Worth Raising A Glass, I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid

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The Louvre is the world’s largest museum.  It is housed in an old fortress that became a palace and converted to a museum.  Buildings connect in a U-shape with a courtyard, Cour Napoleon, in the center.

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As the number of visitors grew, it became clear that the Louvre needed renovations to accommodate all the visitors.  In 1983, the Louvre developed and President François Mitterrand supported a renovation plan known as the Grand Louvre.  Among other things, it called for a new design for the main entrance that would be climate controlled, and provide space for a ticket office, security checkpoint, visitors center (for things like audio guides, toilets, sitting areas, information centers, cafes and shops).

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When Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei‘s modern glass pyramid structure in the courtyard was unveiled, most critics gave negative reviews.  They deemed it an unwelcome intrusion of modernism into  traditional architecture.  Still, it provided 650,000 additional square feet of much-needed support spaces for the Louvre.

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Inaugurated in 1988 and opened in 1993, his design of The Louvre pyramid, met the need and then some.   It appears strikingly modern and sophisticated against the baroque façade.  It guides  visitors’ movements between the three immense wings (Richelieu, the Sully, and the Denon) of the museum.  As a Louvre visitor, I find this as  genius as any part of the design.  The Louvre is immense and it is easy to get lost.  By following the signs to the exit, you can get to a guide who will point you in the right direction for your adventure in the next wing.  Plus, the glass provides wonderful light to the underground lobby.

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The complex inter-linked steel structure sheathed in clear, reflective glass.  This transparency allows an unobstructed view through it permitting vision across the pyramid to the palace on the opposite side. This allows it to float lightly in the space.

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While its style differs drastically from the original palace buildings, its transparency and simplicity allows it to sit among them without taking anything away from them.  It just becomes another interesting focal point.

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It didn’t take long for Pyramid to become integral part of Paris’ center and another one of its iconic buildings (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Invalides, Sacre Couer).  In the New York Times,  Paul Goldberg wrote: “…the design provoked international controversy and accusations that an American architect was destroying the very heart of Paris…the news from Paris is that the Louvre is still there, although it is now a dramatically different museum. The pyramid does not so much alter the Louvre as hover gently beside it, coexisting as if it came from another dimension.”

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The movie ‘Da Vinci Code‘, which had scenes set inside the Louvre included several minutes of dramatic video shots of the Pyramid. It’s also appeared in The Dreamers,  Prêt-à-PorterThe Rape of Europa and Fire, Plague, War and Treason.

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One of the cool things I noticed about it is that the pyramid is inverted below ground into the interior space below.  It comes to a point, immediately below that point is a sculpture, a pyramid.  Their apexes are only centimeters apart.  I’m not sure these pictures do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that it looks sweet.

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If all this isn’t enough, check it out lit up at night.  Definitely worthy of the City of Lights.

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Louvre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!

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I try to report on culture and lesser known tourist spots, but some of the big ones are impossible to avoid.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I did not include a post on the Eiffel Tower in my Paris posts.  It’s one of the world’s most famous structures; it’s become iconic, a symbol of Paris.  Today, Paris’s skyline is unimaginable without its iron lattice structure and spire.

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The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is 1000 feet (320 meters) high and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 40 years.  Named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who (along with a team of engineers) designed it.  Built for the 1889 Worlds Fair (which coincidentally was the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), it was intended to be a temporary structure.  It was so popular (ahem, profitable) that it remained even after the fair.  Elevator ticket sales in recouped almost the entire cost of the structure in just one year. Its popularity was not a given.

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Ironically, pre-construction, critics called Eiffel’s design an eyesore and predicted cost overruns.  What’s more, Eiffel completed the project on time and it quickly became a tourist attraction.  Gustave got the last laugh, he received the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France for creating what became a national symbol of France.

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The Eiffel Tower is repainted every seven years with 50 tons of the dark brown paint.  It’s made from 18,000 pieces of iron that create an elegant art nouveau webbed-metal design.   Eiffel recognized the impact wind forces on tall structures. As a result, he made the surface variation minimal with an open lattice of light trusses through which the wind can blow.  That’s why you don’t see any ornamentation on the building.

