By Abbie Gentry
Over my independent travels in the middle of this semester, I was given the chance to explore many different types of architecture. I was able to visit Muslim mosques in Istanbul; Classical ruins and a modern museum in Athens; and medieval as well as contemporary buildings in Prague.
I was particularly thrilled to visit Turkey because the very first building that I remember studying in Art and Architectural History 101 was the Hagia Sophia. To be able to see this iconic building with my own eyes was unreal. I had never before personally experienced Muslim architecture so it was an exciting, new opportunity. I was able to sit casually on the lawn in front of the Blue Mosque and sketch to my heart’s delight before entering into this sacred building and wandering with my head constantly swiveling back and forth, up and down, trying my best to take it all in. Even shopping in the Grand Bazaar was an interesting architectural moment. It was akin to entering a new city with its own infrastructure and crowded shops. It was so large; it was easy to get disoriented. We also explored the underground cisterns, which, again, was an entirely new experience for me. The cisterns were located in a cavernous room with paths suspended over water. As you ambled along, you were able to admire the monumentality of the massive columns and raw beauty of archaic carvings such as the large sculpted heads of Medusa.
Athens is, I believe, every architect’s dream to visit. We have all studied classical architecture and know how it strongly it affects architecture even to this day. With this in mind, being able to see ancient ruins that most people only see in photographs was surreal. While I was very fortunate to be able to visit the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the very first Olympic stadium, and Hadrian’s arch, surprisingly, one of my favorite buildings that I saw was very contemporary. The New Acropolis Museum, designed by the Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and Associates, was simply captivating. It was the perfect complement to the old city because it used its own beauty to bring attention to the beauty of the ruins. From far away, the building may seem slightly out of place with its enormous canter-levering balcony and glass façade. Upon further inspection, however, one realized that the balcony pointed directly to the Acropolis and the glass was used to reflect the surrounding architecture. Since the museum was crouched on top of ruins, glass was also used in the floors to create a 360 degree view down to the old and up to the new. Interestingly enough, as we wandered through the city, we also happened upon a building that have a very Carlo Scarpa-esque flair to it. Unfortunately it was a private residence so I was not able to see more than the front façade but it was a nice change to see a contemporary edifice in the landscape of old houses and shops.
(Carlo Scarpa-esque door in Athens)Prague had its own surprises for me. I knew little of the city before I visited but I was instantly enamored with the charm of the Old Town and the sleekness of the New Town. While in the newer section of the city, I was insistent on visiting the Dancing House by Frank Gehry. After having researched and given a speech on Gehry a couple years prior, as well as being inspired for my first project freshman year by this particular building since it was similar in program and style to my own design, I felt a special connection to his building that was so radical and controversial in the city. While the locals may disapprove of Gehry’s flamboyant style, I admired his ability to weave together the concrete and glass in such a playful and metaphorical manner. I was even able to visit the rooftop after purchasing a glass of wine – the fee to ride the elevator – and was astounded by the beauty of the interior with its play of light and shadows. The other building that captured my interest was a restaurant/bar/club that we happened upon. It had its own distinct architectural style and artistic expression that was a mixture of industrial and modern. Its décor consisted of old clocks, pipes, cogs, and aged pieces of machinery.
It was extremely rewarding to be able to experience all of these different styles even within such a short span of time. It intrigued my curiosity and reminded me of my passion for architecture.
(the New Acropolis Museum in Athens)
(the Dancing House in Prague)