Tuesday, October 30, 2012

La Grand Palace in Brussels

The Grand-Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region. Through the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open space, it illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity. The earliest written reference to the Nedermarckt (Lower Market), as it was originally known, dates from 1174. The present name came into use in the last quarter of the 18th century. It is located on former marshland on the right bank of the River Senne, to the east of the castellum, a defensive outwork of the castle built around 977 by Charles of France, Duke of Lower Lotharingia. The marsh was drained in the 12th century.

 The present rectangular outline of the Grand'Place has developed over the centuries as a result of successive enlargements and other modifications, and did not take up its definitive form until after 1695. It has, however, always had seven streets running into it. In the 13th and 14th centuries the market-place was surrounded by haphazardly disposed steenen (the stone-built Cloth, Bread, and Meat Halls or Markets) and timber-framed houses, separated by yards, gardens, or ambiti (passages serving as fire-breaks). During the 15th century the houses on the south side were replaced by the east and west wings of the City Hall (1401-44) and its bell tower (1449). A new Bread Hall was built on the north side in 1405.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Four Major Town Houses by Victor Horta

The appearance of Art Nouveau in the closing years of the 19th century marked a decisive stage in the evolution of architecture, making possible subsequent developments, and the four town houses of Victor Horta in Brussels (Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, Maison et Atelier Horta) bear exceptional witness to its radical new approach. They brilliantly illustrate the transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries in art, thought and society. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building. The Hôtel Tassel can be considered the founding work of Art Nouveau. Commissioned by Professor Emile Tassel in 1893, it was the first work in which Horta was able to realize his original conception of architecture. The house was finished in 1894, but Horta continued designing the furniture for some years. After the Second World War, the house was split into small flats so that little of the decoration remained visible.

 In 1976 the street facade and the main doors were restored and the building was adapted as prestige offices. The street facade, built from stone, is remarkably integrated into its context. Above the entrance there is a two-storey bow window in an innovative steel structure. On the street site the building has the entrance floor, a mezzanine, first and second floor, and an attic. These levels are shifted towards the garden side by way of a central staircase. The four town houses by Victor Horta form an essential link from the classical tradition to the Modern Movement in the history of architecture, as conceived by one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. He revolutionized the architectural concepts of his time by introducing the idea of an open plan and creating real dialogue of materials and their uses according to their intrinsic nature within a new way of conceiving decoration. The Horta buildings revive the 19th-century tradition of bourgeois residential buildings, combining residential and representational functions, which require a subtle organization of spaces and differentiated circulation. In each case, Horta's genius created a coherent unity of architecture and decoration, reflecting the personality of the owner.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumn in Siberia (Part 1)

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia was the venue for the Hepatitis C and Co-infections conference which I attended together with two other gastroenterologists from Cebu, Dr. Arlene Kuan and Dr. Jenny Limquiaco. While reviewing the world map (which I always do before travelling), I can see that China was below Mongolia while Russia was above it. “I’d love a side trip to the Asian side of Russia”, I told my wife.  The city of Ulan-Ude, one of Russian Siberia’s major cities was just an hour and 15 minutes by plane from Mongolia. Siberia conjures images of a perpetually cold and dreary place where prisoners and outcasts were exiled like in the movie Gulag, a Russian forced labor camp, which I have watched a few times during my childhood. This movie has somehow imprinted this scene in my mind. Is this the kind place I would want go?

Tick encephalitis, Lyme disease, Hepatitis A were some of the diseases one might acquire while traveling to Siberia, I am warned by The Lonely Planet guidebook. As a doctor, this made me quite apprehensive about going there. But the love of traveling, especially the off beaten track, and my penchant for learning about remote people and their culture somehow compelled me to push through.  For me, the journey was more important than the destination and I realized that this was a once in a lifetime trip.  For full article as published on Sunstar, Cebu click here, Autumn in Siberia.