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It’s not just a sculpture, you can visit the tower’s interior (be ready for crowds and a wait, prebooking tickets may help).    You can get onto the three platforms by elevators and stairs.  From the top one, there are views of up to 37 miles (60 km). Since there’s wheelchair access to only the 1st and 2nd levels, we didn’t go up.  If I’d planned better, we would have gotten a reservation at the second level Le Jules Verne restaurant and snuck up with him to the higher Bar à Champagne.
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By the way, if you’re climbing the seemingly countless stairs to the first platform, look out for the names of 72 French scientists and other luminaries just beneath the first platform.

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Do You Also Giggle When You Say Flying Buttresses?

DSC_0516_2Every time I say “flying buttress” he laughs.  For some people, Notre Dame is a religious experience.  Our promenade around the exterior was more like a giggly experience.  Each time someone said “buttress,”  it was pronounced “BUTT-ress.”  You can’t take us anywhere.  Nevertheless, I still think flying buttresses are cool and good for more than just a laugh.

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Gothic churches are tall, spacious and filled with light.  Why?  The magic of technology.  Buttresses support the walls outward force.  Pointed arches (instead of the round Romanesque arches) allowed the enormous weight of stone roofs transferring it out and not just to the walls.  Essentially, the buttresses support the weight of the roof. This made building thinner walls with windows possible.

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You can see the support inside with a network of columns that become pointed.  They intersect at the top of the roof.

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Nowhere can you see this more than in Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle.  Almost all the walls are windows and it is filled with light.

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Dubai’s Modern Architecture

Bastakiya’s old architecture juxtaposes sharply with Dubai’s masses of jaw-dropping skyscrapers.   Queen Elizabeth opened Dubai’s first skyscraper, the 39-story Dubai World Trade Centre in 1970’s.  Now, the building is dwarfed by those nearby.  It looks like short, little me next in a crowd of NBA players.

When Dubai learned that it was running out of oil in the late 1990’s, it set about remaking itself as a business and vacation destination.  With massive infrastructure projects underway, they began building skyscrapers with adventurous designs.   At one point, they had crews working around the clock on projects.  For example, up to 13,000 workers worked day and night on the Burj Khalifa.  At times, they built a floor in as little as three days!  Someone told me that at the height of the boom, a new skyscraper was completed each week.   Dubai continued this voracious building until 2008 when the economic crisis hit.

At that time, construction on the world’s tallest building was underway.  Financing fell through.  Rather than scale down the size of the project, the president of Abu Dhabi president who’s financial bailout saved stepped in to save Dubai, and gave around 10 billion dollars to complete this futuristic building.   The tallest building in Dubai had always been known as Burj Dubai (the Dubai tower).  To thank, him for completing the structure, it was named Burj Khalifa instead.  At 828 meters (2,717 feet with 160 floors), it 
is the world’s tallest man-made structure.  Sorry, I had trouble getting it all in the shot.

The crazy, ironic (and perhaps preposterous) part is that a large part of its interior sits empty and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  At least that is what we were told by locals while there.  Can you imagine what it costs to cool?

You can visit the world’s highest observation deck there.  It was so hazy and the wind clouded the views with sand so I skipped it.  I’m guessing that on a clear day, the views are stunning.  We did get to see the The Dubai Fountain show.  It reminded us of the Bellagio’s fountain in Vegas, only bigger.  It is Dubai after all.

I’m not sure if it is pollution or sand that caused the haze. Maybe a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B.

The nearby Sheikh Zayed Road and surrounding downtown Dubai has a stunning array of futuristic skyscrapers.  Coming from Geneva where the tallest building is a 12-story hotel that is well away from downtown stories, it was a bit surreal.   The glittering Emirates Towers pair of triangular-topped modernist marvels are instantly recognizable.

Most people instantly recognize the iconic Burj Al Arab, which is shaped like the sail of a dhow with an accompanying wave-shaped hotel.  It quickly became a symbol of the booming city.  It is crazy to think that this skyscraper with a lobby is higher than the Statue of Liberty is built on an artificial island.  They immediately began marketing the heck out of it although it’s impossible to earn more than five-stars, it’s marketed as a the world’s first seven-star hotel.  Exemplifying Dubai’s insane extravagance, 1600 square meters of the interior are sheathed in gold leaf.  How do you say gaudy in Arabic?

