Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Visual memories of December 2010 are clothed in a vapor of magenta pink.

During the famous ‘Fête des Lumières‘ in December 2010, Philips International Communications invited me to join their Livable Cities event. 

The event consisted of a panel, dinner and a LightWalk amongst the winding streets of Lyon to directly engage and educate international journalists on issues of lighting in the nighttime environment.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities Lyon

Lyon is the third largest city in France. It is located between two rivers—Rhône & Saône—and is defined by rocky cliffs, castles and Roman ruins.  Lyon’s Light Plan, the permanent illumination of more than 200 buildings and public places, was established in 1989. I had the opportunity to visit the city in 1995 and viewed the lighting strategy from which the  Lighting Urban Communities International organization, (LUCI), was born.

Fête des Lumières spans four days in early December each year. The celebration has grown into an international event, with light shows and exhibitions by international artists and students. Attendance is said to reach four-million visitors annually. Each year a color theme is implemented with filters on the streetlights. In 2010 the streets of Lyon were bathed in hues of magenta-pink.

Now, as I write these words of recollection, my internal vision of the city of  Lyon is drenched in this luscious color.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

For a week crowds wander the streets in families, pairs, groups chatting, and light-gazing as they drink the traditional beverage, mulled wine,
sold street-side .  As my companion observed, “I have never seen such crowds— except for sports or politics and here they all turn out for culture”.

NightSeeing™

The first step in the coordination of a NightSeeing™ LightWalk is the planning of the route.  Generally booked by a conference or educational organization,  in preparation, I dialogue with the local representative to devise a diverse, architecturally stimulating 10-minute itinerary— which becomes an hour-long when implemented on the Walk.  For the Fête des Lumières, planning counterparts were  Lyonnaise tour guide, Anne Prost, and adviser Alexandre Columbani, general manager of LUCI.

The festival has a sophisticated on-line presence with beautiful interactive maps and installation photographs. For weeks, I studied this swirl-framed program online program of the Fête.

This historic city is dense with alleys and pedestrian passageways paved with stones and lined with facades spanning the centuries. Selecting the route in a city founded by Romans in 43 BC — and now lauded for innovation is daunting! One challenge was to the LightWalk participants from the dense crowds; another was to include just a few spectacles. After all, an important concept for my LightWalk is the “normal”, typical nighttime light of the city.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Highlights of the Route

I developed a tour starting at the Hotel De Ville (the local government seat). Alexandre, an inhabitant of Lyon, introduced me to the area known as Croix-Rousse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in which silk weaving industry was introduced in 1536.   This industry shaped unique architectural forms, such as the traboules—public spiral staircases. Protesting the introduction of new technology that would cause unemployment, throughout the 19th century, the silk workers known as canuts  revolted and rioted.

Our guide Anne enumerated the local lore of the canuts and the  silk suppliers to all of us—describing 16th through 19th-century psycho-geographical atmospheres and other facts that defined this district.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

In the cold magenta night we gathered at the Roman Arena with its spiral of candles. We traversed up and down Lyon’s ubiquitous public  stairs to see illuminated fabric sculptures and stood on the edge of the public square viewing translucent structures back-lit with geometric projections; and gazed upon varied and colorful lit-up baubles suspended from trees, facades and fences.  More traditionally illuminated cathedrals and facades were also dotted along the route.   Between spectacles I indulged on of my professional and private passions—pointing out the pedestrian signals—civic “jewelry“ of the city night—brightly blinking, their pink and black grille-work shadows intermingling with the people who cast them, as well as the lighted shop windows and many other “found”, vernacular effects of the urban nighttime environment.

The Panel Debate

The panel  was located at the Philips Outdoor Lighting Application Centre in La Valbonne near Lyon. Starting of the day-long event, panelists Allan Stewart, Marco Bevolo, Dominique Mamcarz, Martin Lupton, Ken MacKenzie, Nicholas You, Rogier van der Heide, myself and Richard Griffiths, moderator, assembled in an intimate setting with reporters from media organizations from all over the world — including journalists from China, France, Italy, Korea, Singapore, Latvia, Spain and the United Kingdom —  in the varied fields of business, technology and planning.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, Lyon

Panelists Marco Bevolo and Nicholas You

Per Richard Griffiths, the panel discussion focused on:

Urban Well-being – enhancing health and well-being through the provision of safer streets, Branding & Identity – driving tourism, commercial growth, inward investment and civic pride, Urbanization – the challenges of urban population growth, including urban clutter, balance with nature and energy efficiency.

