Ruminatin’ Red

February 14, 2017

Red….the color of Love, life, blood, passion, desire, danger, seduction, rebellion….and a color I’ve always liked using as an accent in interiors I’ve designed.

A postcard with photos from 6 separate projects I’ve designed…

#red #valentinesday #astudyinscarlet

Maddy. Architect. Interiors


Archtober in New York

Archtober (ärk’tōbər) is New York City’s Architecture and Design Month, the third annual month-long festival of architecture activities, programs and exhibitions taking place during the month of October.

Archtober presents special tours, lectures, films and exhibitions that focus on the importance of architecture and design in everyday life. The many participating organizations aim to raise awareness of the important role of design in our city and to build a lasting civic and international recognition of the richness of New York’s built environment.

For a schedule of the events:


Suffice to say, I have been very busy this month, and unable to take the time out for a “proper” post here. There were too many events, lectures, award ceremonies and fascinating talks, tours and exhibitions which I’ve been attending or have actively participated in.

A harried post, this shall be, alas, but just two blurbs before I bid ‘bye…

A post from the past – where I’d written about Julien Assange. Since “The Fifth Estate” – the film based on WikiLeaks was just released, I thought this would be appropriate: Truth & Dare (


As well, on an unrelated note, words of wisdom and comfort a very wise person spoke to me this morning, which I jotted down, because they were so articulately expressed: 

“The more pettiness and rumor-mongering a person indulges in towards those who are genuinely talented or accomplished, the greater a sign it is of that petty person’s own insignificance and insecurities.

“People who are worth their salt see through these smear attempts and never give two hoots about such haters and see them for what they are: sad, insecure, manipulative creatures who are trying to bring down a good person. They (those worth their salt)  have the ability and objectivity to decipher who the aggressor is and who the true victim is, no matter what disguise the aggressor wears.  Also, those who fail to see that, or fall for such bullshit or even fake flattery, are not worth the time or the worry. 

“Let those who use snarkiness, bullying, isolation tactics and rumor as their crutches, stew in their own insufferable insignificance or delusions of faux grandeur. Because nothing pisses off a hater more than seeing his/her target completely unaffected.”


Art ‘n’ August – 3

The only attitude (the only politics–judicial, medical, pedagogical and so forth) I would absolutely condemn is one which, directly or indirectly, cuts off the possibility of an essentially interminable questioning, that is, an effective and thus transforming questioning.–  Jacques Derrida.

New York, 2013. Labor Day weekend. A section from a giant paper collage. “The Grid” – based upon the way there is a thrust to create some sort of orthogonal “order” on our organic, sinuous landscapes and geographic contours, without consideration of natural processes, landforms or the fractal geometry and elaborate intricacies with which ecology and ecosystems work. Instead, planners in North America superimpose “The Grid”  – a network of roads, by-laws, zoning ordinances with little understanding of far more environmentally-conscious alternatives which could instead take the matrix of Landscape Ecology into consideration. And all this is done to appease the almighty Automobile and creating an illusion of “order” while enormous amounts of environmental waste is produced.

The collage was 3-dimensional with layers of images and cut-outs which could be lifted to reveal the layers within. I’d made it as part of a university urban planning art project in Canada. The following picture is a segment of the total piece.

"The Grid." Collage. © 2000. Maddy (The Gipsy Geek) Click to enlarge.

“The Grid.” Collage. © 2000. Maddy (The Gipsy Geek) Click to enlarge.


Art ‘n’ August – 1

Art ‘n’ August – 2

Rest in Take 5 Heaven

Goodbye to another legend, this time in Jazz. Rest in Take 5 (and much more) harmony. Dave Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012)

There is much about Brubeck out there of course, but two interesting trivia facts – he was initially training in veterinary science, and later when he left it to pursue music, one of his professors nearly expelled him because they discovered he couldn’t read notes in music. (Paul McCartney, too, btw never learned to read musical notations.) But then several of his professors  came forward to support, arguing that his ability with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated for his inability to read music. The college was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and agreed to let Brubeck graduate only after he had promised never to teach piano.

Ha! Little did they know, right?

Dave Brubeck

Dave went on to have not only one of the most successful careers as a jazz musician, but led a happy life with his wife, children and several grandchildren. Shy and introverted, he was also ‘bothered’ that Time magazine featured him on its cover before featuring composer, pianist and big-band leader the mighty black Jazz legend Duke Ellington.

Goodbye, Dave Brubeck…..Thank you for your genius and sharing your gift with the world.

Here’s Brubeck ‘taking the A train’…


And Oscar Niemeyer, too….(15 December, 1907 – 5 December 2012)

And while I was writing this, I found that one of the luminaries of modern architecture  the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer had  passed away just a few hours ago. He was 104….married to his first wife for 76 years till her death, and then marrying his long-time aide at the age of 99.  Another accomplished life,  filled with innovation, going against the grain and a full, dynamic spirit. He leaves behind five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and thirteen great-great grandchildren.


For a period in his life, Oscar was forced into exile in Europe and his office pillaged during the time of the  military dictatorship in Brazil due to his fiercely leftist views.

Here are some quotes and interesting facts about Oscar:

Niemeyer had always claimed to be a staunch atheist, basing his beliefs both on the “injustices of this world” and on cosmological principles: “it’s a fantastic Universe which humiliates us, and we can’t make any use of it. But we are amazed by the power of the human mind […]. In the end, that’s it – you are born, you die, that’s it!”. Such convictions never stopped him from designing religious buildings, which spanned from small catholic chapels, through orthodox churches and large mosques. He was also sensible to the religious experiences of the believers who use his buildings. In the Cathedral of Brasília, he intended the large glass openings “to connect the people to the sky, where their lord’s paradise is.”


