Showing posts with label virginia center for architecture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label virginia center for architecture. Show all posts

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Corsets and Helvetica

I needed a culture fix. Badly.

So I waited out the sudden rain shower, only to find that once I crossed Belvidere into Carver, everything was bone dry.

Funny how that happens.

Over on Monument Avenue at the Virginia Center for Architecture, the rain was just as absent.

Curious about the new exhibit, "Mutations: The DNA of 20th Century Design," I wanted to see who was worthy of being included.

They had me at the introduction, which stated, "There are notable omissions - please debate ferociously."

I like an exhibition with an attitude, but then it was curated by Roberto Venturo, from whom I once took a class on 20th century architecture called "Modern Romance," so I knew what a clever man he can be.

For that matter a piece of his art (with poet Joshua Poteat) hangs in my living room.

If he's at the root of this show, I'm in.

The exhibit was laid our chronologically by decade highlighting fashion designers, architects and graphic designers who defined each period.

Like designer Paul Poiret, a name I didn't know, but whose efforts I could appreciate since his dress designs liberated women from the constriction of Victorian-era corsets.

Thank you, Paul.

I already knew a fair amount about architect LeCorbusier, but I hadn't known of his insistence as far back as 1926 that all buildings have roof gardens to improve the air quality of city life.

I'm all for picking up that one and running with it again.

Nor had I learned that the famed Eames brothers, Charles and Ray, had been so obsessed with materials and craft in the '40s that when they tried to design a bent plywood chair and the tools and machinery to do so didn't exist, had designed them.

Their mother must have been so proud of such ingenuity.

I got a whole new perspective on Christian Dior's famous "New Look" in the '50s.

His designs were "unapologetically excessive," I read, sometimes employing as much as 50 yards of fabric in one dress.

What was most fascinating was the reason why; it was a reaction to wartime restrictions, a gesture of resilience post-war.

I thrive on that kind of cultural history.

Looking at Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building from 1958, it wasn't much of a stretch to envision women in beautifully excessive Dior dresses dating men who worked in such a modern building.

While I didn't recognize the name Saul Bass, his movie posters were completely familiar.

Hitchcock's "Vertigo," "The Man with the Golden Arm" and a movie I'd just recently seen for the first time, "Bonjour, Tristesse."

His place in film history was apparently assured by his pioneering title sequences in movies.

Now I know.

Another graphic designer whose name meant nothing but work resonated was Massimo Vignelli.

His system maps from the '70s defined D.C.'s Metro for me growing up.

Seems he'd also done the maps for the NYC subway and his geographically inaccurate but easy-to-read maps were known among the designing set for their use of Helvetica.

What I'm saying here is that this exhibit was chock full of nuggets of pop cultural literacy, pure catnip to a nerd like me.

But lest I appear completely self-centered, the exhibit was also a sterling lesson in how great design speaks to a moment in time.

It's only when design lingers in the collective consciousness because it captures the spirit of the best ideas, expressions and practices of a particular time that it becomes timeless.

I don't know who'd want to ferociously debate that.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Show Me Something Good

Give me buildings, give me dresses, give me food and wine. I am so happy it's January and life as I know and need it has resumed.

I got the ball rolling at the Virginia Center for Architecture for the Design 2010 opening and reception. The competition awards recognition to the best examples of architecture, interior design and preservation projects from the last year, all done by Virginia firms. Go, local.

Each of the projects shown had merit (as judged by a jury), but some really caught my attention. An office building in a Baltimore, for instance, used waste metal panels from a local bike cog manufacturer to define a wall. Cool enough, but made all the more so by the fact that it was meant to reflect the strong bike culture in that office.

They even had one of the panels on display, which I was dying to touch, but the sign said not to (why, because I might hurt the metal?). What a clever and meaningful use for a waste product.

Winners included projects as diverse as the renovation of the 1818 Stephen Decatur house in Washington to the recent expansion of the VMFA, with buildings at UVA, Rice University and Washington and Lee in between.

The renovation of the Art Deco Henrico Theater was especially compelling, being so close to home. Paint analysis was used to determine the theater's original interior colors (red, orange and silver) and both the carpet and wall tile were meticulously recreated to ensure historical accuracy. Now I know I need to see that theater for myself.

Having satisfied my architecture jones, I left to meet a friend at Amuse. To my surprise, the Wearable Art fashion show was in full progress, having been rescheduled from its original date due to snow.

We arrived at the perfect time to catch the last catwalk featuring all the models and designers in their finery. The atrium was packed with family and friends of the high-school designers and models involved, but we managed to find a place from which to take it all in.

