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¡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!

PELLEGRIN Buildings and Visions for Spaceship Earth

Luigi Pellegrin was a visionary architect way ahead of his time. He realized that the human settlement, as created 35,000 years ago, must be reset now at a geographic scale and become an integral part of the planet. I believe that bringing Pellegrin’s work to public awareness during a global illness and uncertainty is vital for the re-invention of a post-pandemic world. 

His vision transcended Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture both in scale and time. His fantasy was grounded on a prolific professional practice and experience in prefabricated technology. His territory was that of the Earth’s crust. His history was the history of the universe. 

Vision of integrated habitat

The 20th Century produced a large number of highly-skilled architects, yet few delivered a transformative message. Le Corbusier’s saw the detachment of buildings from the ground as a way of expanding green open spaces; Frank Lloyd Wright’s interpreted the laws of nature and translated them into Organic Architecture design principles; Buckminster Fuller transcended land use by proposing a planetary vision of geography; and Paolo Soleri attempted to demonstrate an alternative human habitat by creating a walkable, social city that could meet the needs of future societies. Pellegrin, the least known of this small group of visionary thinkers, believed in PROCESS, in open-minded architectural research based on trial and error, like in science.

 

WORK

 Pellegrin assumed his social commitment through the design of popular housing and schools. His first period, 1955-1965, is characterized by a poetically organic approach to low-budget design, using simple construction materials. His artistic creativity exploded in the design of the via Aurelia bi-family house in Rome (1964.) The traditional box is crushed. The round living room is suspended in space like a bridge that rests on two multi-functional pilasters. The bedrooms, enclosed within triangular prisms, are perforated by windows that direct views and light as needed. This is an organic architecture expression, not-mimetic of Wright’s style.

During the 1965-1976 period, Pellegrin focuses his social commitment on the design of prefabricated schools. From kindergartens to high schools, he laboriously invested most of his energy in the design of articulated interior spaces, even when, given limited budgets, he had to simplify the buildings’ exteriors.

The accumulation of knowledge and creativity in prefabricated technology generated a gigantic design-jump in 1969, with the International Competition for the Design of the New University of Barcelona. Pellegrin’s concept had no precedent. He designed the common areas, such as libraries, sports facilities, and cafeterias on the ground, and suspended from the top, above these, classrooms to be used by the students as a circuit. The project won second prize. The jurors were not ready for such an outbreak.

The spatial concept for the University of Barcelona leads to another revolutionary project in 1970. The subject was a design competition for the ZEN Cardillo neighborhood in Palermo. While the ground was dedicated to commercial, social and cultural activities intertwined with green areas, the housing for 17,000 inhabitants was suspended in the space 30 to 90 feet above it. The structure was defined by 30 hollow pylons supporting the housing above, and its total footprint was 35% of a conventional project for the same number of inhabitants.

The ideas for the Barcelona and Palermo projects found their way in a design competition of two unified schools in Pisa. The program was complex. His design concept included the roof as a ramp that would become an open space accessible to the neighborhood, flexible classrooms on the top, and at the ground floor all the common services that could be used by the neighborhood when the classrooms were closed. The design was way ahead of his time. It was misunderstood by its users. Conservative teachers and city authorities asked for its demolition which was fought by many committed architects.

During the twenty-five years that followed the Pisa school’s building, Pellegrin’s prolific production moved in three parallel directions:

1. He continued to design and build prefabricated schools. It is notable to observe that out of 300 built buildings he produced, 200 were schools, 72 of which were built in Saudi Arabia.

2. He focused his research on the industrialization and mobility of components (roofs, walls, column-beams, residential tubes, emergency housing units) in many materials (concrete, aluminum, steel, fiberglass, bamboo.)

3. He expanded his research on integral urbanization at a geographic scale (habitat, services, commerce, mobility) through multi-directional and multi-use “vectors.” These complex structures were elevated like freeways not only over country fields, mountains, and historic places without altering them but also over artificial islands in the sea.

 WHO WAS PELLEGRIN?