Niemeyer was most famous for his use of abstract forms and curves that specifically characterize most of his works; he didn’t stick to traditional straight lines, for unlike many modernists of his time he was not attracted to straight angles or lines but rather captivated by ”free-flowing, sensual curves… [like that] on the body of a beloved woman.”

I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.”


Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro








Cicillo Matarazzo Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo, 1954


Centro Cultural Oscar Niemeyer, Asturias, Spain


For a great photo-gallery of Niemeyer’s work in the UK Guardian, click here:

For some stunning black & white photographs of his work by Marcel Gautherot, click here:  


Other posts on jazz and  architecture & sensuality:

Star Trek Jazz:

Sex and the Starchitect: 


Goodbye to a genius: Remembering Lebbeus Woods

New York, November 30, 2012. Exactly one  month ago, on October 30th, during the arrival of hurricane Sandy upon Gotham City, one of the most imaginative and fiercely anti-authoritarian architects and theoreticians of our time, the inimitable Lebbeus Woods passed away. For those who have never personally met Woods or been acquainted with his work, you still may have inadvertently seen his concepts – whether it was in the sets of the movie Alien 3 or on the cover of science fiction-writer Arthur C. Clarke’s book, or his work plagiarized in the brilliant Terry Gillian film 12 Monkeys. But regardless of his contribution to futuristic imagination, what made Woods so unique was his “non-conformist anti-starchitecture” way of thinking and working, and “resisting the temptations of money and fame.” (source:

Just a day before his death, I had the pleasure of running into and conversing with one of Labbeus’ oldest friends architect Steven Holl, who invited me to his talk at the Cooper Union to be moderated by another favourite writer/philosopher/professor of mine Sanford Kwinter. Little did Holl  know on that evening that his completely sold-out and house full lecture would turn out to be a touching tribute in memory of his friend.

As written in the New York Art & Architecture blogazine Hypperallergic:

Last month, as New York City was overwhelmed by Hurricane Sandy, one of the world’s foremost architects passed away in the darkened and chaotic city that was almost overcome by nature. It was a cosmic confluence — environmental mayhem coincided with the last breath of a great creative individual who was always dreaming for more, and embracing an out-of-control world.

Lebbeus Woods and Christoph a. Kumpusch discussing Martin Lodman work at Columbia’s GSAPP Final review of Kumpusch-Studio. (photo by Siting Zhang)

Defiantly non-conformist, anti-starchitecture architect Lebbeus Woods died on Tuesday, October 30. He was 72. Through a lifetime of work, the vast majority of which only exists on paper, Woods challenged the architectural establishment, railing against boring buildings and resisting the temptations of money and fame that turned architects like Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas into celebrities.

“With the triumph of liberal democracy and laissez-faire capitalism, the conversation came to an end. Everyone wanted to build, which left less room for certain kinds of architecture,” Woods told Nicolai Ourrossof of the New York Times when describing the political situation driving an anodyne architecture fully in the service of wealthy patrons.

Woods studied at the University of Illinois and Purdue University. He worked in the office of designer and architect Eero Saarinen from 1964 to 1968, and there, according to his colleague, collaborator, and friend Christoph a. Kumpusch, he learned to “explore limits.”

“Saarinen’s work was something in motion for Lebbeus — not structurally but virtually. It determined boundaries rather than defined limits,” Kumpusch explained.

But soon after his time with Saarinen, Woods turned toward entirely theoretical, experimental architecture that often created more impact in its virtual state than real buildings in real cities ever could. Some compare his work to science fiction, because it resisted being fixed in the now and was always traveling past boundaries to what possibly could be. He was first and foremost an iconoclast. “I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms,” he wrote in his iconic pamphlet War and Architecture.

The world of Woods was complex and forward thinking. He was a seer of spaces, who imagined the seemingly impossible. “Lebbeus saw the world — its energies, whether spatial, political, or social — as an undiscovered reality …  imagined, or, in fact, real — something unfinished — not provided, discovered through architecture; one that doesn’t answer but questions; one that doesn’t find solutions but challenges,” Kumpusch said.

Lebbeus Woods and Christoph Kumpusch, “The Light Pavilion,” is an intervention in a Steven Holl building constructed in Chengdu, China. Architect renderings (on the left) demonstrate the intended result, while on the right a photo is a recent photo of the pavilion. (photo by Manta Weihermann, rendering Daniel Kereler)

Lebbeus Woods and Christoph Kumpusch, “The Light Pavilion,” is an intervention in a Steven Holl building constructed in Chengdu, China. Architect renderings (on the left) demonstrate the intended result, while on the right a photo is a recent photo of the pavilion. (photo by Manta Weihermann, rendering Daniel Kereler)

For more  –  a must-read – this thoughtful piece:


Excerpt from the New York Times article on October 31, 2012:

Lebbeus Woods, an architect whose works were rarely built but who influenced colleagues and students with defiantly imaginative drawings and installations that questioned convention and commercialism, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 72.

His death was confirmed by a longtime colleague, the architect Steven Holl. Details were not immediately available.

In an era when many architecture stars earned healthy commissions designing high-rise condominiums or corporate headquarters, Mr. Woods conceived of a radically different environment, one intended for a world in conflict.

He conceived a post-earthquake San Francisco that emphasized its seismic vulnerability. He flew to Sarajevo in the 1990s and proposed a postwar city in which destruction and resurgence coexisted. He imagined a future for Lower Manhattan in which dams would hold back the Hudson and East Rivers to create a vast gorge around the island, exposing its rock foundation.

“It’s about the relationship of the relatively small human scratchings on the surface of the earth compared to the earth itself,” Mr. Woods said of his Manhattan drawing in an interview several years ago with the architectural Web site Building Blog. “I think that comes across in the drawing. It’s not geologically correct, I’m sure, but the idea is there.” 

