Monday, September 27, 2010

Custom House

Designed by architect James Gandon and built in 1791, it was once considered the city's most important public building.  The original interiors were destroyed in 1921 when the IRA set fire to the buiding in an attempt to disrupt British rule in Ireland. 

There is a lingering air about this building that is palpable, almost as if the Irish wanted to forget about the violence of the past conflict that this building is a persistent reminder.  Perhaps it is the mismatched Ardbraccan limestone used in the reconstruction of the central dome that creates this aura of an uneven synthesis, even perhaps symbolic of the differences between the British and the Irish themselves.

The Old Library at Trinity College

September 27.  After successfully returning my rental car, taking the bus from the airport to center city and locating my hotel yesterday, I took it easy last night and walked around just to get my bearings, leaving the touring until today.  I found Trinity College this morning and was fortunate enough to see the exhibit of the Book of Kells at the Old Library. There were wall sized illuminated reproductions of some of the folio pages. Under glass, were the preserved originals.  Absolutely fantastic.  Ever since I went to Trinity College in Hartford where I minored in Medieval and Renaissance studies, I have been interested in monastic culture and art.  The sophistication of the art of these monks is unbelievable. 

Incredibly complex curvilinear designs and thematic Christian symbolism.  The script in the original manuscript is just beautiful.  It occured to me how the spirals of Bru na Boinne had evolved into this form.  I suspect that the same artistic and spiritual tradition, now lost, were perpetuated by the same culture over millenia.  The inside of the Old Library, where no photos were permitted, was just awesome.  Thousands and thousands of books, all alphabetically arranged in high shelves, under a wood framed barrel-vaulted ceiling.  Truly a treasure trove of knowledge and history. 

 I walked around the campus and took these photos.  Elm trees and grass quads reminiscent of my alma mater, though architecturally quite different. 

This is after all the original .

RTE Campus

September 26.  After leaving Bru na Boinne, I needed to return the rental back to the airport.  I made a point to drive to see the RTE Campus before I did, as its location was well beyond walking distance from the city center.  It was an interesting route to get there, as it involved going through the tunnel and by the port.  RTE is the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Corporation of Ireland.  Ireland's BBC if you will.  The Campus was designed in 1973 by the Irish architectural firm Scott Tallon Walker and represented a "new level of aspiration for the Irish state's rhetoric of modernization."  Miesian, by definition.  Of course, for the uninvited tourist, the campus proved to be more secure than Fort Knox.  I drove up to the security checkpoint in the "visitors" lane.  The guard said that no visitors were allowed.  I responded by saying "I understand, thank you sir" and backed out whereupon I parked on a nearby side street and scoped out the campus from the street. 
I found an unguarded pedestrian entrance and walked down the path and was able to take a few pictures.  As I approached the right flank of the guard shack, the guard came out and said "I told you, no visitors" and an unarmed guard approached me hurriedly on my right flank.  He accosted me and said, "Do you have permission to take pictures?"  And I said "No".  He said "What do you need pictures for?"  I then explained that I was studying the architecture of Ireland, and that this building was considered iconic.  Fortunately, he seemed to accept this explanation and let me go.  He suggested that I contact corporate affairs to arrange for a tour of the facility.  Of course, I didn't want to go through all that, as interesting as it might have been.  I am learning that you don't want to tango with any Irish officials, Gardai or not. 

I found this whole diversion to be well worth it, as even in the limited viewpoints, I found the architecture to be unique in its layout and scope.  Many buildings all connected by bridges and walkways.  