Nicholas described a moment in his childhood when he had to use the illumination of the street light to do his homework.  Marco Bevolo stated that research is imperative to designed city strategies, and Allan Stewart (City Councilor in Glasgow) discussed “the power of light to unite people.”   My colleague, lighting designer, Martin Lupton discussed our discipline, observing that, “Lighting is engaging. It is a social medium and it has the power to transform lives.”

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In her follow-up article, What Makes a Great City, (Malaysia) Wan-Pen, a journalist-participant, discusses the panel as it relates to Asian cities;

“Haphazard planning, population growth and urban sprawl are taking a toll. If we continue at this rate, Asian cities would go the route of “maximum cities” where 20 million inhabitants (soon, this is the new “normal”) will fight for space to live, work and play.

“Light is playful. It has a sense of magic and people are attracted to light,” says Schwendinger, a New York-based lighting designer. Her forte is to use light in an imaginative and fun way that it serves as a catalyst to bring people together. “You can’t help it, you go towards the light.”

The message from the Lyon forum is simple: The only limit to creating great cities is your imagination. City planners, urban dwellers and governments all have a role to play by ensuring the development, projects and visions reflect exactly what the inhabitants want.

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All photos  ©Xavier BOYMOND

Link to Fête des Lumières; a NightSeeing™ LightWalk in 14th Century Lyon, Part 1

For other NightSeeing™ resources and posts on this blog – click here

For essays on public lighting theory – here.

For relevant videos Dwell Magazine, Night City with Leni Schwendinger

Leni Schwendinger in Times Square

I was thrilled to receive a message from Dietrich Neumann, whose “Architecture of the Night” has inspired so many. He indicated that he had hoped to attend the Bryant Park, NYC LightWalk one year ago, but had been waylaid, and that now, very soon, he planned to bring his students to Times Square… and wouldn’t I take them on a LightWalk?

As serendipity would have it, I have been studying the Square, for the Light Projects role as lighting consultants for the Times Square Pedestrianization project on the Snohetta-led design team.

Times Square is only zone that I know of that has a minimum lighting/signage requirement which has resulted in the mandate of brighter is better.  Here are large scale panels of  light communicating in an ever-advancing, electronic graphic-design language.  The effect is awesome, that is, mesmerizing – a free drive-in movie on foot.

Some History

The billboards of  20th century Times Square were more dimensional, formed and handcrafted. Novelty is still an important part of the light signs, but the novelty resides in graphic code and the signs are flat or skinning the facades of buildings. This Artkraft Strauss “Vintage Times Square Signs” video from 1920’s to 1960’s illustrates the technological shifts in sign design.  And from the New York Times, 2006, the denouement; an auction of signs and design sketches; Neon Nostalgia From Times Square to Be Sold by Sign Maker.

“The days of the handcrafted neon spectacular are pretty much gone with the 20th century. We built all these one-of-a-kind, fantastic displays throughout the century, but now, in the 21st century, the medium is electronic: computer-controlled light-emitting diodes; big video screens; the big pictorials printed by giant drum printers on vinyl. The art — or craft or trade — of painting is gone.” — Tama Starr…the third generation of her family to run Artkraft Strauss.

The LightWalk

On November 20th a number of Professor Neumann’s students presented research into the history of Times Square lighting and architecture atop the tiered, red steps of TKTS/Duffy Square.

Then off we went, a group of about 20, into the thick crowds of a Saturday evening around 6:30 PM.  One of my first observations were the pigeons foraging at night – when had I last seen birds on the sidewalk in a city? This is definitely a side effect of vast quantities of light.