Jacket painting by Lebbeus Woods for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinel, Berkley Books Book Club Edition, 1983

Jacket painting by Lebbeus Woods for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinel, Berkley Books Book Club Edition, 1983

Mr. Woods’s work was often described as fantasy and compared to science-fiction imagery. But he made clear that while he may not have expected his designs to be built, he wished they would be — and believed they could be.

“I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world,” Mr. Woods told The New York Times in 2008. “All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”

He spread his message from many platforms. He was a professor at Cooper Union, spoke at symposiums around the world and built sprawling temporary installations in Austria, Italy, Southern California and elsewhere. He also wrote a well-read blog.

Earlier this year, in a post explaining why he chose to become an architect, he said winning commissions was not a major motivation.

“The arts have not been merely ornamental, but central to people’s struggle to ‘find themselves’ in a world without clarity, or certainty, or meaning,” he wrote.

Mr. Woods often criticized what he saw as a complacent and distracted status quo in his field. But his colleagues said his commitment to creating an alternative showed that he had hope.

……”Outside-the-box” thinking has become a cliché used in advertising, corporate strategy and politics, Mr. Moss said (Eric Owen Moss, an architect and his longtime friend), but Mr. Woods took it to another level. “There’s another box, and he’s outside it,” he said, “He’s outside all the boxes.”

For the complete article go here:



And finally, for an excellent interview with Woods, please go to the following links from one of my favourite blogs.


An excerpt:

“….In any case, it isn’t just the quality of Lebbeus’s work—the incredible drawings, the elaborate models—or even the engaged intensity of his political writings, on architecture as politics pursued by other means or architecture as war, that will guarantee him a lasting, multi-disciplinary influence for generations to come. There is something much more interesting and fundamental to his work that has always attracted me, and it verges on mythology. It verges on theology, in fact.

Here, if I can be permitted a long aside, it all comes down to ground conditions—to the interruption, even the complete disappearance, of the ground plane, of firm terrestrial reference, of terra firma, of the Earth, of the very planet we think we stand on. Whether presented under the guise of the earthquake or of warfare or even of General Relativity, Lebbeus’s work was constantly erasing the very surfaces we stood on—or, perhaps more accurately, he was always revealing that those dependable footholds we thought we had were never there to begin with. That we inhabit mobile terrain, a universe free of fixed points, devoid of gravity or centrality or even the ability to be trusted.

It is a world that can only be a World—that can only, and however temporarily, be internally coherent and hospitable—insofar as we construct something in it, something physical, linguistic, poetic, symbolic, resonant. Architectural.

[Image: “Einstein Tomb” by Lebbeus Woods].

Architecture, for Lebbeus, was a kind of counter-balance, a—I’m going to use the word—religious accounting for this lack of center elsewhere, this lack of world. It was a kind of factoring of the zero, to throw out a meaningless phrase: it was the realization that there is nothing on offer for us here, the realization that the instant we trust something it will be shaken loose in great convulsions of seismicity, that cities will fall—to war or to hurricanes—that subways will flood, that entire continents will be unmoored, split in two, terribly and irreversibly, as something maddeningly and wildly, in every possible sense outside of human knowledge, something older and immeasurable, violently shudders and wakes up, leaps again into the foreground and throws us from its back in order to walk on impatiently and destructively without us.

Something ancient and out of view will rapidly come back into focus and destroy all the cameras we use to film it. This is the premise of Lebbeus’s earthquake, Lebbeus’s terrestrial event outside measured comprehensibility, Lebbeus’s state of war.

[Image: “Einstein Tomb” by Lebbeus Woods].

Because what I like about Lebbeus’s work is its nearly insane honesty, its straight-ahead declaration that nothing—genuinely and absolutely nothing—is here to welcome us or accept us or say yes to us. That there is no solid or lasting ground to build anything on, let alone anything out there other than ourselves expecting us to build it.” –  Geoff Manaugh  of 

For more, click on the Bldgblog links on Woods listed above.


labbeus woods 1

Lebbeus Woods, “Havana, Radically Reconstructed” (1994) (Image via

 Lebbeus Woods, Havana, 1994

Lebbeus Woods, Havana, 1994

Woods’s “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber,” which was copied without credit in the film “12 Monkeys”

Woods’s “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber,” which was copied without credit in the film “12 Monkeys”

Lebbeus Woods, System Wien, 2005

Woods Zien

Lebbeus Woods, System Wien, 2005

Lebbeus Woods, Lower Manhattan, 1999

Lebbeus Woods, Lower Manhattan, 1999

 War and Architecture by Lebbeus Woods

War and Architecture by Lebbeus Woods

To view more of his work and learn more about him, in addition to the excellent articles in the above links, you may go to his site for a visual, emotional and intellectual treat:

To close, another excerpt from the Hyperallergic article:

“He often said, ‘I never sit down to draw for the sake of drawing. I only draw when I want to say something.’ His drawings are not drawings, they are projects,” Kumpusch said.

Lebbeus’s shunning of the spotlight and dedication to the ideas of architecture beyond than its current pragmatism makes one wonder if Woods lacked the ego typical of high-profile architects who build for legacy. “I don’t think Lebbeus was concerned with ‘legacy,’” Kumpusch said. “He was concerned with ‘future.’ This is his legacy. I deeply miss him.”




1473876751_8d5e7e0cce_zLebbeus Woods. Future structures of the Korean demilitarized zone (1988) juxtaposed with two views of the architectonic tip of some vast flooded machine-building, from Icebergs (1991)

Lebbeus Woods, “Berlin Free-Zone 3-2” (1990)

Lebbeus Woods, “Berlin Free-Zone 3-2” (1990)


“Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.” I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.” I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor you can know mine. Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.” – Lebbeus Woods (1940 – 2012)


Junipers in June – 2


Mad scars o’ Madagascar

For Junipers in June – 1 click  here.