Bru na Boinne

September 26.  Bru na Boinne provided me a good deal to ponder.  What a miraculously spiritual place.  The energy here was overwhelming.  I visited Newgrange first.  What is prominently seen today is a controversial  reconstruction of the white quartz stone into a wall.  I agree with the Knouth interpretation that this quartz would have provided a decorative apron terrace rather than a wall.  This is the only passage tomb where visitors are allowed to enter.  I was impressed by the skill of the ancient megalithic masons who were able to engineer and construct a corbled vault that has stood for more than 5000 years.  Not only that, these people had the skill to carve intricate designs into the rocks.  As we walked into the chamber, I took a vantage point that happened to be right next to an intricately carved fern leaf.  Stunning, and the only one of its kind anywhere in the chamber.  Many of the other designs featured spirals and curvilinear shapes.  Newgrange has a window that precisely aligns with the sunrise on the winter solstice.  See above picture.  Certainly, the ancients were in touch with the stars, and their knowledge of astronomy was profound.  As the agricultural society developed, the calendar became an essential tool.  Observation of the sun was how the year was measured.  The monoliths surrounding the burial mound seem to provide an obvious reference for the movement of the sun, the shadow. 
As the sun moves across the sky, the position of the shadow changes as well.  The interesting part is how spirituality must have driven them to exert enormous amounts of effort to build monuments of staggering proportions.  The foundation rocks are huge, and some weigh up to 10 tonnes.
  Knouth is the largest of the chamber tombs and was the highlight of the day. 
I climbed the stairs to the strategic viewpoint at the top of the mound where generations of towns had been founded and destroyed over several millennia of occupation.  I had a compass, and observed that the entrance passage was indeed aligned to the east.  The views were fantastic, and I took one from each of the cardinal directions for reference

West.  The Boyne river winds its way towards Slane. 
Along this river was the site of the great battle between the Williamite and Jacobite armies where 60,000 men fought in 1690 where William's victory resulted in a continuation of Protestant rule in Ireland.
South.  You can see Newgrange to the SW.  East was obscured by a tree, but Dowth is over that way.
Excellent park as well, with top notch facilities and guides.  Certainly one of the great sites of the world and a must see for anyone who visits Ireland.

Glen da Lough

September 25.  Went to Glen da Lough and the Wicklow Mountains.  Checked out the hotel at 10:40 and drove into Bray.  Bray has quite an interesting selection of shops, including some back alley fishmongers.  Left Bray and navigated to Glen da Lough which was fairly straightforward.  Arrived there at 11:30 and got my gear  together.  Went to the visitor’s center to see about admission.    A nice gentleman informed me that is was free to walk the trails.  My first stop was the monastic city, founded in the 6th century.  There were many people there, so I had some difficulty in finding unobscured viewpoints.  I did however get some good shots of the round tower and St. Kevin’s Church.  These are at least 900 years old.
I tried to imagine what life would have been like for these monks.  For the first 600 years before the Anglo-Normans showed up, quite a nice life probably.  Plenty of space and communion with a serene lakeside natural setting.  God rules this place for sure.  The setting was reminiscent of the types of tarns one would find in the Cascades.  Glacial moraines surround the edges and steeply rising cliffs drop sharply not too far from the shoreline.  After checking out the monastic city, I ventured out into the forest.  I took a long hike up to the logging area.  I saw a red squirrel and a small deer.  Occasionally, I was startled by unfamiliar bird calls and animal noises.  It was a beautiful day, so I didn’t get freaked out.  I doubled back after reaching this gash in the hill, realizing that making it to the top was out of the question.
I continued on in another direction and made my way up to a nice vantage point overlooking the upper lake.
I then walked back down and found a pleasant waterfall. 
I followed this path down to the upper parking lot and had a muffin and some water and iced tea.  I was greeted by a man who was soliciting support for the mountain rescue.  It was a raffle for 2 Euros.  I bought a ticket.  Along the whole route, I encounter many foreigners, some Germans, some French, some Dutch and some Swedes. Most of the people were very nice, and I smiled and said hello to many of them.  After I ate, I walked down past the shoreline of the upper lake.  I continued on and made my back to the lower lake and monastic city area.
This is St. Kevin's Cross.  I got into my car around 3:00 pm.  From Glen da Lough, the route provided by my GPS turned into a beautifully scenic drive through the Wicklow mountains.  
Very sparse vegetation and vast open space surrounded by rolling peaks.  The road (113) was winding and narrow and proved to be a bit hard on my rental, but we made it through unscathed. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ireland Trip Log