 Pellegrin’s architecture was an expression of his will to change the world from the bottom up throughout his professional life. His upbringing was modest. His father, Paolo Pellegrin, was a construction worker from Italy’s northern region of Friuli, which borders the Veneto region, Austria, and Slovenia. When Paolo got a building job in Courcellette, ninety miles northeast of Paris, he took his family with him for the duration of the project. Luigi Pellegrin was born there in 1925. Although technically he was French, he saw himself as a son of Friuli, an area with a strong sense of identity, where people speak a regional dialect, have a unique cuisine, and are proud of their way of life.

 His humble origin and his contact with the proletariat of building sites molded his character and care for people’s needs, for excellent craftmanship, and for a sense of hard work to reach goals. Unlike many Italian architects and artists of his time, who manifested their concerns for social justice by joining the Communist Party, Pellegrin spent his mostly secluded life trying to elevate the people’s built environment with limited resources.

 He studied architecture at the University of Rome, but, fundamentally, he was a self-taught person, an acute observer of reality, visible or hidden, in the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci.

 The one year he spent in New Orleans after graduation opened his horizons. He saw America as a land open to experimentation. When he visited Chicago and saw some of Sullivan and Wright’s works, he set his direction towards Organic Architecture. 

Back in Rome, he felt estranged from most architects but established an intellectual dialogue with Bruno Zevi, who had brought to Italy an awareness of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. This relationship developed into a not so easy 50-year long discussion. Zevi was Italy’s best historian and critic of architecture, the only one that Wright respected. Over the years he published most of Pellegrin’s works in L’Architettura. Yet, in 1974, he lamented: “Pellegrin was born to be a great architect, but he reduced himself to become a technician.”

 Although Pellegrin respected Zevi, he felt misunderstood by the master critic. For him, Wright was not only a genial architect but also as a thinker that transcended the Judeo-Christian and Greek philosophies that dominated Europe. Wright understood Buddhism and Taoism, Japanese art, and pre-Columbian civilizations. He believed in exploring the potential of materials and technologies and would have understood Pellegrin’s innovative productivity.

With Frank Lloyd Wright in Rome, 1956

MODUS OPERANDI

 Pellegrin’s studio was located at the heart of Rome’s historical center. The 18th Century building belonged to the Aldobrandini family. It was placed halfway between the Trevi Fountain and the Gregorian University, just across a small 17th Century church denominated Santa Croce e Santa Bonaventura de Lucchesi. The street was pebbled and had no sidewalks. The entrance to the building was through a large portal, sized to allow access to carriages. A smaller door was cut within it to allow people’s access. As in many old palaces, the ground floor was defined by a court decorated with marble busts and sculptures. A broad stairway led to the second floor, twenty feet above the ground floor.

 His work habits were unusual. He arrived at the office after errands in the city around noon, met with clients and consultants in the afternoon, left for dinner with his family, and returned to the studio at around 10:00 pm. That was when his design-time started. Surrounded by young architects, he worked until 4:00 am, seven days a week. 

Pellegrin spoke out aloud while designing so that everyone could follow his thinking process. We listened attentively, with music (Albinoni, Aretha Franklin) playing in the background.

 When he was relaxed, he spoke critically about many subjects: nature, science, history, art, politics, philosophy, literature, fashion, cinema, food, soccer. He could talk with the same ease about Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini, Raphael, and Caravaggio on the one hand, and about Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Siqueiros on the other.

 His teaching method was indirect, not explicit. He gave clues to stimulate self-discovery through hard work. He thought that artists, mainly those of American Pop Art, understood the world better than architects. While New York’s artists adopted “the crude, the acid and the non-finished” for their artworks, most architects were busy creating monuments for posterity.

PELLEGRIN AND US

The students’ revolt of 1968 in Berkeley, Paris and Rome marked an era and defined a generation. It was punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, and the occupation of universities and factories. The protests spurred movements worldwide, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans such as “Imagination to Power.”

The revolt was a protest against consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions. There were over half a million troops in Vietnam, who in less than a month had killed 37,000 of the ill-supported enemy. There were a counterculture and a revolution in social norms about clothing, music, drugs, and sexuality, all amplified by the lyrics of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon.

We were third-year students of architecture at the University of Rome. The school had been occupied. We were not part of the revolt, but we were actively becoming conscious of the times. The Club of Rome had been founded at the Academia dei Lincei by former heads of state, economists and business leaders from around the world. The world population, 3.6 billion at the time, was predicted to be 6 billion by the year 2000. It was 6.1 billion when the time came. Right on target.