The outfits were, for the most part, over the top in the way that only fashion designed for haute couture or by high school students can be. Lots of bubble dresses, trains and enormous accessories, all wildly impractical.

Two things struck me. One was the prevalence of male designers; there were plenty of teen aged guys willing to show their designing talents to the world.

Second was the contrast between the models and designers. For the most part, the designers dressed in a completely low-key manner and loped behind their creatively-garbed models who strutted for all they were worth.

From there we dodged people to make it upstairs to a packed Amuse. Bartender Stephen greeted me as we sat down at two center stools. We heard about the cocktail of the evening (lemon and lime juices, Maker's Mark and a splash of Bordeaux) and ordered one to share, finding it pretty and surprisingly tasty.

Friend did the ordering duties, choosing the 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon and the cheese plate so we would be fortified for some good chatting since it had been a while since our last in-depth conversation.

She told me about her new position, I explained why I still haven't started dating, she shared her insight on several people she knows better than I do and we talked about restaurants, new and old. Some topics never die.

We tasted some faux absinthe (I tell you, it's everywhere lately) as well as the new Wasmund's rye spirit, a single malt rye from Rappahannock. And then the place was suddenly flooded with light.

No one was sure what caused it, but several customers called it "cruel" and the staff scrambled to dim the lights, no easy maneuver given that the lighting system is French and no one fully understands how to work it. But we were about ready to go anyway, so we paid up and I thanked Stephen for yet another excellent evening at Amuse.

As the guy sitting a stool away had acknowledged to me earlier, "This is the best bar in the neighborhood." I know what he means.

We decided to make Six Burner our ending point and slid in just in time to get a plate of fried oysters in a creamy sriracha sauce before the kitchen closed. The three tables around us provided the low-key chatter to accompany the Motown soundtrack as we ate.

I couldn't have been more pleased to see that the featured red was Warwick Pinotage, one of my very favorite grapes (gamy, smokey and, according to friend's superior nose, "smells like bacon") and a shoe-in to be my choice whenever I see it on a menu (which is not nearly often enough).

Bartender Josh kept us amused with tales of recording rap bands, recent road trips and rock god posturing. He also asked me what good shows were coming up, the same thing my friend had asked me just minutes before. What do I look like, a walking music calendar?

You're not seeing the full picture, my friends. It isn't only about music, but it does have to grab me.

Like cog panels, bubble dresses and local rye. It just has to be interesting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nosey, But Heart-Healthy

Who doesn't like a peek where you're not supposed to go? Well, perhaps well-behaved types, but I must not be one of them.

Tonight the Virginia Center for Architecture was hosting a holiday open house, significant because the second floor of the Branch House (where the VCA is housed) was going to be open to the public. And this public wanted a room (or ten) with a view.

Now I've been to the VCA many times and I've even taken the tour of the Branch House, but I'd never seen anything but the main floor where the exhibitions are held. I was chomping at the bit to see what was behind the curtain.

Like so many Richmonders, I find the Branch House fascinating. The concept of building a 63-room house with eleven levels for living in for only four months of the year (simply for the social season, darling, September through January) speaks to a level of wealth beyond my comprehension.

The Branches had an extensive collection of Italian tapestries and antiques (no doubt from living in their Florence house) and the individual rooms were designed to accommodate specific collections. At least that's how they justified it.

I loved the warmth of the wood-paneled music room, which was also used as a gentlemen's smoking parlor. At the time, it was hung with wall tapestries to hide the liquor cabinets built into the walls (it being Prohibition and all), despite the plethora of speakeasies on Monument Avenue (who knew?).

A photograph in the room showed a harp situated in a corner near the window, ready for musical evenings with the leaded windows open. How very civilized.

Mrs. Branch's bedroom was enormous with extensive decorative motifs in cream and blue; it held Addams period antiques. There were no closets in her room because they were on the third floor (taking up nearly a third of that floor, so she must have been quite the snappy dresser), but there was a butler's pantry just next door for the preparation of Mrs. B's breakfast.

Also up there were the servants' quarters as well as the rooms for the grandchildren (why see them or hear them if you don't have to?).

Our guide mentioned that Mrs. B never laid eyes on any of this because she never went higher than the second floor (no need to clearly), which says volumes.

I was beyond surprised to be shown the outlet for the central vacuum cleaning system, a feature I would not have guessed would have been in existence in 1919. With enough money ($160,000 in 1916 dollars) though, I suppose anything was possible.

Probably the most striking feature of the second floor was the living room ceiling, made from a combination of molds, carvings and stencils, white and vaulted.

It was a study in contrasts, however, with the molds chosen from a sample book but the artisans brought over from Europe to do the intricate work.