TimesSquare_reflections

Observations of light and shadow in Times Square fall into a few categories; panels of LED and bracketed sign light, reflections and “borrowed effects”, few private or darkened moments, and massive application of animated, colored light.  Private light is the largest contribution of brightness, street lighting is overshadowed (or over-brightened).

Advertising panelized light sources create dense blankets of light.  The key source of illumination are the billboards, both printed and LED direct-view.  The light is cast obliquely, as if side-lighting a dance performance on stage.

Reflections double the ad space in an eerie value-added move.  Reflections of pixelated light are re-pixelated by neighboring rows of windows.

Locating shadows: it is as if we, the visitors, are on-stage.  Cast shadows are noticeable on the ground plan and they are us… moving bodies.  Primary shadows (that which “stick” to the object and give it form) are found only by concentrated and tenacious observation.

Activities by street visitors include another media — cameras clicking, people posing, an altogether self reflective and reflexive, experience of light, commerce and ensuing happiness.

Times Square with Brown University Students

Quotable, in regards to the new, pedestrianized Times Square, now in conceptual design

Times Square, the globally recognized after-dark crossroads of the world will be completely transformed by our team. My ideas for the lighting of Times Square will take into account the walls of Times Square, the buildings that make the walls, their lighting, catalyzing the uses and activities of the new plaza, and integrating into our team’s approach to the architecture and landscape of tomorrow’s Times Square. – Leni Loves the Lights on the Great White Way, Architect’s Newspaper

We hope to redefine the role of light in the public space of Times Square for pedestrians. Times Square and the Great White Way, which is more Broadway and the theaters of Times Square, has a reputation for strolling. From the beginning of Times Square, there has been a legacy of social space and advertising. So, the rationale for Times Square has been continuous, but it’s also gotten overly-crowded. The differing objectives of cars and pedestrians has become rather adversarial.

Lighting has been mandated in Times Square. We have a minimum foot candle requirement. This is written as a regulatory guideline. It’s quite unusual — cities usually have maximum foot candle levels. We want pedestrians to stay and hang out, have fun. I hope that lighting will change from its role of entertaining and selling to enabling more down the earth activities we have yet to define. What kind of games can we play with light? What kinds of conversation areas can we create simply by defining boundaries with light? —Interview with Leni Schwendinger, Light Artist and Designer, American Society of Landscape Architects

Other Resources

Webcam at 43rd Street and Broadway

Here is another excellent resource, the book, “Times Square Spectacular; Lighting up Broadway“.

Dwell “As you Light It – Interview with Leni Schwendinger” (click through blog synopsis to video)

wwwNightSeeing.net is the website to follow global NightSeeing™ activities and to book a LightWalk

Comment> A renowned lighting designer takes a walk in the dark in search of illumination

(Full text and images link)

In October 2010 my article on the NightSeeing™ program appeared in the Architect’s Newspaper.  It was a welcome opportunity to describe the development of the program, current events and future aspirations.

Leni Schwendinger leads a LightWalk in Washington DC

Here, some excerpts:

Savor the word “light” and the interior landscape of language evokes images of atmospheric effects—mysterious, picturesque, sublime.

What is the NightSeeing™ program?

Conceptually, NightSeeing is an itinerary of group exploration and discovery, a curriculum designed for the general public and those in the architectural and planning professions. Presenting the nocturnal city of light, NightSeeing is a real-time travelogue through the culture of urban lighting in public spaces to convey recognition of one’s own environment of the shadowed vistas that define our surroundings literally half the time, and yet are so familiar they are almost unseen.

The program can stand alone, or be presented by a conference, festival, or as an event for urban planners to enhance their public outreach efforts. It provides a context to examine and decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define our cities’ darkened hours. NightSeeing consists of several events: the LightTalk, a LightWalk, and a Light Planning Workshop.

Why is it important?

The issues and substance of public illumination increasingly influence the global language of urban design and urban experience. Through initiatives like NightSeeing, we can learn to see shadows in a whole different light.

Stories about NightSeeing™ past…

In the article I cover the NightSeeing™ LightWalks in Manhattan’s Little Italy/Chinatown, Bryant Park and in Washington D.C.