 The view of the Earth from outer space generated a planetary self-consciousness. There was an acknowledgment of the world’s limited resources. Buckminster Fuller published a book under the title “Operating Manual of Spaceship Earth.” Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” predicted the internet 30 years before it was invented.  

In the summer of 1968 we made a two-month drive to Scandinavia, mainly to visit and photograph the works of Alvar Aalto in Finland. We had in mind to arrive to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) but we were in Stockholm when the Soviets invaded Prague and decided to change our plans. On our way back we visited Le Corbusier’s RonchampLa Tourette and the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles. The trip gave us a direct experience with great contemporary architecture, and we were eager to follow into the steps of masters.

During the course of our fourth year of architecture, we started to think about our graduating theses. We asked Professor Bruno Zevi to be our tutor. He accepted but said that we should have a co-tutor, a practicing architect. “Chose anyone you want,” he said. Whom shall we choose? We wanted someone “organic,” with an affinity for Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas. After investigating the works of a dozen architects in Rome, we narrowed down our list to three: Lucio Pasarelli, Maurizio Sacripanti and Luigi Pellegrin. When we saw one of Pellegrin’s smallest projects in Rome, a pavilion for selling flowers, we chose Pellegrin.

Trying to reach him was another story. For two months, we called several times a week and we were always told: “the architect is not available.” Nobody would set an appointment for us, and he never returned our calls. One day, already frustrated, I made a call from a public phone at school. “Yes?” answered a grave voice. It was Pellegrin. I told him why I called, and of the strong impression, we had had visiting the flower pavilion that he had designed. “Come next Thursday at midnight,” he said, and without adding any comment, he switched the line to his secretary, who gave us directions on how to enter the studio.

Luigi Pellegrin’s studio was located at the very heart of Rome’s historic Center, in an 18th Century building belonging to Aldobrandini noble family, halfway between the Trevi Fountain and the Gregorian University, and just across a small 17th Century church denominated Santa Croce e Santa Bonaventura de Lucchesi . The street was pebbled and had no sidewalks. The entrance to the building was through a large portal sized to allow access to carriages, in which a smaller door was cut to allow for people’s entrance. As in many old palaces, the ground floor was defined by a court decorated with marble busts and larger sculptures. A beautiful stair led to the second floor, which was about twenty feet above the ground floor.

Pellegrin’s quarters were divided into two separate areas. On one were the drafting rooms. On the other, facing the floor lobby, was a private area that included a reception room, a conference room, and his office. That was where he met his clients and professional consultants.  

We arrived on time at midnight. His secretary received us, let us know that the architect had not returned yet and that he will be late. She invited us to wait. We started to explore walls and shelves, containing samples of his work.  

Pellegrin arrived at about 2:00 AM. His presence was powerful. He was thin, with deep green eyes, a chiseled face, and abundant hair, undulated and almost entirely white, despite being only forty-three years old. He was well dressed, wore a green jacket, dark brown pants, and a tie. We shook hands. He apologized for being late and asked us to follow him. We walked through a conference room filled with blueprints of works in progress and entered into his private room. There were books everywhere: on the walls, over his table, on the floor, resting on chairs. His desk was laid out diagonally, with his chair facing the entrance. The only source of light was that of a drafting lamp attached to his desk. He lowered it to one side below the desk’s surface and asked us to sit down. Then he remained silent, waiting for us to start. I felt like being in a psychologist’s room.

We told him about ourselves, about Zevi’s request. I had written a few pages about my goals and he read them. Ruth told him about her ideas. We showed him drawings of our first joint projects, a public library, and a condominium tower. He looked at them in silence. Taking a deep breath, he said: “They are extrusions, thought in plan only. The generator of architectural space is the section, and the section is not there. Organic architecture cannot be an extrusion nor an addition. The tower is both.” Then he continued: “I can read the inspiration from Wright but if you want to have and architectural education, you must study Wright for six months. Read him, analyze his work. Wright’s works are not extrusions or additions. They are spaces to be walked through, to be lived in.”