This blog has mostly been my escape from work, but since last month, I’ve decided to place certain stories from times related to travels due to it. Through my years both as an architect and landscape architect & planner in the last decade, I have been lucky to work in over 80 projects spread across over a dozen countries in five continents. I thank my lucky stars for the exposure it provided me to so many different countries and cultures, landscapes and urban realities, the textures of myriad earths, the scents of many-splendoured forests and the colours and chaos and calm of lands distant and warm, as well as close-by and pristine. There are so many stories, too many tales, so many tears and smiles…, despite its ups and downs, has been full, for various reasons and in myriad ways.

As I mentioned earlier, June is my birthday month, so I get to write more as an indulgence. No-holds bar ricocheting pen-prose for pleasure. So – yet another.

One of the most educative and adventurous projects I worked on (albeit the one in Kabul, Afghanistan takes the cake) was building a school for children in the African island of Madagascar, in 2002, in its capital city of Antananarivo, funded by the Aga Khan Development Network. Madagascar has a very unique one-of-a-kind flora and fauna system. An excerpt of its unique disposition in the natural world (from wiki):

The prehistoric breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot in which over 80% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on Earth. These are dispersed across a variety of ecoregions, broadly divided into eastern and south-central rain forest, western dry forests, southern desert and spiny forest. The island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are severely threatened by human settlement and traditional slash-and-burn practices (tavy) which have denuded Madagascar of 95% of its original forest cover. Under the administration of former President Marc Ravalomanana, the government of Madagascar partnered with the international community to implement large-scale conservation measures tied to ecotourism as part of the national development strategy. However, under Rajoelina’s caretaker government there has been a dramatic increase in illegal logging of precious woods and the poaching and sale of threatened species such as lemurs in Madagascar’s many national parks, several of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Below a few images from the conceptual design stage of the school….

For projects like these, I like to take inspiration from the land itself, its colors, smells, history, stories, unique constraints and opportunities, the dreams of the local people, their reality. And the contours, the climate and the specificities of the site itself. While I worked on both the architecture and landscape architecture, the following images are from the latter. The panels on the colors and patterns were made from images of the island’s unique endemic and often endangered species. The intention behind finding connections between shapes and patterns placed in the entry courts was to make the school into a literal ‘learning ground’ for the island’s future generation so they could appreciate the ecologic heritage they had inherited and stop the present slash-and-burn techniques of destruction. Each courtyard and school subset had its own theme – inspired by the island’s flora and fauna and its local handicrafts, woodwork and art, as well as the sentiments expressed in local folk poems. The connections seen in the various natural and man-made motifs of the island were incorporated into the design.

Click to enlarge, to read the text, and soak in the colors of this unique endangered island.   .

Colors and Patterns of Madagascar


Landscape plan for the school, plant species selected and the reasons behind the selections. (Click to enlarge and read.)


Sketches depicting the internal larger courtyards of the school (click to enlarge) In tropical / equatorial climates courtyards act not only as thermal insulators but as convenient linkages of connected safe open spaces between buildings.


Entry court concept for the Nursery School (click to enlarge)


Entry court concept for the Primary School (click to enlarge)


Entry court concept for the Secondary School (click to enlarge)


Principal court concept between the Administrative block, recreational facilities and the High School (click to enlarge)


Time . Lapses . Limits


A beautiful film made by Ville de Quebec film maker Dominic Boudreault showing a time-lapse montage of the cityscapes of Montreal, New York, Toronto, Chicago and Quebec City contrasted at the end with the stars of the night skies outside the city limits. It took him a year to make this. Please full screen it.…and enjoy its beauty of architecture and urbanscapes, ships and starry nights. Set to Hans Zimmer’s score Time from the unforgettable movie of dreams, architecture, travel and love Inception.


I am very happy that the film features a project I worked on which won quite a few awards and has become a favorite postcard pic and a city landmark – the installation, urban design and lighting of the historic Fontaine de Tourny that was placed on the entry grounds of the Parliament building of Quebec City. It was a gift from Bordeaux, France, for Quebec’s 400th anniversary, and I’d worked on the conceptual and construction planning as well as lighting design of it with the firm I was with at the time. A few conceptual sketches and the final product below. Of course, I have not included the construction drawings, which are prosaic, technical ones but which hold the chassis of a project.

Due to budget restrictions, the original seating and artistic fence proposals made were not implemented and currently a very basic structure surrounds the fountain.

The sculptor who’d made it – only 3 copies of the fountain exist in the world : Mathurine Moreau


Sidetracked Alert : Since Conan Doyle’s b’day is round the corner – an ode to Holmes from last year


When words are unnecessary – 1

In the world of Music, Mathematics and Architecture, language is not necessary to communicate. The first ‘speaks’ in notations and through the medium of musical instruments,  the second through symbols and numbers and the last, when it is designed uniquely and well – is ‘spoken’ through drawings at its inception, and is experienced in the three dimensional ‘poetry of space.’

Zaha Hadid – the grande dame of contemporary architecture…..


Other posts that touch the topic of architecture:

Dreamweavers (especially the comments under the post)

Colors of Madagascar  

Time . Lapses . Limits


When words are unnecessary – 2


All previous posts: Click here

Memories of Montreal – un petit film

Montreal, Canada. 10-10-’10. I have been busy with my travels these past  several days and shall be traveling for a few more to come…..and Internet access has been sporadic and minuscule, at best. One of the joys of traveling and reconnecting with old friends and places in general is the humane factor of touch, sight, sound and smell which the virtual world, no matter how rich it can be, can never equal. The virtual at the end, serves only as the medium – the conduit through which the essence of the real can be captured only in bits and pieces on a two-dimensional plane.

