of the charity institution;

It is the public that flocks to concerts and to gallery-openings

and visits the world’s museums

but never heard of

the Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine,

nor of the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp,

nor of the Einstein Tower at Potsdam,

nor of Aalto’s church at Imatra,

nor of Michellucci’s church of the Autostrada,

nor of Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater in Oklahoma City,

nor of the Brion-Vega Cemetery at San Vito di Treviso;

 

May be our real patient still frequents the elementary school,

or may be, actually, probably, he is still not yet born.

 

So, Professore,

what shall we prescribe to this patient, vitamins?

 

Let’s try a dose of

 

vitamin H, for the history of architecture,

vitamine V for the vision of the future,

vitamin W for the works of Wright,

vitamin Z for the writings of Zevi;

 

Shall we prescribe him interactivity,

particularly with painters, sculptors, poets, scientists and inventors?

Shall we prescribe him the drawing of trees,

to learn from their variety lectures of democracy,

to understand what is the continuity that links

earth, roots, trunk, branches and leaves to our solar energy,

to understand what is a cantilevered structure,

to understand the space-time relationship

between the permanent and the temporary,

to understand the functional aesthetics of flowers?

Shall we prescribe him with green, aaah, plenty of green,

green in the working spaces,

green in the stations of transportation,

green in the schools of our future citizens,

green, green, the green that links everything, saves everything,

idiocies, ugliness, crimes, monstrosities?

 

Shall we prescribe him convalescence in Venice, to learn

how can pedestrians’ movement be separated from the means of

transportation,

how can the rainwater of the block be recycled,

how can the arts be integrated into architecture

in houses, in piazzas, in campi?

Shall we turn Verona’s Castelvecchio

into an intensive care center for buildings’ restorers

on how to infuse modernity into our historic heritage

with sensible and respectful imagination?

 

And what about prescribing intelligent structures

to last five hundred years

as an answer to a “sustainable architecture”

with less waste, better use of energy,

and better qualified spaces?

 

Our patient is in very serious condition,

simplicity is not simple.

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me

We can hear you well.

You opened an unfinished road

still to be explored,

still to be built,

still to navigate

towards the horizon,

towards the center of the Earth,

toward the expanding galaxies,

towards a new civilization where

science, vision and art,

space, matter and time,

and the spirit of man

become One, indivisible,

in the image of God.

 

Pronto, Professore,

we are listening

to you,

still.

 

 

Ricky Meghiddo

Tel Aviv, May 28, 2000

 

¡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