Upon walking upstairs, I had been joined by another would-be snoop who, much like me, said his primary purpose in coming out tonight had been to see the elusive second floor.

We were partners in crime, opening doors (many with large brass rings rather than doorknobs) and cabinets to satisfy our curiosity together. It was illuminating hearing the guide's information and it was just as cool to check out all the unexplained stuff on our stealth tour.

The reception downstairs had live music, food, drink and socializing, but after the high of playing sleuth in an historic house, not much could compare, so I enjoyed some time in the museum shop and then headed out.

Now that the safety/beautification project has been completed at Shepherd and Cary, I ventured back to Secco for dinner. As usual, it was mobbed, but with just one empty bar stool mid-bar, I was all set.

The sudden shift to December weather made red wine a requirement so I put myself in mind of the south of Spain with the 2009 Verasol Monastrell (also with Cabernet and Syrah) and was not disappointed.

My frozen bones must have been evident on arrival because my server (new Dad Lincoln) asked if my hands were cold and when I nodded yes, returned with a glass of hot water "Don't drink it. wrap your hands around it," he instructed. It's the little things.

Wanting to extend the warmth even further, I ordered a bowl of the ribollita with cranberry beans and farro.

It was a hearty Tuscan vegetable soup and, as owner Julia pointed out, dangerously close to vegan if not for the abundance of grated Parmesan on top of all that beautiful kale. A big hunk of soaked bread awaited me at the bottom of the bowl; now I was warm.

My second course was dealer's choice meat and cheese: Langa la tur (Italian sheep, goat and cow milk cheese), Sottoconcre (Italian semi-soft with ash-dusted rind) and Jamon Iberico (that tastiest of Spanish acorn-fed ham). Dealer's choice works for me because otherwise, I'll just ask for the stinkiest cheese on the list and never try anything subtle. Force it on me and I'll love it.

It was during this course that I started chatting up my neighbor, a woman who had recently closed her retail shop to go back into the corporate world. When asked if she read, she shook her head no. "But 2011 is the year I get my life back," she proclaimed, raising a glass.

Given that she said the only thing she's had time to do for the past few years was watch "Glee" and sleep, I'd say she was overdue for a change. I don't recall the last time someone told me that becoming a corporate drone was their goal, but I sincerely wished her all the best.

I got sucked into a discussion of relationships and dating with a couple of nearby females, with occasional input from our male server. I found myself mostly listening, being newly returned to this world, but curious about their recent experiences nonetheless.

One asked why she knew so many smart and amazing women unable to find good guys. That was an answer I was curious to hear, but no one seemed to have one. I've been gone a while, but maybe there are just too many single women?

I didn't need dessert, but since I was raised in a family where dessert was a nightly occurrence, I feel safe in saying it's just a genetic pre-disposition that makes me order it when I'm full, which I was. And that was even after the preserves with the cheese had sated my sweet tooth. No two ways about it, I am weak.

Well warmed by then, I decided to get the olive oil gelato with rosemary sorbet to finish things off. The mouthfeel of the gelato was just this side of obscene with its rich, dense flavor and texture. Don't judge; I was just following a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil's heart- healthy fat. Yea, right.

After all, I wouldn't want to offer up anything but a healthy heart...assuming there are some spare men out there looking for one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Men, Men Everywhere

"Ruin your Thursday @ the VCA" the invitation read and I had every intention of doing just that. Tonight was the opening of American Ruins, a collection of almost 50 black and white images of ruins from the east coast to the west, showing at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

Arthur Drooker's photographs were artistic beauties, with crumbling walls and roofless columns framed by bare branches and leafy trees. I was shocked to learn that some of the ruins had been destroyed as recently as the last forty years; for some reason, I had presumed that these were long-time ruins, but then we're barely a long-time country. In most cases, fire was the culprit.

The Virginia ruins site represented on the walls was Barboursville and their winery was pouring tonight, but the exhibit is worth checking out even without a touch of the grape. It's up through the end of November. I even took the time to stroll the back garden of the Branch House for the first time tonight. It's a lovely, tranquil place.

As always, the opening was mainly male (architecture being male-dominated, I suppose). Of note was that I only ran into one person I knew (and fortunately I wasn't wearing black), but he knows me well enough to ask what the rest of my evening held. Telling him reminded him that he had also intended to be at my next stop (I'm as good as a calendar reminder sometimes).

That stop was The Empress for the Richmond Business Alliance champagne reception to celebrate the launch of the city's online directory of LGBT-friendly businesses. The Empress was being publicly designated as such tonight and the room was full of other LGBT business people. For the most part, it was a room full of attractive well-dressed men well-versed on all kinds of interesting topics.

