Category - Architecture

Monolithic Marvel: The Rock-hewn Church of Saint George, Lalibela Ethiopia

There’s an instant sense of unadulterated astonishment and wonder to seeing in person the perfectly symmetrical cruciform structure of the Church of Saint George in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela. For although it is equivalent in height to a four story office block, not an inch of it rises above ground level. To touch its pinky rock-hewn surfaces, surrounded by sheer walls 50 feet high, is to understand the enormity of such a task, while to hear the rhythmic chanting of its religious services is to be transported back hundreds of years.5343320549_22a53afeb6_b-min Known in Ethiopia’s Amharic language as Bet Giyorgis, the monolithic Church of Saint George was cut from the bedrock with the most basic of hand tools, and is just one of 13 of all different architectural styles and shapes in Lalibela. Located in the Lasta Mountains, more than 8,000 feet above sea level, amid the steep slopes of craggy bare mountains and vast escarpments, the town was long considered the kingdom of the legendary Christian ruler Prester John when reached by European adventurers.Rock-Hewn_Churches,_Lalibela-107572-min Although the church’s real origins are lost in the mists of time, with Bet Giyorgis dating back at least 800 years, local legend has it that Saint George was so upset that none of Lalibela’s other churches had been dedicated in his honor he sought to rectify the fact in a midnight vision to the king. Now the saint not only has an astonishing feat of ancient engineering to his name, but also a rather fine lager brewed in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.Lalibela_Bet_Giyorgis_23_(27886827003)-min What makes the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site Church of Saint George all the more stunning, as you pass through the long trench that leads to it from ground level before removing your shoes to enter the finely-carved interior, is the sight of the church as a functioning place of worship and pilgrimage site, mired in the elaborate and sometimes mysterious ceremonies of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The keys still hang from the belts of richly-robed priests, fierce guardians of the sanctity of the structure and protectors of the unseen Holy of Holies, while hermits continue to live in small cells cut from the precipitous walls all around. (images wiki commons)4954773267_9b7cdcb47a_b-min     

Santiago Calatrava – The Architect Who Blends Art With Engineering

Santiago Calatrava is one of the world’s most celebrated architects. Born in Spain in 1951, he studied at his city of birth, Valencia, receiving diplomas in architecture and urbanism. Later he studied for a second degree in civil engineering in Zurich. As a child, Calatrava had always wanted to become an artist. These leanings have never left him throughout a very successful professional career.

The work of Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, an early architectural modernist, intrigued Calatrava. He realized he could combine his twin passions of art and architecture to produce memorable and stylish building designs. Calatrava was also inspired by Robert Maillart, a Swiss civil engineer. Maillart pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in his innovative arched and beamless bridges.

Calatrava has designed many bridges himself, using his own flamboyant style. One of his most famous is the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas, constructed in 2012. Visible from miles around, this stunning structure almost appears to defy gravity. Suspended from a massive steel arc over 400’ high, a cat’s cradle of 58 white cables supports the six-lane 686’ long concrete bridge deck.

Calatrava has always sought to elicit emotion from the basic dynamic principles of physics. And like Le Corbusier, he uses simple geometric shapes, for example, cubes, arranged in such a way to create stunning, ultramodern designs. Gravity is a concept he melds into his designs frequently. His structures are designed with strong, sweeping curves, reminiscent of a planet orbiting the Sun under the pull of gravity.

Nature underpins all Calatrava’s most celebrated works. Sometimes he uses aspects of human physiology. His Turning Torso, in Malmö, Sweden, is constructed with nine five-story apartment pentagons arranged on a steel support.  The ninth pentagon is angled at 90° to the first. The Turning Torso represents a twisting human spinal column, and is the first twisted skyscraper ever built.

Another example of Calatrava’s architectural connect with human physiology is his City of Arts and Sciences and Opera House. Built in Valencia, this science and leisure complex includes a central planetarium which resembles a giant human eye.

Other times, Calatrava’s aims are zoomorphic, as with the World Trade Center Path Rail Terminal in New York City, constructed after 9/11. Calatrava designed the new terminal using a spiritual phoenix-from-the-ashes theme. The central Oculus resembles a bird with outstretched wings about to take off. Like any great sculpture, the structure boasts majestic curves, but it also conveys movement and rhythm. Calatrava says he is always guided by nature when designing his monumental architectural works. He blends engineering with art, creating architecture which touches the soul. With their tilting columns and gravity-defying arches, his works symbolize freedom from conformism.

With offices in New York City, Zürich and Doha, Calatrava has designed groundbreaking works of architecture for clients all over the world. While his structures are praised for their aesthetics, they have also attracted controversy. Some of Calatrava’s projects have gone over-budget. Others, post-construction, have required remedial works.

Despite his critics, Calatrava remains a dominant creative force in modernist architecture. His sculptor’s instincts allow him to create mesmerizing, futuristic structures that are also majestic works of art.


 Wikipedia contributors. “Santiago Calatrava.Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Jan. 2018. Web. 11 Jan. 2018.

Santiago Calatrava SPANISH ARCHITECT, written by: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Spotlight: Santiago Calatrava, written by Eric Oh, July 28, 2017

Modernism social housing in the Berlin-Falkenberg garden city

Modernism housing estates with colorful facades, ornamented with geometrical patterns, red brick roofs, charming wooden windows, shutters and balconies, surrounded with bloomed gardens… this well designed housing estate may be something out of a Disney films, but just as beautiful was the idea behind it.  SdM_4267_RET_300x0 Falkenberg Garden city was created by German architect Bruno Taut between 1913-1916 and was listed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. Industrialization during the 19th century caused migrations from villages to towns which caused many problems. While becoming a metropolis, not only did Berlin faced problem like overcrowding, but also social problems such as unemployment and pollution. Dark and cramped flats without basic hygienic facilities had to be replaced in order to solve housing problem. Taut’s responded was this beautiful social housing project.falkenberg_04_530

6e59530dd4d996689c994138572cc7c4 Its design is based on Bauhaus straight and geometrical style including colorful patterns and wooden or brick decorative  elements. Housing blocks are organized around an acacia courtyard mostly in rows.fullfile1611 “The paint box housing estate”, is what it’s usually called; and it draws from the English idea of the Garden City which should consolidate rural and urban life. Renowned landscape architect Ludwig Lesser was hired to design the estate’s gardens and public spaces which provided lots of fresh air.  100_0238

This was not an isolated project. Other modernist architects followed this idea and some of their housing estate projects are also under UNESCO protection. Unfortunately, when Nazi regime took over Germany modernism aesthetics lost its value and the period of democratic housing building came to an end. The idea of garden city is somehow present today in Berlin as its residents are environmentally conscious with many having private or community gardens beside Berlin’s vast green areas of parks.