You can see the Burj al-Arab from the nearby Arabian-style Madinat Jumeirah, a hotel, shopping and entertainment complex.  It reminded me of an Arabian themed Vegas or Orlando hotel.  On the bright side, it is more tasteful than the Hard Rock Hotel or Treasure Island.  Perinally in workout clothes, I’m probably not the best person to be an arbiter of taste anyway.

The nearby Wild Wadi water park is one of the world’s best, with over 30 rides and attractions.

Heading further out, you reach another megaproject, the palm-tree shaped Palm Jumeirah.  Viewable from space and touted as the eighth wonder of the world.   It is an astounding mock-Arabian city, replete with five 5-star hotels, astoundingly expensive “beachfront” Arabian style residences (this is where Maradona, the coach of the local football team lives), restaurants, leisure facilities and, of course, shopping.   It is another example of opulent kitsch on an epic scale.

Exiting Palm Jumeriah, you see New Dubai,centered around the vast Dubai Marina development, to your right.  It has is the city’s next Big Thing, home to a string of luxurious beachside resorts and an extraordinary number of cranes.  Glass and steel architectural wonders begin to blend together.  It’s a shame because many of the buildings have audacious designs and sleek, innovative flourishes.

I’m so glad I went to Dubai, not just because it is interesting.  The scale and the speed with which it was attained is something that I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend if I hadn’t seen it.

Time Traveling To Old Dubai In Al Bastakiya

Dubai is unabashedly new.  Traditionally, buildings were made from palm leaves.  As a result, not many of the old buildings survive.  Dubai’s Bastakiya Quarter (in the Bur Dubai area) is one of the few places to see traditional architecture.  It is the oldest surviving part of the city and a sharp juxtaposition to the skyscrapers in the distance.

Walking through Bastakiya, you can almost imagine life here when it was a small fishing village and ancient trading port for dhows travelling Gulf to India and East Africa.

The Bastakiya neighborhood dates from the early 1900’s.  Wealthy pearl and textile merchants from Iran’s Bastak region settled here.  Even then Dubai’s trade policies attracted immigrants.   These Persian merchants used more durable coral and gypsum to build their houses that were heavily influenced by traditional Arabian architecture.

I loved exploring the chaotic labyrinth of traditional Arabian heritage houses. This maze of narrow alleyways isn’t on a grid pattern.  Instead, the streets orient toward the water to take advantage of its cooling breezes.  The high walls shade the tight lanes and interior courtyards for much of the day.

Virtually every aspect of the buildings was designed to counter the intense heat.  With heat like that, you can’t blame them.  Houses had a central courtyard and were topped with wind-towers. The towers, which are open at the top on all four sides, act as wind-catchers.  Amazingly effective, they funnel breezes into a central shaft, cooling the room below.  Residents would throw water on the floor underneath the tower.  The evaporating water-cooled the interior.  Trust me when  I tell you they needed every means they could find to help cool things.

Traditional Barasti huts made from palm fronds were cool and easy to build.  Unfortunately, they didn’t withstand the elements very well (and were probably hard to retrofit with air-conditioners).

Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers

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Provence is windy.  During our trips to Provence, we saw a large number of wrought-iron bell towers.  Produced in Provence since the 16th century, they are unique to the region.   Once I saw my first one with The Luger on our trip to Avignon, I noticed them everywhere.

Near Les Baux

Their light and open framework allows the area’s strong winds, Le Mistral, to blow through them instead of blowing them over.  Their sound carries for miles.  They usually top the town hall or church, but can even top  a rampart gate.  Many of the towers have a strong Italian influence (which isn’t too surprising given Provence’s proximity to France and considering parts of the Côte d’Azur belonged to France at one time).

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from the highway

Near Pont du Gard

The bellowers date from different eras, but most were built in the 17th and 19th centuries.  They were typically produced by local craftsmen.  Each designed and crafted the tower in their own particular style.  As a result, they vary dramatically in style.  Cool huh?

City Hall in Aix-en-Provence

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On the way to Gap

Barn House Combo

 
Animals put out heat.  To take advantage of their heat (and keep people from stealing them), people built housebarns.  I don’t need one because he puts out a lot of BTU‘s at night.
They never really caught on in the US, but they are all over the Canton of Fribourg (near the town of Gruyeres).  I love them.  
P.S. Those of you who play Farmville, please let me know if you can really purchase a Swiss Housebarn.  Muchas gracias…um…er… Merci beaucoup.