Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain


Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

By Steven Wright

Barcelona is a great travel destination for many reasons. The coast is lined with beautiful beaches, marinas, restaurants and services for sun worshipers and water enthusiasts alike. The Port of Barcelona is a departure hub for many cruise ships sailing the Mediterranean and beyond. There is ferry service to Ibiza, Mallorca and other Spanish ports as well as great rail and air links to the rest of Europe. Combined with the Catalan culture, great shopping, UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums, galleries and even siesta, you might find yourself wanting to extend your stay.

The beaches between La Barceloneta and the Olympic Port are the busiest so I would suggest heading there early in the day to grab your desired location. There are cabanas, umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent all over the beach as well as locals offering cervezas and massage services. You can walk along the promenade from one end of the beach to the other, at the base of the promenade along the beach there are areas for you to work-out and shower, grab a bite to eat, or rent any number of items from bicycles and Segways to sailboats and jet skis.

You have reached the modern Olympic Port when you discover El Pez (The Fish) by Frank O. Gehry. The sculpture is one of Gehry’s first public projects and was the anchor for the Olympic Village during the 1992 summer games. The fish is an inspiration for Gehry and has used this theme in many buildings including the DZ Bank at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Gehry’s fish are also featured in his jewelry line for Tiffany & Co. It is amazing to visit El Pez at sunset, the reflection of the setting sun on the metal latticed structure provides amazing photo opportunities.

The Olympic Port includes some retail shopping and restaurants with amazing patios overlooking the beach towards La Barcelonetta. Here you can also find the Gran Casino De Barcelona and the Hotel Arts Barcelona.

Look for Roy Lichtenstein’s Barcelona Face sculpture off Passeig Colom where La Barcelonetta and Port Veil meet. Shop vendors and artists selling there wares in an open air market in Plaça de Pau Vila.  Continue down Passeig de Joan de Borbó filled with small hotels and restaurants serving fresh seafood to reach the beach. The W Barcelona resembling a ships sail anchors the start of this section of beach that extends down to the Olympic Port and the Gehry fish.

Here you can get the best view of the beach and the city by taking a ride on Teleférico del Puerto, a cable-car crossing the harbour from Barceloneta (Torre de Sant Sebastià) to Montjuïc. At Montjuïc seize the opportunity to have an amazing view of Barcelona, this bird’s eye view gives you the opportunity to pick out other attractions you have seen including the Sagrada Familia, the Tibidabo Amusement Park and Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús del Tibidabo.

The Montjuïc area is filled with amazing parks including the Jardines Mossèn Costa i Llobera, the Barcelona Succulent Garden which is located just minutes from the cable car. The planting and variety of plants is incredible and a must for any succulent lover.

From the cable car head down Avingunda de Miramar to access additional cable cars taking you further up Montjuïc or to reach the Olympic Ring or Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Along the way stop at Fundació Joan Miró – Joan Miró Foundation, here you can see a comprehensive collection of his work and learn more about the Spanish painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona.

Montjuïc was a big part of the 1992 Olympic Games and housed many Olympic events at the Olympic Ring.  You can find the Olympic Stadium – Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc and Piscines Bernat Picornell – the pools which give visitors the opportunity to swim  some Olympic sized laps during their visit. The Olympic Ring can be found where Avingunda de Miramar turns into Avingunda de l’Estadi.

The Passeig de Santa Madrona off of Avingunda de Miramar will lead you to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – The National Museum of Catalan Art. The museum collection is just one draw to this location. The front of the holds a number of large staircases leading from the museum down to Avingunda de la Reina Maria Cristina and here is where you will find the star attraction.

From April 30 to September 30 at 9:30 PM on Thursday through Sunday the magic fountain of Montjuïc comes to life. Tourists and locals flock to Placa Espanya and line the streets and area around the fountain for the nightly show. Choreographed to music the fountains change colour, mist, spray and shoot water amazing the crowds. Only bring the essentials, and keep valuables out of sight, the area is prime for pickpockets.

Photo Gallery:
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain
Spain Posts:
Sunny Sitges, Relax & Play in this Hotspot
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Walking with Gaudi
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona

By Steven Wright

Tourists and locals flock to La Rambla for a lively shopping experience, from the Mirador de Colon to Plaça Catalunya, walk the tree lined boulevard and enjoy shops, street performers, street vendors or grab a large sangria on one of the patios and watch the people pass by. Day and night the area is very lively and there is always something to see.