And coverage of upcoming events

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light makes every city a unique destination. For London’s Architecture Retail and Commercial Lighting Show on January 12, 2012, I look forward to mapping the Angel Islington district with the International Association of Lighting Designers to find the perfect route through preserved and chic-modern alleyways and unusual paved topographies. I spent time here in the 1970s frequenting Sadler Wells Theatre, the Angel’s Chapel Road second-hand market, and a particular pub with my crowd from the East End. For me, the LightWalk will be eye-opening to the pleasures of the crowds dining, walking from bus to subway to home, window shopping the antique shops, and experiencing evocations of Dickens’ darkened muddy passageways which have existed since the dawn of public lighting.

NightSeeing is a trademark program of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD

Experience the urban  light… contact Leni (leni@lightprojectsltd.com) to book NightSeeing™ in your town or city with your organization, company,  friends and neighbors.

CultureNow is focused on cultural mapping and exhibitions about New York City. They called the other day and asked if I would talk about my work for their “Museum Without Walls” directory of podcasts.  The collection consists of first person discussions of art, architecture and other landmarks in the City.

Here are links to the podcasts:

Tidal Radiance

Tidal Radiance sculpture at Port Pavilion at Broadway Pier

Tidal Radiance, concept, custom glass, lighting design, projections

Coney Island Parachute Jump

Coney Island Parachute Jump Illumination

Coney Island Parachute Jump Illumination

Triple Bridge Gateway

Triple Bridge Gateway, Manhattan

Triple Bridge Gateway; concept, color, illumination

Dreaming in Color,

a Three-Dimensional Color Field

Dreaming in Color

Dreaming in Color, concept, materials, illumination

March 18th 2010:

Crains New York Business announced,

Skidmore Owings & Merrill selected to design first phase of work to convert Farley Post Office into a new train station.

The project received $83.3 million in funds from the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act last month.

From the Regional Plan Association website; Moynihan Station Project Timeline

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first articulated his vision for a great new Penn Station in the landmark Farley Post Office building in the early 1990s.

1993: Amtrak unveils architectural plans for overhauling the Farley Post Office building into a grand new Penn Station, an idea first advanced by then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The central court of the Farley building would be transformed into a new concourse for Amtrak intercity passengers. This plan is possible because the Postal Service has announced that it is moving mail-processing work out of that building.

November 20th 1993:

Brooklyn Academy of Music held their gala in the James A. Farley Post Office.  I was commissioned to create a decor of light on the exterior of the colonnaded, grand staircase entry of architects McKim Mead and White’s building.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

Picture Research for "Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents"

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents, a projection sequence of more than thirty glass slides and Mylar paintings, encompassed the two-block long classical facade of Manhattan’s main post-office.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

"Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents", two moments in the projection sequence

An exploration of the building and its role as a “civic stage”, the primary images were paintings of dense colorful theatre curtains – rising and falling, and expanding… ever opening… horizontally rotating around the columns and brushing the grand stair. Other images played in the six-minute montage; 30′ postal workers, a love letter, maps and mail sorting bags.

On that windy, bitter cold night gala attendees such as Leontyne Price, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz rushed up the Postal steps in the swirl of projected light.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

Hand-painted projections: theatre curtains and Bryant Park chairs

Little known colliding cultural facts appear on the surface of the grand building, for one, the inscription: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds is not an official motto of the U.S. Postal Service but an abbreviated quote from ancient Greek historian Herodotus describing Persian postal messengers. A Mr. Mitchell Kendal from McKim, Mead and White is said to have selected it for the NYC building.  The inscription itself was carved by Ira Schnapp;  stonecutter, engraver, and graphic designer from Austria who would later design logos and lettering at DC Comics!

An aficionado of the Manhattan landscape who has written for such diverse publications as Public Art Review and New York Magazine, Mark Kramer has observed, “With possible exception of the Park Service, the Post Office is for most Americans the most beneficent face of the Federal Government”.  The long lines of customers at holiday time, tax return deadlines, grant application due dates are still a zone of frenzied activity, but sadly, the once proud 24-hour Post Office has reduced its hours, Mon-Fri 7:00am-10:00pm; Sat 9:00am-9:00pm, and Sun 11:00am-7:00pm.  Electronic communications have replaced the pen, paper and envelope.