So until I find the time to write a more reflective or analytical post, I’m re-posting an older article and video which had been, in essence, a quick ode to a city that has always remained dear to my  heart. On this trip, as I packed up the remnants of my existence here and found closure on many levels, I understood with some poignancy that it was indeed “Goodbye Montreal” and “Hello New York” for good. Time flies, people change, precocious girls we knew from our work days get married, have children; men we knew who carried an intense fire for living look beaten and broken in the grind of work life and compromises….those who thought they would live a ‘James Bond’ existence wake up to a reality of  ‘The Office’ (ah! mid-life crisis, or should I say mid-life acceptance, for many a man.)  A girl who was a sworn spinster is now married in a big Greek wedding with a baby on the way. A good architect friend who had the worst year of his life in 2008, is now not only on his best year but has become a successful theatre-actor on the side. Another who I thought would forever remain timid and servile has broken free and has his own firm.  A man who I thought had crazy intensity  ended up truly being intensely mentally crazy when I saw him again after two years. A girl I thought would never lose her integrity, I found, has now sold her soul in the name of society’s cliched definition of success……

We meet many, we lose a few, we remain static with some, we grow for, with and at times, away from others.  And for some like myself, sometimes looking back I have to confess (as a private joke that a few friends will understand) by fluke, I certainly was ‘Saved by the Bell’  in October 2008 in Montreal. Had it not been so, I certainly might not have perhaps found myself in Cambridge and subsequently in New York City. Thank you, Antonio Stradivari!

Life goes on, time never waits and all that is left behind are memories…….Yet for some places and people looking back at them never quite brings clarity – like looking at one’s past and hoping to get a balanced vision – yet instead it feels akin to when you open an old book and find inside its pages a pressed exotic flower from long ago and its faint scents and faded colours prevent detached objectivity.

But: We move on, thus. We must. We look back – sometimes with 20-20 vision, and at times with visions still blurred and foggy. Yet we move on. Or at least try our best. Or hobble on. Or, if we are lucky, sail smoothly away.

And oh yes – one more thing – xkcd-style. Just for the heck of it (or maybe it’s just all these cafes selling baguettes here.)  Either way:



(originally posted on May 25, 2010)

This is a short and quick film I made to capture some moments at my favourite city where I lived and worked for many years as an architect. I made this to celebrate both Montreal’s unique poignancy AND vibrancy.

Location: The film is based on my photographs through my years in Montreal. The apartment featured is on Ridgewood Avenue where my balcony and windows opened out into the forest of the Mont Royal Summit, behind the gigantic St. Joseph’s Oratory featured both in the early part and in the closing shot of the film. The ‘summit forest’ is the highest point of the city at the bifurcating median of the eastern traditionally ‘French side’ from the western ‘English side’ though of course in reality the city is entirely mixed and diverse. My apartment’s location enabled an incomparable view of the surroundings as well as the seasonal changes of the magnificent trees in its forested backyard. I lived in two different apartments over the years on the same street though I lived in other areas of the city as well, including the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, in downtown Montreal, on the east side near the Village and also in the historic suburb of Vieux Longueuil. I’ve had 7 addresses during my years in the city.

The office featured in the film is of my architecture mentor Dan Hanganu on Rue Dizier.  Its arched windows looked out into the art galleries of Rue St. Paul. The three friends in the ‘four architects’ photo are Anca, Lucia and Athena (and no, we are quite the opposite of the self-absorbed, shoe-crazy, man-hungry, navel-gazing ‘sex and the city’ hyper-materialistic girls.) I met them while working at the historic multi-disciplinary and multi-national architecture firm Le Groupe Arcop one of whose founding fathers had a fellowship in his name at McGill university which I had been awarded more than a decade ago, not knowing then that some day I would go on to work at the firm he had founded. There are other pictures here of friends who are dear to me. I have added quite a few well-known streets and landmarks of the city as well as those places that are personally meaningful and memorable.

The repetition of the sunflowers in the clip is not just a reminder of the lively kiosks and flower shops dotted around the town (and the little herb and flower corner of my balcony), but also a representation of the human potential and inclination to seek and search for joy in life despite how gray the skies may become at times and…….well, because sunflowers are my favourite blossoms. I always say that no matter how sad a moment may be, looking at a ‘happy sunflower’ brings back the smile on my face. They just seem to be such sprightly optimistic flowers, following the light of the sun….

Music: The featured musical pieces on this video are ‘Oblivion’ (violin – Joshua Bell; bandoneon – Carel Kraayenhof) & ‘All of Me’ by Jazz great Lester Young (tenor sax), Teddy Wilson (piano), Jo Jones (drums), Gene Ramey (bass). Since I wanted to capture the paradoxical ‘poignant joyousness’ of the city, the first half of the film includes a heartfelt piece ‘Oblivion’ played by the versatile virtuoso Bell (whose movie The Red Violin’s ending culminates in this city and who I met in Montreal, so I thought it would be appropriate to place his rendition.) The second half of the film picks up the tempo, rhythm and joie-de-vivre unique to this belle ville and reminiscent in a very jolly 1950s tune ‘All of Me’ (composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons) played by the jazz legend  Lester Young – which captures the spirit of the famous International Jazz Festival that Montreal hosts every summer and also the ambiance of its many cafes, clubs, youth culture, its ‘book capital’ status and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street life.