Start at the Mirador de Colon or Columbus Monument, walk through the many artists who have set up booths to sell their jewelry, paintings and other tourist keep sakes. You can also sit to have a caricature or pencil sketch done. The pedestrian walkway then opens up to provide street vendor booths on either side of the walkway and stores line either side of the street. There is a wide variety of things to purchase from the vendors, everything from pet stores, garden stores, variety stores with souvenirs, fruit and vegetable stands and gelato stands, just to name a few.

In between the vendor booths are a number of elaborately costumed street performers. They draw crowds around them as they turn from statuesque to very animated when their cup is fed with Euros. There are many throughout the strip and you can feel anticipation in the crowds each time one starts their act. Pose for a picture to remember your experience. Be sure to keep your wallet in a safe place, or use a travel wallet, pickpockets can take advantage of your distraction.

Venture into Mercat de La Boqueria at La Rambla, 91. Its known as one of the best markets in the world. You can shop fresh fruit and vegetable stands, cheese shops, butchers, fish mongers and much more. Grab a table at one of the busy restaurants and socialize with the locals. Don’t forget to stop at the bakery on the way out, get some take away sweets or warm bread to snack on. You can save it for later, but it is better fresh!

There are 2 Spanish retailers that I love to visit on this strip: Desigual and Springfield. Both of these brands are prominent in Europe but less so in North America. There are Desigual stores all over Barcelona, but the mother store sits at the top of La Rambla, 136. The store is massive and has two levels filled with men’s, women’s and kid’s clothing, and there is a large discounted area at the back. The store is filled with brightly coloured prints and modern cut denim, boxes are overflowing with t-shirts and scarves and belts. You have to scour the entire store to find your treasure, but its worth the effort. I left with 2 hoodies, 3 shirts and some briefs – all at 1/2 price.

Right next store is Springfield, again there are other stores in Barcelona, but this one is the largest. There is women’s clothing on the main level and men’s is on the second level. Springfield has a great collection of basics; retro graphic t-shirts, coloured prints on shorts, amazing jackets, socks, underwear and pajamas. There is even a shoe store built in. I shop Springfield all over Europe.

Once you reach Plaça Catalunya, there are larger retailers around the perimeter of the square including many shoe retailers and one of my favorite department stores C&A. It’s worth a walk down Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel to look at the street vendor booths. My sister left with 3 skirts from a local designer and all of her friends are jealous of her collection. Stop and grab a gelato before continuing on for the day.

Passeig de Gràcia‎ is where to find the luxury brands including Hugo Boss, Escada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and more. Passeig de Gràcia‎ is also the location of 2 of the Gaudi greats; Casa Batlló and Casa Milà – “La Pedrera”, watch for them as you shop the street. Luxury shopping continues on Avinguda Diagonal.
Visit the El Born district and shop the winding streets and alleys between Carrer de la Princesa and Carrer de l’Argenteria. Here you will find quaint boutiques, hip trendy stores, and local designers. Kukuxumusu at Argenteria, 69 is one of my favorites. You can spend lots of time in this store admiring and giggling at their creative designs. It is a great place to get your unique Barcelona souvenirs.
The area becomes even more lively at night with many Tapas restaurants and bars with patios in the squares. This is a great place to do some early evening shopping before grabbing a sangria on the patio. Stay for some great Tapas at one of our favorite spots La Taverna del Born. The food is fast and fresh and the service is outstanding.
Note: You might have noticed I’ve mentioned gelato once or twice already, but gelato also makes a great dessert and can be an excellent refresher in the Spanish heat. There are hundreds of places offering this delicious treat, and I encourage you to try all the flavors to make sure you don’t miss a potential favourite.

Walking with Gaudi

By Steven Wright

Barcelona is filled with the influence of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi. Many of the buildings in the city pay homage to his use of wrought iron, mosaic tile, and organic lines with reference to nature and God. Any trip to Barcelona is not complete without spending some time admiring these UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Parc Güell
Getting to Parc Güell is a bit of a hike, whether you arrive by tour bus or metro, there is still a climb to get to the entrance of the park, but I promise the climb pays off. The first thing you notice is the oddly shaped, brightly coloured rooves of the buildings inside the fence, especially the chimneys, organic shapes I have seen before. The wall that leads you to the gate is adorned with mosaic tile nameplates announcing you have arrived at your destination.

Take notice of the intricate wrought iron gates as you enter the park, through the gates there are a few buildings that look as though they were off the set of an animated movie, inside you will find souvenirs and washrooms. There are two grand staircases around gardens with mosaic tiled sculptures and fountains leading you upwards. You arrive at a large room that was dug into the hillside on the next level, with numerous dominating pillars holding up the level above. As you explore this area, you are shaded from the sun and the further you travel back, you notice the sea breeze circling around the room providing natural air conditioning giving purpose to this space. My Mother decided to hang out here while we explored the park, when we returned she was chatting up a whole group of people who took this area as a great place to relax and socialize.