Original Penn Station

May 1962, Original Pennsylvania Station - across the Avenue from Farley Post office

From 1910 to 1961 the Post Office mirrored the imposing Pennsylvania Station on Eighth Avenue.  Now, the building is poised to shed its identity as the civic portal of written communication and fulfill the role of transportation hub.

The renderings of the “New Penn Station” are eloquent, modern and airy within the confines of the old Farley P.O.

The Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents glass slides lie dormant in archival boxes, ready to adapt and re-install as a celebration of the refreshed civic facade and center of activity – Moynihan Station.

Are you a lighting designer or an artist?

Are you a theorist or practitioner?

These questions are bound to come up at the end of every lecture Q & A depending on my audience.

The answer is YES!

Theorist and practitioner

Art, design, theory and practice are intertwined in my world.  “Interdisciplinarianism” was coined in one of my first lectures Painting with Light in the early-1990’s – and I have continued to speak it and practice it. Additionally I have been developing public lighting theory through study, discussion, teaching, observation and practice (art and design production).

Observation includes dérive — through which I developed my unique brand of light walk with New School/Parsons School of Art architecture and lighting design students as well as the NightSeeing Map in 2006.  Discussion includes my global lectures where the Q & A are as important as the information that I impart.  And practice, also global, is comprised of the art installations and public lighting designs that my staff at Light Projects LTD and I have conceptualized and implemented for the past 17 years.

1. The first public lighting theory classifies lighting simply through its “sponsors”; public agencies, private owners, and found sources which are generally private, but unintentionally illuminate public space. To get the feel of the classifications here is a link to NIGHT CITY, a six minute movie, that guides the viewer through an after-dark experience throughout Greenwich Village, New York City, through close observation of public, private and found light sources. (Here, read about the making of the movie)

2.
The second, “‘Eight Shades of Night’ – Public Space during the Darkened Hours” is a framework that posits that each district within a city has identifiable activity shades, or zones, that in the future can be matched by adaptive public lighting.  The eight shades below typify a city like New York (similarly urbanized, western hemisphere, etc).

  1. Dusk; as the sun sets, depending on season, either the work day extends into the night, or daylight extends into the post work
  2. Happy hour; the social extension of the work day, decompression time
  3. Dining out; the date, the business meeting, the special event, window shopping, strolling
  4. Cultural events; the rush to the movies, theater, the ballet, concert or opera
  5. Night shift; cleaning crews, around-the-clock services, such as transit, and emergency repairs and services begin
  6. After hours; nightclubbing and after-hours clubs
  7. Early risers; the first shift arrives, outdoor markets set up, newspapers arrive
  8. Dawn; the commuters begin to arrive, power breakfast on Wall Street
[Copyright Leni Schwendinger 2009]
Lightmapping event November 2009

Eight-Shades-of-Night Light Walk; preparation and discussion

 

In November 2009, Professional Lighting Design Association held a program of Lightmapping in New York City.  Our team was led by urban designer Brian McGrath, architectural designer Ute Besenecker and me. This light walk was formulated to explore my  Eight-Shades-of-Night framework in the environs of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Light changes and social activity throughout the night from dusk to dawn were documented by photography and light level readings. Here, our presentation, limited to ten images as per the Lightmapping guidelines, was selected from hundreds of photographs from the area. [click “full screen” mode for best viewing]

Lightmapping event November 2009

Eight-Shades-of-Night Light Walk; out on the street from dusk 'til dawn

 

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Read this debate published by Design Observer (links to Part 1 and Part 2) for more information about public lighting and  a forward-looking concept about community control of adaptive lighting.

Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

LS-Aztec_inspired

Leni aspired to Mexicana status, here pictured in red dress with Aztec-inspired embroidery

Growing up in Los Angeles Spanish language study started in 5th grade.  We created our own Spanish books – mine was over-sized with a hard cover surfaced in canvas and splatter paint.  the binding was tied with leather thong.  In my imagination, Mexico was associated with music, rich colors, copper metal, a land of deserts, carvings and people who were so fascinating that they spoke a different language than me.  I had a wish to be Mexicana.  Above all I wanted to visit Mexico City.

So, when Jeffrey Miller, President of IALD texted a request from China about my interest in speaking on City Beautification in Mexico City I was thrilled!

This city of great layered history — and pre-history –was opened to me through the inimitable process of Dérive, with my constant companion and explorer, Mark Kramer.

Ciudad de México is inhabited by 8,836,045 inhabitants (2008 figure, Wikipedia) and Greater Mexico City has a population exceeding 19 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the Americas and the third largest agglomeration in the world (Wikipedia).

IALD Conference on Sustainable Design at CIHAC

Convention Center

Expo CIHAC (Centro Impulsor de la Construccion y la Habitacion) was held on October 13-17th, 2009 at the Banamex Convention Center, Mexico City.  The Expo is the most important construction exhibition in Mexico. It gathers together project developers, contractors, consultants, engineers and building material suppliers.  This year CIHAC partnered with IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers) to hold a Conference on Sustainable Design.  Mexico’s IALD chapter sponsored the event.  It was a great opportunity to meet with my south-of-the-border colleagues.

The Banamex Convention Center is adjacent to the Americas Horse Racetrack.  Upon arrival we were mesmerized by the trotting horses out for practice.  I joined North American lighting design colleagues Charles Stone and  Mark Loeffler at the podium.

Charles discussion of White Light in Public Lighting was the perfect counterpoint to mine, with its focus on colored light.  Mark’s LEED and Lighting Design walked the audience through the ever more complex arena of “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and how lighting applies. Mark also spoke on Daylighting Design.

CIHAC Speakers

My topic City Beautification, The Use of Color and Light posits that the use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded.  With the continued development of LED sources the lighting designers’ paintbox has been redefined and colored light is not only technically more possible than in the past, but the technologies are more energy-saving  and sustainable in terms of maintenance.  In this talk I address “by what measure can designers agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the city environment?”  I review the artistic use of color and how to judge good design using color theory, case studies and a checklist. Here, a link to the hand out.

Walking the Streets

Walking is knowing a city…

View here a video of an animated Walk signal, and a great sense of Mexican traffic engineering humor, the Don’t Walk signal – with a person impatiently tapping his foot and consulting a wristwatch as the seconds tick by… to walk.

Envision the experience of the street through the moments that captured me and and in turn are captured by my camera.

Medians and Malls

streetscape

Paving Patterns, Shadows, Light and Textures

Paving

Street Corners

corner

Lighting Fixtures and Side Streets After-dark

mex_lighting

The Zócalo, la Plaza Suprema

Urban planners and designers are ever questing for the perfect recipe for town squares and plazas. Mexico City’s Zócalo — Plaza de la Constitución — is a prime reference – often mentioned in discussion of urban landscape design.

Zocalo_area

Streets branching off the Zocalo

At long last, I was able to visit — see, sense, feel — the genuine article — the authentic plaza, the Zócalo.  I was fascinated by the shared space of pedestrians, cars and bicycles and delivery carts.  Even on a weekday, the sidewalks and streets were packed.  “Shared streets” or “shared space” is a traffic engineering concept to remove separations between vehicles and pedestrians, and devices such as curbs, painted lines, signs and signals. The logic is that humans can be self regulated when forced to…an interesting civic pact.  It felt, here on the main square streets, that the concept of shared streets had not been enforced or planned but simply an authentic need had been fulfilled — that of a huge metropolis and its circulation evolving.

The Zócalo Edge; Metropolitan Cathedral

(Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María)

Catedral Metropolitana

Because of its rich natural, archeological and architectural sites Mexico ranks within the top countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites.  As we walked toward the Zócalo through the busy foot traffic, jewelry and watch stores, cafes and restaurants and sidewalk markets our eyes gravitated naturally to the Metropolitan Cathedral which defines the north edge of the plaza.  Its ornate carvings of stone and wood bursts out of the facade beckoning visitors.