I made it to Ireland at last.  Going through security was a bit of a pain, because the guard pulled me aside and unpack my carry on bag for some reason.  Boarded my flight from BWI to JFK at 4:55 PM.  Sat next to an entrepreneural specialty brewer who was on his way to Brussels for a beer convention.  Landed at JFK at 6:40 PM.  My flight to Dublin boarded at 10:55PM.  I took the opportunity to see as much of the airport as I could while I was there.  This meant leaving the Delta terminal and going back through security again.  Though I was reluctant to do this, it proved worthwhile.  I couldn't locate the Saarinen TWA terminal, but I did see some amazing construction that seemed to be modeled after the 1962 iconic design.  The above building is Terminal 4.  I then walked to the newest terminal housing Air Japan, Lufthansa and Air France. 
Really sophisticated engineering, and quite an awesome cavernous interior space.  I made it back to the Delta terminal and back through security with no problems.  My flight left from gate 14, and as I waited for the boarding, I tried the JFK wifi and was dismayed to learn that it wasn't free.  The flight to Dublin was quite uncomfortable and I couldn't sleep at all, though I really tried.  During the flight, it occured to me that my hotel reservation was booked for the wrong day.  No problem, just have to find a new hotel and pay a "no show" fee.  I was relieved to get off of the plane at 10:30 am local time.  My next challenge was getting past an overly zealous Irish immigration official who made me prove that I was worthy to enter Ireland.  His main objection was that I didn't have a return ticket.  I commented that I wanted to leave it open, because I wasn't sure how long my itinerary would take me.  This wasn't a sufficient enough explanation apparently, because then he asked me how much money I had and forced me to provide a bank statement.  I cooperated knowing full well that he could ruin my whole trip by deportation.  On showing him the proof, he relented and graciously stamped my passport with a one month allowance.  I was relieved.  My next challenge was finding a room for the night.  I carefully assessed the best locations, and decided on Bray, which is a seaside community south of Dublin.  I had to rent a car, which was a breeze, and got lucky with an automatic Toyota Corolla.  The clerk at the Budget rental desk was quite pleasant in contrast to the immigration official.  The GPS proved to be invaluable as I navigated the M50 and had no problems adjusting to driving on "the wrong side of the road".  In fact, I found the Irish drivers to be very sensible and a welcome contrast to the idiots I am accustomed to in DC. Arriving in Bray at 12:30, I checked into the Esplanade hotel.  A relatively inexpensive place right on the coast.  The clerk at the desk was also courteous and said that my room would be ready at 1:30 PM. 
This is the Esplanade hotel.  I took a stroll along the coast of the Irish sea and was envigorated by the gusting winds and the salty mist. 

I went into the hotel and was surrounded by a mob of French speaking students.  Fortunately, the clerk noticed me and said that my room was ready.  I was practically delirious and needed to clean up, so I was relieved to check into my room and get recharged.  I slept for 4 hours and went down to the bar to get something to eat.  I had the fish and chips which was excellent.  Tomorrow I am going to the monastic city of Glendalough and then will drive up north of Dublin to stay at a B&B in Navan, Meath County.  On Sunday, I am going to go to see Newgrange and the Boyne Valley.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Pentagon

Latitude: 38°52'15.00"N
Longitude: 77° 3'21.00"W
In order to tour the Pentagon, you must go through a simple security procedure and book a time slot at least 1 week in advance.  So, having always wanted to see the inside of the world's largest non-high rise office building, I prepared accordingly.  I rode the Metro to the Pentagon stop, and walked to the first checkpoint where there was a guard checking for the proper paperwork that consisted of an email saying "Congratulations!" and your tour number.  This took less than 1 minute and I was inside the building.  The tour departure point is a seating area near a souvenir boutique beyond a metal detector.  The guards were all armed with automatic weapons, so this is not a place where you want to seem suspicious.  I was relaxed and went to the ticket window where a clerk checked my name off of the list for the time slot.  My tour had about 20-25 people in it.  After about 20 minutes in the first area, they moved us to a theater seating area and gave us each a badge, where we were briefed on how to act (don't use the bathrooms, don't drink from the waterfountains, and just follow instructions).