He asked some questions about our relationship to Israel. Why Israel? Although he never visited it, he spoke as if he knew everything about it. He then faced me and said: “You can write. Write an essay titled “California today and Israel in the year 2000.” To Ruth he said, “start drawing.” “How do you know I can draw?” Ruth said with a humorous tone. “It is written on you,” he answered without smiling. During the two hours we spent with him, he never smiled. By 4:00 AM we felt a deep sense of connection. He shook our hands once again, walked us to the floor’s lobby, and continued towards the drafting rooms’ area.

We started to go periodically to Pellegrin, to get reviews on our theses. He was a harsh critic. Ruth’s subject was an integrative center for the arts in Jerusalem. Mine was a university in Eilat, specialized in oceanology. Since he had decided to participate in an international competition for the design of the University of Barcelona’s new campus, a subject related to both our theses, he offered to both of us to come and work at his studio through the competition’s design process. We were thrilled.

He gave Ruth a small room adjacent to his office. Handing her a rough schematic of “dwelling units suspended in space” drawn with thick colored markers (the genesis of many future projects,) he asked her to put it to scale. Then he took me to his conference room and, pointing at a mountain of books piled over the table, he said: “All these are related to the design of campuses and university buildings. Read them, and when you are done, summarize for me what you learned and what is relevant for the competition.” When I did, a month later, he said: “you have not understood a thing.” In his eyes, the old concept of campus with separate buildings for each faculty had become obsolete.

His submission to the competition was revolutionary. The classrooms were suspended in space, with all the common facilities on the ground. He won the second prize. The jurors were not ready for such an innovative project.

In 1972, when we returned from our Wright pilgrimage and stopped in Rome on our way to Israel, we went to visit him. He proposed for us to stay “for a while” and join him. There were many projects going on: a dozen prefabricated schools, a development for the island of Goree in Senegal and the country’s presidential residence, studies for prefabricated hotels, and continuous research on habitats. Our “shortstop” lasted for sixteen months. A lifelong impacting experience. 

One day he convened some consultants and the office’s architects at 10:00 PM. We all sat in the conference room. He said: “During the last year I lost several design competitions for schools. The deadline for the competition on the design of two unified schools in Pisa is in ten days. I decided to submit an entry.”

 It seemed “mission impossible.” The project was large, and the program complex. He presented his concept: The roof as a ramp that would become an open space accessible to the neighborhood; the flexible classrooms on the top, and the servicing areas on the ground floor, so that all common services could be used by the neighborhood when the classrooms were closed.

 Discussions followed until 6:00 AM. When the meeting was over, he called Ruth and me, handed us a set of keys and a big bag containing an expensive Hasselblad camera with interchangeable lenses, and said: “Take my car, photograph the site in Pisa (220 miles away,) come back and leave the negatives for development at the photography laboratory. I’ll see you tonight.”

 Twelve hours later we were back in Rome, took a nap (after 32 sleepless hours,) and returned to the studio at 10:00 PM. During the following days, two shifts of architects and drafting technicians worked 24 hours a day to prepare drawings for the competition. A month later, we found a handwritten paper stuck at the entrance of the studio that read: “This studio of incompetent designers won the First Price at the Pisa Competition.”

We went back to Israel in April 1973 and started our own practice in September, one month before the Yom Kippur War. In December of 1974 we won a conceptual competition for a 5,000 dwelling-unit neighborhood influenced by Pellegrin’s ideas.

During the years that followed, we maintained periodic contacts by phone, and during our visits to Rome. Our last encounter was in August of 1998. He made arrangments to have lunch together for five consecutive days. We were in California when we got notice of his death, on September 15, 2001. His ashes rest in Domanins, San Giorgio in Richinvelda, Friuli, at his father’s grave.

It took me almost twenty years to decide to make this documentary, during the Convid-19 pandemic. Pellegrin’s message for the re-design of the world has become more tangible now than ever before. We have all to contemplate a radical transformation of life on Earth. The young generation of architects and those following them will benefit from studying Pellegrin’s work, not as a template to copy but as a way of thinking. 

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.

Black Power Art From "Soul of a Nation" to African American Art Now

Black Power Art was inspired by The Broad’s new exhibition in Los Angeles, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983.” It is intended to be an eye-opener, not just to the work of African-American artists during a crucial period of self-assertion, but also to echo African American art today. The timing is right. When bigotry is, once again, raising its head, consciousness of who we are as humans are critical.