Additional photography: Almost all the photographs used here are my own. The ‘night vision’ shots though hazy, I felt captured the lights, music and movement better of the city’s nightlife and festivals than clean ‘perfect’ ones taken with a camera stand. There are around 5 pictures featured here taken from Montreal tourism. And out of the total 160 photographs used here – 12 are from the collections of two friends who are extremely talented professionals and have their own studios and should be credited – Jessica Petunia and Robin Cerutti who are both Montreal residents

The music in the video is beautiful when heard through the right speakers since a tiny mono speaker of a laptop cannot do justice to a big jazz band nor to a 1713 Stradivarius.

This is just a little personal ode to a city that has meant so much in my life and where, in many ways, an integral part of my mind, heart, soul and body will always remain, always belong, and live on through its multifarious memories.






Come September !

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK: I just moved to New York City (Manhattan’s Upper East side) a week back, so the posts will be slow to come till I get settled and can surface from the dozens of boxes that still have to be sorted out. As I feel my nose around and hear about the construction business in the city and leaf through this wonderful little gem of a graphic book ‘The Building of Manhattan” ( by the incredibly detailed  Canadian-American  illustrator Donald Mackay (click on the name to learn more), the following joke that had been doing its rounds for a while comes to mind, as any architect and engineer knows, if the client is  a hypothetical ‘God’:

If  Noah had lived in the United States today the story may have gone something like this: And the Lord spoke to Noah and said, “In one year, I am going to make it rain and cover the whole earth with water until all flesh is destroyed. But I want you to save the righteous people and two of every kind of living thing on earth. Therefore, I am commanding you to build an Ark.”

In a flash of lightning, God delivered the specifications for an Ark. In fear and trembling, Noah took the plans and agreed to build the ark. “Remember,” said the Lord, “you must complete the Ark and bring everything aboard in one year.”

Exactly one year later, fierce storm clouds covered the earth and all the seas of the earth went into a tumult. The Lord saw that Noah was sitting in his front yard weeping. “Noah!” He shouted. “Where is the Ark?”

“Lord, please forgive me,” cried Noah. “I did my best, but there were big problems. First, I had to get a permit for construction, and your plans did not meet the building codes. I had to hire an architecture firm and redraw the plans. Then I got into a fight with OSHA over whether or not the Ark needed a sprinkler system and approved floatation devices. Then, my neighbor objected, claiming I was violating zoning ordinances by building the Ark in my front yard, so I had to get a variance from the city planning commission. Then, I had problems getting enough wood for the Ark, because there was a ban on cutting trees to protect the Spotted Owl. I finally convinced the U.S. Forest Service that I really needed the wood to save the owls. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service won’t let me take the 2 owls. The carpenters formed a union and went on strike. I had to negotiate a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board before anyone would pick up a saw or hammer. Now, I have 16 carpenters on the Ark, but still no owls. When I started rounding up the other animals, an animal rights group sued me. They objected to me taking only two of each kind aboard. This suit is pending. Meanwhile, the EPA notified me that I could not complete the Ark without filing an environmental impact statement on your proposed flood. They didn’t take very kindly to the idea that they had no jurisdiction over the conduct of ‘God’. Then, the Army Corps of Engineers demanded a map of the proposed flood plain. I sent them a globe. Right now, I am trying to resolve a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that I am practicing discrimination by not taking atheists aboard. The IRS has seized my assets, claiming that I’m building the Ark in preparation to flee the country to avoid paying taxes. I just got a notice from the state that I owe them some kind of user tax and failed to register the Ark as a ‘recreational water craft’. And finally, the ACLU got the courts to issue an injunction against further construction of the Ark, saying that since God is flooding the earth, it’s a religious event, and, therefore unconstitutional. I really don’t think I can finish the Ark for another eight or ten years!!” Noah wailed.

The sky began to clear, the sun began to shine, and the seas began to calm. A rainbow arched across the sky. Noah looked up at the Lord bewildered. “You mean you’re not going to destroy the earth, Lord?” “No,” He said sadly. “I don’t have to. Beauracracy already has.”

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The Flatiron Building, Manhattan, from MacKay’s illustrated book. Had today’s zoning and other beauracratic laws been followed this building could never have been built.





“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
— Italo Calvino  in Invisible Cities

Ariadne – the Architect of Inception

I‘ve always loved Christopher Nolan’s work and his latest film Inception was awaited with great anticipation by all his fans and this time by many architecture and city planning students as well. Even the well-known Danish architect Bjarke Ingels was excitedly placing facebook updates about the film from a month before its release. I finally saw it this week. Since there are many reviews about the film already out there, I’m not writing any. As Frank Zappa (or was it Thelonious Monk?) had once said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” I’ll have to say that critiquing on Inception is like talking about swimming. It’s just one of those films that have to be fully experienced to be understood.

Inception is  certainly one of THE most brilliant films to come out in a while. Nolan who was working on its concept for nearly 10 years apparently referred to the book Godel Escher Bach (one of my all time favourites) to carry on the dream-within-a-dream trans-level loopy-loop concept. And amongst its other incredibly imaginative features and themes, I’m pleased as punch that they have finally shown an intelligent confident talented young WOMAN architect for a change (instead of the plethora of confused/passive and/or vapid/consumer-hog stereotyped women who have dominated most of the films so far earlier this year; or the proverbial ‘architect’ in any film being shown as some egotistic old man.)

An amazing movie, a fantastic concept that leaves you pondering for hours and days after you leave the theatre, and a whole lot of hard work by the technical crew! And while James Cameron’s Avatar was a visual treat with very valid green design messages, this movie is in many ways thematically much better as it is like a cerebral/visceral/psychological/visual manna. And for the few who have been detracting this film in cowardly message boards, really, it amuses me sometimes when people who cannot create works of depth or magnitude, think it is ok to belittle or criticize. Doers do. Non-doers criticize.

And this is a movie that’s definitely a cut above the rest – and a true inception of Nolan’s doing – and absolutely worthy of the appreciation it is receiving by both critics and members of the audience who have been captivated by its ingenuity.