The Cathedral is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is sited upon a sacred Aztec precinct near the Templo Mayor. The cathedral was built around a church that was constructed after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán — the Aztec’s capital city (1573 to 1813) — and finally replaced the church. The Metropolitan was inspired by Spain’s Gothic cathedrals.  Its Baroque-style facade and 64-meter high Neoclassical-style towers contain 18 bells.

The ethereal glow of the ornate interior reveals five naves, several chapels, two impressive pipe organs, religious paintings and figurines.  The decor, whispered hush and flicker of candles conspire to create a time/space wonderment.

The Zócalo Edge; Templo Mayor

templo_mayor_plaque

“Next door” to the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor (Great Temple)

The Aztec legend describes the siting of the Temple as a fulfillment of a prophecy; where an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake.

Construction began around 1325 AD and the Temple was continually enlarged over the next two centuries. A the time of the Spanish Conquest, in 1521, the temple was the center of this Tenochtitlan, with a population of 300,000.

The temple was nearly destroyed by the Spaniards after their conquest of Tenochtitlan.

The Templo Mayor excavation began 30 years ago after electrical tradesmen discovered the ruins.

Templo Mayor Mexico City

Two life-size clay figures from this trove represent the two faces of Aztec religion. A winged warrior, his head poking out from an eagle’s beak, with talons erupting from his knees, symbolizes life or the sun at dawn. Discovered only a decade ago, a grisly, six-foot-tall, clay figure – with his liver dangling beneath exposed ribs – represents death. Both were revered. The equal value of life and death explains “why the images of death are so strong,” says Felipe Solís, curator and the foremost authority on the Aztecs. “At Mexico City’s core beats an Aztec heart”  — Carol Strickland, Christian Science Monitor

Culture

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo de Anthropologica

On our way to the Museo de Anthropologica we strolled through Chapultepec Park.  A large scale photo exhibition mounted on an iron fence was composed of provocative images in billboard style.   The Museum, in mid-century modern/Mexican style, is stunning – the sleek lines interrupted by pattern and relief.  The first gallery was a contemporary take by several artists, on Mexico City and its populous.  Salvage materials, video, industrial homage and individual stories tell the life of the lesser known Mexicano.

The monumental collection is humbling.  Here, another chance to experience the ancient, this time through a curated collection.

culture

Left: billboard photo exhibit, Center: View of Chapultepec, Right: the Kahlo-Rivera House-Study

Lighting designer Gustavo Aviles, and his wife Magi, took us to dinner at the Colonia San Ángel Inn. After an evening of laughter and conversation they surprised us by pointing out the Kahlo/Rivera House-Study right across the street. The intense and creative couple — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera — painted and housed their skull collection, as well as pre-Columbian art and Mexican crafts here.

The complex, two buildings connected by a bridge, is one the most important cultural landmarks of Mexico City. It was designed by Juan O’Gorman — an architect and painter.  It is a a merging of modern Mexican architecture and the International style.

The work caused a heated controversy in the 1930s by combining organic Mexican architecture and architectural murals with functionalism. So was the breaking of all the aesthetic paradigms of architecture in Mexico until then, to incorporate such blunt theories and thoughts as most avant-garde architects (as Le Corbusier) were developing on the European continent. Thoughts such as the rational use of materials, analysis of the functioning of ideal spaces and the adequacy of them to accommodate activities that took place within them – ideas that were radical at first but eventually were assimilated into the worldwide architectural community. These houses were made possible with minimum cost and effort.

Diego Rivera Studio Museum was established by presidential decree in 1981, opening its doors in 1986. In 1994, the INBA made the restoration and rehabilitation of houses a cultural heritage site of the nation, according to the decree published in the Diario Oficial on March 25, 1998. — Wikiarquitectura.com

I heartily recommend the movie Frida Kahlo directed by Julie Taymor for the flavor, color and sounds of a time in Mexico. And here a link of the real Frida and Diego.

La Capital is an exemplar of metropolitan life, and I like to think that my explorations have just begun.