The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, murals, and photography of 60 artists. It proclaims intellectual power vis-à-vis a little-aware public. However, the implication of the show is much broader. It brings the past as shown in the National Museum of African American History and Culture,  the eloquence of James Baldwin, and the biting humor of Spike Lee.

Good art is good art, or it is not good art, whether the artist is African-American, Latino, Asian or white. Many of the themes in the exhibition are thematic, expressing the black condition at the time. However, abstract examples such as Jack Whitten’s fierce, frontal black triangle, “Homage to Martin,” and William T. Williams’ homage to John Coltrane, “Trane,” with its slashing spectrum of diagonal bands of color intersecting and overlaying each other, join the work of great artists, irrespectively of their ethnical background.

Marcello Guido: Architecture in Motion Poetic Perception of Space in Movement

From Calabria, in the southern tip of Italy, architect Marcello Guido sends a powerful message of “architecture in motion” expressed in concrete, steel, and glass. His poetry generates continuously changing perceptions of space.

Born in Acri, Cosenza, in 1953, he studied architecture in Rome and graduated in 1977 cum laude under the tutorship of historian and critic of architecture, Bruno Zevi. In four decades he built projects and participated in design competitions that brought him recognition in Italy. This presentation is intended to bring to the attention of the general public the remarkable work of Marcello Guido.

At first sight, his work could be mistakenly classified under Deconstructivism, a movement which appeared in the 1980s under the influence of French philosopher Jacques Derida. Architects frequently associated with Deconstructivism includes Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, and Bernard Tschumi.  But unlike these, Guido’s architecture is deeply rooted in history.

Borromini is clearly present in the fluidity of Guido’s lines, as in Wright’s philosophy of Organic Architecture, that anticipated the Netherlands-based De Stijl movement.

Guido reinterprets history in the spirit of Bruno Zevi’s Modern Language of Architecture, which advocates asymmetry and dissonance, antiperspective three-dimensionality, the use of space in time as perceived in movement, and the reintegration between building, city, and territory.

My discovery of Guido’s architecture occurred last summer in Rome while visiting the exhibition celebrating Zevi’s 100 birthday, focused on Zevi’s influence on many important Italian architects. My late “discovery” reminded me when, as a student of architecture in Rome, I encounter the work of Luigi Pellegrin. Then as now, my reaction was instantaneous, non-intellectual: this is an Architect with the capital A.

Photo © R&R Meghiddo, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

As We Saw It – Coda: Israel Vignettes Architecture, Urban Growth, Stories from the Holocaust, a Raw Beach, Friends and a Reenacting of a First Meeting

Following filming in Paris, Berlin and Rome, our focus in Israel, other than spending good time with our daughter, was to document some of the country’s mushrooming residential construction, to record the new Memorial Hall of Israel’s Fallen at Mount Herzl, to interview Aaron Krumholtz, Ruth father’s eldest brother, 94, and to see some friends. For Ruth’s birthday, Gabby suggested reenacting our first meeting as students at the Technion in Haifa.


Work in Progress

Absent in the media recording of Israel’s complexities is Israel’s urban growth besides Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the West Bank. As a sample, we chose Netanya and Hadera in the coastal area.

Memorial Hall of Israel’s Fallen at Mount Herzl

This memorial, designed by Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, was completed during 2018 and is dedicated to commemorating the country’s fallen soldiers. It includes a 250 meter-long continuous ‘wall of names’ that wraps around the central sculptural brick structure. This comprises more than 23,000 concrete bricks each individually engraved with the name of a soldier and their date of decease.  The architects developed the scheme as an interior project where the ground was excavated to allow daylight to enter through an overhead oculus.

Yad Vashem’s Children’s Memorial

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, this unique memorial is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles are reflected infinitely in the dark, and the names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin, can be heard in the background.

Aaron

Aaron Krumholtz, 94, spoke about his experience in Transnistria during the Holocaust. The documentary shows some stories out of an hour-long interview.

First Encounter

We celebrated Ruth’s birthday by the sea. Gabby suggested revisiting the location of our first encounter in Haifa, five decades ago. We decided to reenact it.