It is also very refreshing to see a remarkable and self-assured young actress – Ellen Page – playing the part of the Architect. A self-described pro-choice woman, Page tries to avoid “stereotypical roles for teenage girls” which she finds to be “sexist.” Her name in the movie – Ariadne – is no coincidence. In the movie she represents the one who can unravel and find a way out for its conflicted protagonist Cobb (played by DiCaprio). In Greek mythology Ariadne is considered the ‘mistress of the maze’, the one who freed Theseus from the minotaur’s labyrinth and who the Greek god of chaos and madness Dionysius marries. Ariadne, the Architect in the movie, not only bridges and creates the cities in the multi-leveled dreamscapes where reveries and reality merge, mingle or oppose, but she also knows the way out of the maze amidst all the intoxicating Dionysion chaos that her team members must navigate through. A must-see film; a sensory/intellectual powerhouse. And the Parisian ‘folded urbanscape’ came as an especially delicious surprise – like entering into an Escherian world. (Did you know that M.C. Escher was also an architect?) As noted movie critic Philip French wrote, this movie would have delighted Freud. I think it delights mathematicians, architects, physicists, psychologists, computer-geeks, sci-fi fans, thriller fans and just good-movie lovers all alike.

Here is a link to  a good analysis done about the ‘architecture’ of the film by an archi-centred blog:

And this is an absolutely fascinating article on the neuroscience behind Inception from Wired magazine:

But this analysis possibly takes the cake, or should I say, totem:

M. C. Escher : Relativity


Inception movie poster


In light of creating ‘dreamscapes’ I thought this would be a fitting context to place Alex Roman’s breathtaking short film ‘The Third and the Seventh’. When I first viewed the film earlier this year, having visited many of the buildings featured in it, I thought that Roman’s cinematography was incredible. Only on reading about it on his website did I realize that this entire film was a CGI masterpiece – one of the most breath-taking short films that truly capture the ‘spirit’ of buildings. Ranging from Frank Gehry’s Bilbao museum to Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum to a Mies Van der Rohe house to Louis Kahn’s Exeter library and Dhaka government center and other well-known works including one of Alex’s own creations in the forest, his 12 minute film has truly captured the inspiring and meditative quality of great buildings. For the complete uninterrupted version – where a full screen view is necessary, please watch it directly on his website.

Sometimes after a long day, I like watching his film just for its sheer poetry and Zen-like peaceful beauty. It’s like tectonic therapy. The following video is just the first half and placed here only for a short dekko. It is much better to view it directly in the link above.

Part I only of the 3rd and & 7th film; Please watch the full version instead on the link.

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I’m halfway through reading the autobiography written by architect Daniel Libeskind : Breaking Ground – an immigrant’s journey from Poland to Ground Zero – a book someone gave to me. I’ve always had reservations against extreme ‘style-based’ or ‘jargon-happy’ starchitects, but decided to give it a read with an open mind, taking into consideration his war-ravaged past.Once you can get past Libeskind’s extremely self-viewed style of writing (which can easily be viewed as arrogance and malignant narcissism if not accepted that this is a confessional of an audacious man whose nomadic life is a story of survival and who grew up amongst insurmountable odds), the book settles into an entertaining read of the convoluted politics and poetry of the architectural world, the bitter dog-eat-dog world of New York City’s public projects, developers, rival architects and governing bodies, the crazy work schedules and demands in the world of architecture and a flashback into the horrors his family had faced during the Holocaust, which is a particularly poignant part – picaresque and viscerally moving at times, gut-wrenchingly horrific at others. The trials his parents went through in their birth land, then in their exiled countries and finally the labour in New York City (each working in a sweatshop and a printing factory respectively, and deliriously happy in the little they had) are quite remarkable. Just his father’s life alone is like a story straight out of a movie and is perhaps more inspirational. As well as the infallible strength of the two most influential women in his life – his mother and his wife Nina who most certainly seems to be his bedrock.

The book is filled with anecdotes, many vignettes and bizarre true-life stories, topics flitting from Proust to Mozart to German philosophers to Russian leaders to New York Times journalists to its mayors and governors to everyday folks and a lengthy description of his win and then subsequently being sidelined in the controversial Ground Zero Freedom Tower design. But when it comes to describing his built projects you wish he had credited, named or mentioned his brilliant associates and structural engineers – as any architect knows who the unnamed silent heroes in a starchitect’s firm truly are.  So far, I particularly liked his chapter Light where he does make the effort to credit some ancient masters at least, and while watching Alex Roman’s film thought how appropriate the quality and manoeuvring  of light truly is to reveal the ‘soul’ of good buildings, those that are unique and poetic.

The play of light is one of the most essential tools of any good architect – and Louis Kahn, whose library is featured in the Third and the Seventh film, was a virtuoso master of playing gymnastics with sunlight and shadows in his buildings. It was, in fact a visit to a Louis Kahn building and a profoundly moving experience I felt within its walls, meditative brick corridors and arched and circular openings that had inspired me at age 8  to become an architect later. (I had dreams of becoming either an astronaut/pilot or an architect or a secret agent – I was 8 after all….and the middle and more pragmatic choice prevailed at the end. My parents instead had hoped that I’d become either a doctor, a dentist, a professional classical dancer or an MBA – in that order – and indeed, I had found myself forced into a prestigious medical college – had the grades to get in – by my father’s insistence, only to quit after 2 weeks to join Architecture school, where I had also secretly applied and topped its nationwide entry exams.)  Louis Kahn’s play of light and surfaces had stolen my heart a long time back. My dream of becoming an architect would not be quelled by parental pressures. Louis had led me to Light through his funky wall ‘openings’ from what I believed then was the darkness of the prosaic conformity my parents had chosen when they had suppressed their own artistic, musical and writer’s sides to have embraced their academic Ph.Ds and ‘safe’, ‘stable’ livlihoods. Architecture still was a mostly ‘male’ profession with little place for women except to design ‘interiors’ where they were pushed into while the men would push themselves to design ‘towers’. The trouble was – inside I had never thought of myself as either a ‘woman’ or a ‘man.’ I was a ‘person’ in love with Louis’s Light and little did I know then that I’d go on to become the youngest woman architect, at 22, to start her own firm and build and implement projects. And 5 years later, I’d be designing museums and high-rise towers. And less than 7 years later, designing plans for entire ‘new-towns’, cities, and even a 16 square mile eco-city proposal. But starting out, one of my first clients would be not some disgruntled housewife or a store, it would be the CEO of the General Motors manufacturing plant in Asia wanting to design 300 acres of their land for their new plant. A couple of my first built designs under my own firm, both in landscapes and architecture, had circular openings……Hmm. I wonder why ;)

“All material in nature,
the mountains and the streams and the air and we,
are made of Light which has been spent,
and this crumpled mass called material casts a shadow,
and the shadow belongs to Light.”

– Louis Kahn

(his real name is  Itze-Lieb Schmuilowsky)

Now back to that Libeskind autobiography: Here are a few excerpts from the chapter Light from music-child-prodigy-turned-belated-architect Libeskind’s book.There is a particularly grim section where he writes how while designing the Jewish Museum in Berlin he was wondering if he should build one room with no light to depict the unsparing black, hopeless volume for those who had died in the Holocaust. He recalled the story of a woman who later lived in Brooklyn, a survivor. While being transported by train to the Stutthof concentration camp and at the point of abandoning all hope, she caught a glimpse of the sky through the slats of  the boxcar and a white streak suddenly appeared;  later though she knew that the streak might have merely been the trail of an airplane or a cloud, but that ‘vision’ had filled her with hope that she might somehow survive. And she did. This story was the inspiration behind designing the room named the ‘Holocaust Void’ which is empty, forbidding, neither heated nor cooled and only very high up in the ceiling is a tiny angled slit that lets in a line of light that is then reflected on the floor and walls of the Void. And he writes at the end of this story : Light is the measure of everything. It is absolute, mathematical, physical, eternal. There is an absolute speed to it, you can’t outrun it; that’s what the theory of relativity is about. Stand here and remember what you can. What you remember is in light, the rest is in darkness, isn’t it? The past fades to dark, and the future is unknown, just stars.”

“Like music, architecture is often about direct encounter rather than analysis. If you are interested in a piece of music, you can analyze it after you’ve heard it, take apart its structure, explore its modalities, tonalities. But first you have to simply let it wash over you. Buildings often exert their magic, their genius, in a similar way.” – DL

And these lines were interesting, to loop back to the topic of dreams :

“Do you want proof that there is immortality? I have always been taken by an argument posited by the philosopher and writer Henri Bergson, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1927 but, sadly, is not in vogue……[lines edited out here] ….Bergson believed that dreams are proof that there is immortality. Think of it, he said: Dreams are luminous, filled with light, and yet they happen without any optical, or measurable, light. They offer us a promise of eternity. I also have my own proof, which has followed me from Lodz. When I was seven years old, an aunt in Brazil sent me an extraordinary mounted butterfly, with phosphorescent wings and a deep indigo. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and certainly one of the few objects of beauty we had in Lodz. In those wings that glowed with an almost radioactive light I could see everything I needed to know about Rio de Janerio, about nature, cities, light, the afterlife, eternity.” -DL

Update (July 22): After finishing the book, I have to admit that although there are parts that are quite poetic and others very poignant, and you feel for the injustice his parents and others went through – Libeskind’s extremely condescending view of all his other contemporaries in the architectural world and his failure to give credit nor name any members of his own dedicated staff in his office or his engineering firms (who obviously do most of the heavy lifting for his designs given that he is more of a theorist and less of a structural ace) leaves you with a dry insipid aftertaste. While one can admire his optimism, his book knowledge of the arts and philosophy, and the fact that he succeeded in living an eastern European immigrant’s ‘American Dream’, his ‘outsmarting’ and ‘one upmanship’ anecdotes that he outlines in every project of his life right till the very end of the book (oftentimes bordering on pettiness and blatant self-aggrandizement) makes you begin to wonder if  this is a boyish audacity he never outgrew or just someone who craves the limelight. Something he never got over from the days as a music prodigy when as he claimed early on in the book, had ‘stolen the spotlight’ on the stage from violin prodigy Itzhak Perlman.

After reading the book, I came out with greater respect for his father Nachman, for his mother and for his devoted and diplomatic wife Nina than for Daniel. They are certainly the real girders due to whom Libeskind was able to build his dreams in reality, and not be stuck forever in his castle of words. And of course, his dedicated staff – unnamed in his book…..


Here’s the link to the short film the Third and the Seventh once again, to be lost in a world of dreamlike buildings, existing in the real world, breathed life to by the inception of  ideas in its creators’ minds:


Jewish Museum. Berlin.

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because sometimes we all need to ‘lighten’ up and ‘shake hands’ after ‘rotating knives’ and yelling out the frustrations of a ‘struggling artist.’

Unfortunately, the only video available with the entire sketch has Swedish subtitles. But unless you read Swedish, it’s not too distracting. Also, never have an upper floor office without having a bucket of water in a corner handy.

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Sidetracked Alert : For a simple approach to sketching through life and learning, check out ‘101 Things I learned in Architecture School.‘ And yelling like Cleese certainly wasn’t one of ’em, although  we wish we had – but that’s the old school way that could get you in trouble these days for being ‘politically incorrect.’ Sigh.

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