I talked theater with actors and directors, restaurants with a real estate agent, and local bands with a writer. I loaned a book about coffee to a fellow blogger. I ate some of Chef Carly's delicious appetizers and sipped bubbles from bottom-heavy glasses. I like to think I was an asset to the party (Kevin, correct me if I'm wrong here).

Everyone wanted to know my connection since I don't own a business, so I shared my ties to the sponsor. My only regret was that I didn't get to stay for the cake, but happily I did satisfy my sweet tooth with a taste of the frosting and it was to die for. That's all I'm saying.

I had to cut out early and leave such charming company and such a culturally significant event in RVA to catch the opening band at the Canal Club, Marionette. These locals have been on a roll this summer, opening for The National, the Whigs and now Tortoise. It's the kind of resume-building a local band dreams of.

For the first time in years, the show was held upstairs instead of on the downstairs stage and no one seemed to know why. The show had originally been scheduled for the National, but a NASCAR-related corporate event had trumped Tortoise and they'd been moved to the smaller venue. Driving down to the show, I'd seen a lit-up race car in front of the National and a line of people down the block.

And given the size of the crowd, the Canal Club was big enough. Despite Tortoise's 20-year music-making history, the crowd was surprisingly small. Two different people said to me, "I'm disappointed in Richmond," referring to the low attendance.

But the fans who came were devoted and almost all of them were male. What we can glean from this is that jazz and prog rock-influenced post-rock bands are favored by those with a Y chromosome. A musician friend (a drummer) said that they are a drummer's band as a way of explaining all the guys.

A female attendee said to me, "It's all dudes, which is cool, but they're so into the music they don't want to talk to a chick." I gathered that she was saying that it was not a good place to pick up a guy. Luckily I wasn't there for that.

The band was tight, all excellent musicians and I liked all the percussion. A musician friend was turned off by the extensive use of synthesizers, but loved the vibes. But when it came right down to it, I just didn't possess enough testosterone to fully appreciate Tortoise it seemed. They were good, but they weren't rocking my world.

Walking to my car after the second encore, two guys almost bumped into me coming out of Wonderland. One said, "Don't you love this weather?" to which I said no and placed my cold hand on his arm.

"Damn!" he said. "Where's your wristband from?" I told him the Canal Club. "Aww, man, the Tortoise show? Was it awesome?"

He was a guy. He knew Tortoise was playing even if he hadn't gone to the show. I knew what I had to say.

"Yea, it was awesome," I told him. "Why weren't you there?"

A look of pure male guilt crossed his face. It was the perfectly appropriate ending for my Tortoise experience.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Learning How to Out-Drink the Guys

I'd spent the last four Thursdays at my Modern Romance class at the Virginia Center for Architecture. So tonight, for the first time in a month, I was free to start my Thursday evening anywhere I chose. So where did I end up but at the opening off the new exhibit Glass Ceilings: Women in Architecture at, no surprise, the VCA, but it was completely worth the return visit.

Given the male domination of the architecture field, the women who have made names for themselves were not run-of-the-mill types. Nobiko Nakahara visited a firm back in the 50s, asking for a job. She was told that it was a ten-person office but if she could redesign the space to accommodate eleven desks, she'd be hired. Of course she succeeded, but why do I doubt that a man would have been challenged in the same way?

Another female architect told the story of the ongoing issue of not getting any respect on construction sites, despite being the architect of the project. She finally asked the foreman how she could win them over. "Out-drink them," she was told. She went home and asked her mother and a nurse how best to accomplish this. Her mother advised her to eat a big fatty meal to line her stomach first. The nurse gave her a bottle of cod liver oil to take hourly in the bathroom, thus allowing her to throw up what she'd just drank. Between the two, she held her own and gained their respect.

Besides being a learning experience, the opening was a good night to be a wine drinker. Barboursville was pouring tonight and I made sure to try the rose, the perfect pink wine to accompany an exhibit about females. At least, that's how I justified it. It was a blend of one of Virginia's best-growing grapes, Cabernet Franc, with Merlot and Barbera and as good a reason as any to drink pink.

I followed all that girl talk with dinner at a friend's and while she's female, the other three guests were not. It was a casual meal of chili and cornbread, but the chili was a standout. Made with spicy venison sausage, it had all kinds of veggies and even garbanzo beans in it, enough variety anyway to appall a chili purist. But with big hunks of steaming cornbread, it was as deliciously satisfying a meal as I could have hoped for, especially after my pink cocktail hour.