From Six Million to Seventy Years Shoah, Israel, Anti-Semitic Leprosy and Architecture

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FULL VERSION

Within a week difference, Jews around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah, commonly known as the Holocaust; Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism; and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. In parallel, we witness a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and in Islamic countries. In view of these, I decided to produce a short documentary as a reminder that visualizes aspects of these conflicting forces, brings personal stories and testimonials, and shows Israel’s life and architecture today as an extraordinary “human laboratory” to change the world for the better. To set this reality within a global context, I include here a Humanistic Agenda for the 21st. Century. 

1. Shoah and “Leprosy of the Spirit”

On April 11, I assisted to a commemoration of the Shoah at the Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. The mass murder of six million Jews by the German Nazi regime and its collaborators during 1941-45 was  reminded through the lighting of six candles and the presentation of the documentary, “Never Again is Now,” about Evelyn Marcus’ family journey in her native Netherlands, and her personal confrontation with the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Evelyn Markus is a psychologist expert on managing resistance and conflict at work, and emotional self-control. When asked during the Q & A “how one confronts xenophobia and hatred,” her answer was: “you first show that it is wrong and that should not be rewarded.” Sure, but that is not enough. Bernard Henry-Levi defined anti-Semitism as the leprosy of the spirit. In an article published four years ago,“A 100-Year Cease-Fire,” I proposed a “carrot and the stick method” to solve Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict.

2. Dreaming + Will vs. Xenophobia

Theodor Herzl, considered to be the father of political Zionism, believed that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured, only avoided, and that the only way to avoid it was by the establishment of a Jewish state. Today we all know that even the Jewish State, which this year celebrates its seventieth anniversary, is not a cure for the leprosy of antisemitism, yet it offers a strong “antibiotic” through a combination of creativity and military strength.
Architecture and planning in Israel played a vital role in Israel’s development, from the foundation of Tel Aviv in 1909 as a modern city on the sand dunes North of Jaffa, to the absorption of Bauhaus and Le Corbusier’s ideas into a social agenda, to many examples on forefront architecture today. If and when the many xenophobic Islamic countries that surround Israel will realize how much their own development could benefit through collaboration rather than hatred, Israel’s know-how can help the Middle East to become a new Renaissance.

3. A humanistic Agenda with a Vision

Whether the world’s population will be 10,000,000,000 in 2050, 2044 (my 100-year birthday!) or 2060, is not important. We’ll get there and far beyond. At a global level of a social agenda, the priorities are:
  • Universal Physical and Mental Healthcare
  • Universal Income-producing Jobs
  • Universal Shelter
  • Universal Education
  • Sustainable Food Production
In this context, architecture has a moral responsibility. The social agenda is part and parcel of the architectural agenda and of the sustainability agenda.
In a world where the speed of growth of human needs exceeds the speed of production to satisfy those needs, SPEED OF CONSTRUCTION and AFFORDABILITY are critical.
Also critical is the QUALITY OF THE HUMAN HABITAT. It starts with the DWELLING UNIT, it expands to the URBAN ENVIRONMENT, and it touches every single aspect of human life: the quality of the working space, of the learning space, of the social space.
SUSTAINABILITY brings GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS to the realm of architecture.
ARCHITECTURE AS ART is critical to integrate the physical and the emotional human needs.
 MIXED-USE AND MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY are integral components of the sustainability agenda. While mixed-use juxtapose multiple functions (housing, commerce, education)  multi-functionality makes possible the multiple uses of the same space, and the multiple-use of the same component: a stairway as structure, a column or beam as a container of ducts, a wall as a container of storage, a roof as an edible garden.
PROXIMITY BETWEEN LIVING SPACE AND WORKING SPACE are part of the sustainability agenda. It can be a. Within the dwelling unit; b. Adjacent to the dwelling unit (price Tower); c. Within walking or bike distance from the dwelling.
MOBILITY is integral to both human needs and to sustainability, yet it demands a total revision of how it works. It consists of three categories. A. Emergency access (firemen, ambulances, police, rescue from disasters.) b. Public use: air mobility and public transportation of multiple kinds: trains, tramways, air tram cable cars, moving conveyors, buses, taxis (with drivers or driverless;) Pc. Private: bikes, skateboards, cars, trucks (private or rented.)
ART, together with nature, remain an important source of inspiration and, as in the case of nature, it must be read in the context of time and place, and it must be reinterpreted. The sources could be many: the Caves of Altamira, the graphics of mud huts in Africa or of American Indian tents, and the works of Western and Eastern high-art through the millennia.

In all these areas, Israel is likely to play a vital role. Its success is as an antibiotic against anti-Semitic leprosy as one can get.

 

Copyright R&R Meghiddo, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Seen, Done, Thought, In-the Making On Photography, Films, Architecture, and 2018 Challenges

The turn of the year offers an opportunity to summarize what we have seen, done and thought, and to program a new year. I am sharing with you selected photos we shot, films we watched and produced, architecture we recorded or selected, relevant books I read, and some thought on “The State of the World,” and what we can do to create a better tomorrow.

IMAGES

Showing images is the best way of “making a long story short.”

Click on: Selected Photography 2017.

Selected Photography 2017

Selected Photography 2017

The selection is personal and eclectic. Some have value as a document of an event rather than for its quality as a photograph.  The gallery includes panoramic photos, images of historical value (such as of architects Eric Lloyd Wright and Dion Neutra getting together in Malibu during Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday celebration, and civil rights activist  Dolores Huerta, who coined the slogan “Yes We Can – Si Se Puede,” borrowed by Obama ; film directors, producers and actors at Q & As’ we frequented;  Richard King’s memorial and the spreading of his ashes; and some people we met. As a coda, I also added recent underwater photos sent by our daughter Gabby from the Maldives Islands, southwest of Sri Lanka and India; and a few shots of us.

“Stars” included veteran director Marcel OphulsAlexander Payne (“Downsizing,”) Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit,”) director Joe Wright and actor Gary Oldman (“The Darkest Hours,”) Annette Bening (“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,”) some images of nature in Idyllwild, and even a bird visiting my desk.

This year I also published for the first time a selection of photographs shot during our “Frank Lloyd Wright pilgrimage” back in 1971, when we visited over one hundred of Wright’s buildings across twenty-five states. 

http://archidocu.com/the-wright-way-2/ 

The Wright Way Photos.

The Wright Way Photos.

SELECTED FILMS SEEN IN 2017

We had a busy year watching documentaries + Q & As’ (presented by the International Documentary Association – IDA ) We also saw many feature films at the American Cinematheque,  at the WRAP, at the LA Jewish Film Festival, and at the Israel Film Festival. I share the list of some of them. They are all very good. The ones in bold letters are “must see.”

Alone in Berlin, Neruda, Hidden Figures, Gigi Gorgeous, Hell on Earth, Nobody Speaks, Dolores, Trophy, Icarus, Intent to Destroy, City of Ghosts, New York Times Op-Docs, 11/8/16, God Knows Where I Am, I Call Him Morgan, Step, One of Us, The Work, Oklahoma City, Finding Oscar, Atomic Homefront, The Rape of Recy Taylor, Under One Sun, An Inconvenient Sequel, Detroit, Columbus, I Am Evidence, Arthur Miller – Writer, Kedi, Chasing CoralBen Gurion, EpilogueCries from Syria, The Divine Order, The Final Year, MachinesFoxtrotCall Me by Your NameDownsizing, Film Stars Don’t Die in LiverpoolThe SquareHuman Flow, I Am not your Negro, Intent to Destroy, Strong Island, Phantom Thread, The Post.

Documentarians are real contemporary heroes. Many risk their lives in bringing to us images of genocidal wars, human brutality, racism, inequality, global warming, migration tragedies, political and corporate corruption, and also beauty in nature, indigenous cultures and extraordinary human beings. Most of this is produced following prolonged research, scouting, shooting, hard-editing work, meager budgets and scarce distribution.

They are a unique mix of artists-journalists working with passion, combining filmmaking excellence with the search for truth. Their work contributes to expanding our consciousness of the world we live in.

FILMS PRODUCED IN 2017

My own production this year was intense. With fifteen published titles, most of which have been published in Cultural Weekly, they exceeded two hours of film. This year I crossed the mark of sixty short documentaries. The ones published during 2017 are:

Tangoing with Paul & Amigos (12:13) A non-scripted experiment.

The Wright Way – An overture (17:21’)   The Wright Way Hint (2:36)  Both the “Overture” and the “Hint” were preliminary warm-ups towards  The Wright Way feature documentary (work-in-progress.)

Tongva Park and the Angelbird (5:33′) This open public space is the best architecture that we have documented this year in Los Angeles.

Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood (29:52) Renzo Piano’s Academy Museum under construction provided an opportunity to link the museum’s content with the Hollywood context and with architecture.

Idyllwild Idyll (9:12) “Back to nature,” this documentary includes the little-known Pearlman Cabin designed by architect John Lautner in 1957.

Netflix Night (2:55’) A not-scripted documentation of my first visit to Netflix.

Normality “Lo-Normali” /(4:56’) It summarizes the documentaries I shot in Israel during 2016.

Radio Day Unabridged (26:11) and  Radio Day (16:43) Both the full version (“Unabridged,” which includes questions on Israel) and the short version are the result of a radio interview hosted by Nancy Pearlman, to which I added visualization later on.

Architecture in a Nutshell (9:20’) An introduction to principles of architecture.

Human-Made Plastic Ocean (3:55) A Plastic Ocean premiere in Beverly Hills. See full cast.

Hanukkah’s First Candle (40:32) The lighting of Hanukkah’s fifth candle in a Greater Los Angeles home was not only the place for the gathering of people from many backgrounds and areas of the the city, but also for the screening of “Never Again is Now,” a new documentary telling a unique story of survival in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, and sending a message about the danger of raising antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere, including the United States.

Mormon Temple Visit (1:51) A brief first visit to the secluded Mormon Temple in Los Angeles.

Food for Thought (2:58) Farm Urbana, as presented in “Food for Thought,” proposes practical solutions to help the rapidly growing urban population’s access to fresh food close to home.

FILMMAKING PLANS

The Wright Way, my first feature documentary, is on the way. It is to be a cry-out documentary about how some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas and principles can help to inspire and appeal the young generation to create a sustainable future of livable cities and human settlements. Not a biography, it looks at Wright with fresh eyes and will suggest alternative scenarios for the future of the human environment with a sense of urgency.

ARCHITECTURE

Although 2017 has produced many new projects, I found most of them dominated by “acrobatics,” infatuation with 3-D renderings, and little concern confronting an urgent agenda towards sustainable quality mass-production, to narrow the gap between population growth, decaying cities, climate change and poverty. The production of Organic Architecture was practically zero. I chose to produce a short documentary on one of the exceptions, the  Tongva Park in Santa Monica (see “Tongva Park and the Angelbird” listed above.)

The exception is  Snøhettaan international architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and brand design office based in Oslo, Norway and New York City with studios in San Francisco, Innsbruck, Singapore and Stockholm. A major new building  has opened in the south of France, framing a huge replica of one of the world’s most important examples of prehistoric cave art. Called Lascaux IV, the new visitor complex recreates the appearance and atmosphere of the caves in Montignac where the 20,000-year-old Lascaux paintings are located, but which have been closed to the public for over 50 years.

The examples that follow have been produced by committed architects and designers: Brooks + ScarpaSnohettaWhitaker StudioEric RosenPatkau Architects,  Thomas Heatherwick, and Herzog & de Meuron.

CHALLENGES

World politics had been dominated by the ascent of Trump to power. He is a symptom that denotes a sick society suffering from branding brainwashing, widespread ignorance of the world’s reality and dogmatic beliefs, all of which have been brewed during the past half-century.

Solutions will demand both talking and action, such as:

  1. Containment of Trump until 2020 through the rule of law. All other alternatives are worse.

  2. Awareness of reality as-is. Documentarians have much to say and show on this.

  3. Action-oriented assumption of responsibility, particularly by millennials.

  4. A vision of a better world in healthcare, housing, justice, the urban environment, closing the gap of inequality and much more.

     The UN goals for sustainable development are quite detailed about 17 areas of challenge.

BOOKS

From the books I read during 2017, the ones that I found the most relevant are:

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

Internal Ecology, by Darío Salas Sommer

No Is Not Enough, by Naomi Klein

TEACHING

Scheduled to give a six-week class on “How to Look at Architecture” at the Skirball Cultural Center and at OLLI/CSULB,  the classes will include the screening of architecture documentaries I made, to convey visually a better understanding of the importance of good design in our life.

"How to Look at Architecture" class at the Skirball Cultural Center, Jan. 16 - Fe. 20, 2018.

“How to Look at Architecture” class at the Skirball Cultural Center, Jan. 16 – Feb 20, 2018.