Sunday, 12 February 2012

Photo Journal: Montréal and Québec City 10.2011


The city occupies a special soft spot because of Gino Vannelli and the  ELP concert at the Olympic Stadium.  In the underground shopping arcades and buildings, chunks of 60-70’s Brutalist architectural works are still there as if going back in time.

If one concludes that it is an indication of this city once an avant-garde stronghold and not any more, the people here are trying to inject new life and dispel this general impression.

A progressive interior at Eaton Centre?  It is remarkable to find that the management would embrace the idea of using recycled materials to decorate their shopping mall.

Besides disused cardboards re-invigorated as trees, there are plastic bottles and coat hangers that have been converted to represent the sea world.  Could this approach be a trendsetter against wasteful seasonal decorations common in most cities?

My attempt to visit Habitat 67 from the old town by no other means but walking - it proved to be a miserable failure after 60 minutes of criss-cross wading along dirt-filled service roads.  A simple lesson: These buildings are much farther than it appears.  To be there, one must get a car or taxi.

En route, the gigantic cement plant with compelling mega-structures makes up as consolation.  The interplays of scale, functionality, volumetric relationship and even weathering are some of the engaging factors available for architectural appreciation.

(photo from Architectural Record)

This is how close one would like to visit the legendary clustering of buildings designed by the home grown architect Moshe Safdie (1938- ).  It is one of the few realizations heavily influenced by the Metabolist Movement and Plug-in-City of the late 1960s. 

(image from

Place des Arts with art museum, opera house and theatre.  The latest addition would be the pending completion of the new concert hall that houses the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

I made the choice to see ‘La Triennale Québécoise 2011’ by leaving other options.  The ‘no photo’ restriction was a bit disappointing upon entrance.  Let alone this minor setback, most exhibits there were pedantic and it was obvious that many visitors were left baffled.  There were plenty of stone faces and some disgruntled remarks.  Personally I find the exhibition self-indulgent and the curatorial direction too contrived for its own good.

Well, there are interesting impromptu works around the street corner to maintain good spirit.

The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, free to enter due to the inauguration of a new wing, was another compensation.

Québec City

Looking out from the train towards Québec where maple leaves began to change colours.  A few shots later, the photo still could not be quite near Gerhard Richter’s blurring landscape imagery.

A place to recommend for staying: Le Château du Faubourg on Rue Saint-Jean.  It is a self-declared B&B joint, at least the price suggests so.  The building is decorated throughout in tasteful classical language.  For breakfast, fine bone china and napkin tucked in silver ring on Vienna ivory tablecloth were provided.  Not to mention, the food itself was a comparable delight.

Not trying to portray a city of melancholy in my 3 day visit, but Québec City in October with few visitors and harsh weather has already gotten wintry outlooks.

Gale force wind along St. Lawrence River with choppy waters and swaying tree branches.

Hammershøi styled Danish roofscape revisited at Vieux-Québec.

Courtyard at the Laval University School of Architecture.

Urban sculptures rather than street furniture near the railway station.

On a rainy day, there are more people on the mural than those in the street.

Quiet shopping at Quartier Petit Champlain

(3 images from the Office for Metropolitan Architecture)

Looking forward to the next visit after OMA’s extension to Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec which is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2013.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Photo Journal: Toronto 09.2011

The Royal Ontario Museum with a queue.  The Wednesday afternoon free admission has been replaced by new tiers of concession tickets.   We hope that the phenomenal waiting crowd is not a thing of the past.

(photos from

Incidentally, Daniel Libeskind’s recent work in Dresden – The Museum of Military History (photos above) stirs up a tiff in Toronto.  People here argue that Libeskind is repeating the same formula in Dresden and that the originality of the beloved ‘crystal’ has been compromised by the architect himself.  There were heated exchanges in Toronto Star between the local critics and the architect on his professional ethics and design ability.
My sympathy is with the Torontonians for a different reason.  Libeskind’s design language, distinct but repetitious, suits well on a project with a tormented theme.  The Jewish Museum is a perfect match and the military museum in Dresden comes close .  ROM simply picked the wrong architect for the job.

(photos from

David Hockney’s exhibition ‘fresh flowers, Drawings on the iPhone and iPad’ was held in ROM.  Without intellectualizing on the subject of transgression between the LED screen and pictorial plane, the drawings offer a lot less on the painter’s artistic development than his recent East Yorkshire landscape paintings.  

It is highly debatable that the tool has added value to the artistic content Hockney provides.  (The fact that no photo-taking was not allowed runs in contradiction with the spirit of information technology).

The three kings of hell at the oriental section of ROM.  It was said the deities had their origins in the ancient city of Vaishali, India, and from where the cult was spread to China.  Having said that, these guys could be generic examples of facial and costumes studies for drama students.

The arcade structure by Santiago Calatrava (1951- ) at BCE Place of 1987 has a certain timelessness.  The tree canopy, the skeleton of a giant whale or whatever that draws you, has a cathedral-like serenity that surpasses architectural fads.

A straightforward piece of ironwork reminds everyone how water nourishes the people of this city through the rivers and lakes from the north. This is Evergreen Brick Works – a thriving arts and educational community set in a defunct brick mill.

The Distillery District, a second visit in 6 years, has been shifting towards a more commercial orientation than an arts district as originally envisaged.  Luxury condos have sprung up all over to cash in on the genteel environs.

Lakes, waterways and idyllic living in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

Most ingenious and sustainable farming - this is how cranberries are grown in Muskoka, North of Toronto:

Before they are ripe and ready for harvest, massive water from a nearby river is flooded to the bog.  Cranberries are afloat for farmers' collection once shaken off the stems by long harvesters.  After this process, water is drained away from the vines so that they can bear fruits again.

True carnivorous dining of North American portion at CopaCabana!.  The authentic Samba dancing and heart pounding music were the highlights of the evening.

The gas station, an iconic image related to the US and Canada, has taken a transformation from those depicted by Edward Hopper.