One of the guests was from NYC and spending a week in RVA, so I was curious about his take on us. He remarked on the friendliness of the people and I naturally asked him about which restaurants he'd eaten at (come on, I had to know). Sadly, a mutual friend had taken him to Chili's at VCU, undoubtedly the worst possible representation of a Richmond bar; he was underwhelmed, as well he should be. He'd loved 821 Cafe and Black Sheep though.

I had brought the dessert, a chocolate torte, which is insanely rich and meant to be served in 1/4" slices. Not with these guys; they each had an inch and a half piece and finished it off in about four bites. My dessert for twelve was decimated in moments, but they all raved about it and how well it went with the beer.

And since I wasn't about to try to out-drink them, that was enough respect for me. But then, I'm not a female architect.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anything Goes at Avalon

Tonight was the last night of my Modern Romance class, so I finally discovered what happens after the First Kiss, True Love, and Broken Hearts.

And the final stage of a modern romance is...drum roll...anything goes!

As I can attest, you can go through those first three stages and any number of outcomes are possible, good, painful and bad.

My plan going forward is to revel in the first two categories, skip the third and replace anything goes with a happy ending.

But, of course, we're talking about architecture here and tonight's class was about the years 1980-2000, the period representing the death of modernism's dogmatic point of view and the opening up of numerous viewpoints.

We'll call it post-modernism; it's the years when the focus was on how architects shifted from an emphasis on problem-solving to an attitude of opportunity finding.

Like in a relationship, it was all about how you look at these moments when they present themselves.

This week's after-school snack was at Avalon with a friend who wanted to discuss architecture, romance and fancy food, a category he thinks Avalon falls into because of the abundance of ingredients listed for each item on the menu.

Personally, I like any place that offers small plates and since he always defers to my choice of restaurants, he just has to sift through the menu for dishes that don't contain something on his "will not eat" list, like beets and Brussels Sprouts.

He did so as the bartender opened a bottle of the Fantail Pinotage for our quaffing pleasure.

Okay, so Avalon does use long-winded ingredient descriptions.

My salad read as: watercress with golden raisins, blackberries, crispy toasted pumpkin seeds and Hooks 1 year bleu cheese chunks with nutmeg vinaigrette.

I just asked for the blue cheese salad and let it go at that.

My friend ordered the deconstructed tuna sushi roll: ginger sticky rice wrapped in a wasabi pickle slice and ahi tuna with carrot coulis and a soy, rice wine gastrique.

Then he turned to me and asked, "Why they gotta deconstruct it and what does that even mean?"

I explained, knowing the man had a point about the overly descriptive names, but both dishes were excellent so what's a little extra reading?

Then we both moved on to the Chorizo course.

He followed seafood with seafood, namely the Littleneck clams with Spanish Chorizo and fennel in almond, pine nut and sherry broth with focaccia.

The broth was incredibly rich and creamy, and ideal for soaking the bread in; I know because he insisted I try it.

My plate of richness came in the form of Spanish Chorizo over saffron Israeli cous cous with Parmesan cheese.

Luckily I'd had the sense to order the small plate of this and not the entree because it was decadent.

Dessert was sharing the chocolate rum pate with berries while discussing other restaurants.

He and a date had been to a play I'd recommended with a pre-performance dinner at, of all places, Bill's BBQ behind CVS.

I made a limeade crack and he was quick to tell me about the new bar at Bill's, where you can now enjoy your limeade with the refreshing addition of gin, vodka or rum.

He questioned the owner about the origin of this brilliant stroke, only to be told, "People been doing it in their cars for years, so why not us?"

Don't you just love the corruption of a Richmond tradition?

Limeades all around!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The RVA Landscape

I'm a big fan of the Virginia Center for Architecture, a.k..a. The Branch House, on Monument Avenue at Davis. I

've seen every exhibit they've mounted and frequently attend the lectures and talks they put on.

It doesn't hurt that the audiences for these events tend to be predominately male.

Not that I'm anywhere close to ready to date, but there's an outside chance that that might potentially change.



Okay, highly doubtful.

So, at tonight's lecture, "The Richmond Landscape," I was surprised to see a very different demographic.

There was an entire VCU class, mostly female, and quite a few couples, which I can totally appreciate, shared interests and all that good stuff.

Still, it wasn't the usual lecture landscape.

The slide lecture itself was really quite interesting because of the wonderful historic images we got to see.

There were old city plot maps, diagrams of the layers of sedimentary rock in RVA, downtown Main Street looking like something out of the wild, wild west.

And the urban core of Richmond, then and now, is exactly what you would expect: Powhite to Fulton Bottom, Cary to Broad.

But enough of that demographic geekiness.

It's time for some music.