 The marine guide was very good and well trained.  He attempted to make small talk with the group, which at times were awkwardly non-communcative, probably because they were intimidated.  This briefing took about 10-15 minutes.  The tour was fast paced and rather disorientating and I have no idea how we actually moved through the building.  I am fairly sure that we stayed in the outer ring "E" for most of the tour.  The corridors that we walked through were decorated with thematic memoribilia.  There was one for New Zealand / Australia and US cooperation, one filled with NATO flags,  one honoring the circumnavigation of the globe by the Navy, one honoring the military's peacetime contributions.  Pretty cool stuff.  We then went to the site of the 9/11 attack, where there is a memorial to the victims, both on the plane and in the building.  I was moved by it.  You can look out of the window and see the memorial garden where each victim is honored with a bench.  What a tragic waste of innocent life.  The guide mentioned that the recoonstruction was finished ahead of schedule and under budget due to the dedication and pride of the contractors.

What impressed me the most about the people of the Pentagon was the professionalism, efficiency and purpose that was displayed by every person I observed.  The building itself is a marvel of technology.  Over 100,000 miles of telephone wire for example.  The building was a rush job built during WW2, without steel, and is simply reinforced concrete block.  The windows are new, but very simple steel frames with BR glazing,  The 5 acre interior courtyard was pretty neat.  The guard mentioned that at the center was the former location of what was once considered "the most dangerous hot dog stand in the world" as many Russian nukes were aimed directly for it.  He also mentioned that at one time the stand covered a tunnel used by enemy agents to take info out without detection.  The end of the tour put us back in the lobby where there are two outstanding memorials to the victims of 9/11.  On one side is a flag quilt with all of the names, and on the opposite side each person's picture is displayed.

I left feeling proud and a believer in the code of conduct of the US military.  This building glows with honor and the personal sacrifices of thousands of individuals all working towaards a higher purpose.  Well worth the trip, and certainly a true reflection of how a building can encapsulate a culture.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hooper House II

Latitude: 39°23'8.45"N
Longitude: 76°38'45.23"W
Marcel Breuer's 1959 Hooper House is a gem of the Bauhaus legacy. Camouflaged along Lake Roland, the house goes unnoticed by the many trail walkers on the nearby path. I had to stealthily approach the house in order to get these pictures, which was fun, though I did at one point set off a motion sensor, that simply played music. Fortunately, no one was home. What a great house in a great location. This is a seven bedroom house, stables, an underground garage and maids' accomodations that is completely unpretentious and low key.

The fieldstone masonry is fantastic, and each stone seems to have been placed with a design intent  The large glass windows offer communion with the serene woodland setting.  The grounds seem to be both wild and maintained, just tame enough to offer a lawn, but not overly manicured.  The house is split into halves separated by a courtyard, within which is a full grown tree.  Very cool.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Latitude: 38° 0'36.00"N
Longitude: 78°27'9.00"W

Today I went to see Monticello and the Highlands. I think that I experienced these places on an unusually deep level. As I walked through Jefferson's home and gardens, I could feel the man's passion for his life and work. The history came alive. To me, the rational and the emotional became united in an organic wholeness that was quite powerful. I looked at his books, and his study, and it occurred to me how important the continuing pursuit of knowledge is. Jefferson was an self-taught architect, and I found the results of his 40+ years of building, to be a fascinating example of the pastoral ideal. The foundations of this country were built on ideals, like justice, honor, and virtue, but they were and continue to be universally unattainable. Jefferson himself recognized the paradox between slavery and justice. It did not, however, deter him from the pursuit of the idyllic. What you can achieve in architecture is a certain kind of perfection that just does not exist in society. That is why I love it.

I could only take pictures of the outside, but the weather was fantastic.  I took this view from the garden.
The fenestration in the house is quite elaborate.  There are dual acting doors, double pocket doors, skylights, and even a triple sash egress window.  Jefferson obviously liked to look outside and enjoy the view.  Communion with nature is what glazing actually offers.  The house was completely unlit, but light wafted through it magically.  Opulent for its time, I am sure.  Very inspirational building and one of my favorites so far.