Climb another set of stairs to have an incredible panoramic view of the city and the sea. You are overwhelmed in both the beauty of Barcelona and in the incredible amount of colour in the mosaic tiled seating around the entire structure; each section is uniquely patterned throughout the incredible landing. Continue to explore the walkways throughout the park to discover more Gaudi buildings, incredible sized Agave growing of the sides of the rock cliffs, and artists selling their wares. Park Güell seems like it was Gaudi’s lab, the testing ground for many of his techniques.

Entrance to the park is free and is frequented by both locals and tourists so I would suggest going early to beat the crowds and the afternoon sun.
Metro: Lesseps and follow the signs

Casa Vicens
Located at Carrer de les Carolines 24, Casa Vicens was Gaudi’s first important work. Today it continues to be a private residence, but the residents are open to the numbers of admirers that come to see the exterior of house and grounds. Move to the side of the house to find a small chapel at the back of the property, where you can light a candle and reflect.
Metro: Lesseps or Fontana

Casa Milà – “La Pedrera
Located at Passeig de Gràcia 92, La Pedrera is a high end residence building that stands out along this luxury shopping area. The structure is organic in design with rounded corners, brilliant wrought iron decoration, and an air of elegance. From the ground you notice brightly coloured tiles around organic shapes contrasting with a series of Roman Soldier sculptures on the roof of the building. Around the corner there is access to a tour of the roof and an apartment in the building. Once inside, you will pass through this rounded courtyard, with windows lining the walls to the roof. Notice the large metal and rounded glass door, the residents’ entrance to the building, before grabbing the elevator to continue the tour on the roof.

The roof feels like an artist studio. Walking up and down short staircases to see sculptures of Roman Soldiers, standing alone and in a group surrounding strategic posts on the roof. There is a series of chimneys, winding up through the roof giving interesting perspectives of the city through the diamond shape openings. You are then drawn to the egg shaped sculptures, brilliantly coloured, covered in mosaic tiles.

Heading back inside you are guided through the attic of the building. It’s filled with the reference material Gaudi used to create and build. There are models and other interesting displays leading to what I consider the gem of this tour. You enter into a 2 bedroom suite, complete with 2 kitchens, and a maid’s quarters all set up at the era of the building. I was struck with the amazing use of space, the long hallway connecting all of the rooms, the incredible light pouring into the suite and of course the view of the city beyond the suite. This is a great opportunity to get a full Gaudi experience.
Metro: Passeig de Gràcia or Diagonal

Casa Batlló
Down the street at Passeig de Gràcia 43. find Casa Batlló. Brilliantly coloured on the exterior with an incredibly beautiful roof line and chimneys. Look down to see that Gaudi even had the sidewalk changed. Best viewed from the opposite side of the street, there is a tour as well.
Metro: Passeig de Gràcia or Diagonal

Sagrada Familia
Tourists and the faithful line up for hours to get into Sagrada Familia, the church that has been under construction for the last 128 years and is estimated to be under construction until at least 2026. You first notice the 8 spires of the building leading to the sky, they are surrounded by multiple cranes that will continue to build the 4 remaining spires. The building is very complex, even from the outside, if you’re with a group I would suggest having someone keep your spot and take the time to walk around the exterior, 2 of the 3 exteriors are complete. Everywhere you look is something else amazing from the structure, to the windows, and the stones and bricks holding up the spires.

All of a sudden you discover the Nativity facade, amazing intricate detail carved into stone, covering the whole side of the church is the story of the birth of Jesus. You can spend hours looking at the detailed forms brought to life in the artists rendering. It is breathtaking and beautiful and it is almost overwhelming to take it all in. At the very top see a Gaudi coloured Christmas tree with doves flying out of it.

As you get to the entrance you are struck by the passion facade, numerous stoic, hard angled sculptures with harsh tool marks for finish, made to represent the Passion of Christ and the sins of men. Two massive metal doors covered in words from the Bible in many languages are the entrance into this heavenly space.

Once in the cathedral, you are awestruck, you feel like you are in a forest of light. The pillars holding up the roof look like tree trunks and that you are walking through an arbor created by trees. The altar is filled with light as the sun shines through roof window surrounded by a gold. Religious or not, this space can make you believe.

There are a couple of museums on site with more Gaudi information and some artifacts that have been put on display for safe keeping. You can also take an elevator up the spires to walk along the roof and climb down a circular staircase beck to the cathedral.
Metro: Sagrada Familia

Photo Gallery:
Click to see my Gaudi Barcelona Gallery

Spain Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Sunny Sitges, Relax & Play in this Hotspot
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe