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Category Archives: architecture

This is the second post on our visit to the former residence of Marshal Zhang 少帥禪園 located just outside of Taipei. Click here to read the first part.

We booked a table for lunch at the restaurant which offered a very limited tasting menu.

The restaurant is in what seems to be the main building of classical Japanese design with windows intricately latticed.

It was a weekday; there were only four or five occupied tables at lunch. The interior is not luxurious but somewhat modern and Japanese, with a display of a small fountain, hanging plants and what seemed like potted giant bonsai trees.

The whimsical decorations continue …

The soft and comfortable details seem ironic since this is one of the places of house arrest for Marshal Zhang which lasted nearly 40 years, although he was treated well. He gained his freedom in 1975 when he was in his 70’s.

Zhang Xueliang 張學良 was the effective ruler of Northeast China and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin 張作霖 (the “Old Marshal”), by the Japanese on 4 June 1928. His father as a warlord was in 1920 the supreme ruler of Manchuria.

In the 1930’s, the leader of the Republic of China at the time, Chiang Kai-shek, focused on fighting the communists within China rather than the threat of the Japanese.

He was detained in Xi’an in 1936 by Zhang Xueliang and another general in order to force the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) to change its policies regarding the Empire of Japan and the Communist Party of China. This detention precipitated a political crisis, known as the Xi’an Incident 西安事變.

The crisis ended after two weeks of negotiation, in which Chiang was eventually released and returned to Nanjing, accompanied by Zhang. Chiang agreed to end the ongoing civil war against the communists and began actively preparing for the impending war with Japan.

Once Chiang were away from Zhang’s loyal troops, Chiang had him put under house arrest near the Nationalist capital, wherever it moved to. In 1949 Zhang was transferred to Taiwan.

There is a picture of Zhang and Chiang’s son at the residence.

After Chiang’s death in 1975, he gained some freedom but it was not restored officially until 1990. He immigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993 and died of pneumonia in 2001 at the age of 100 there.

The food at the restaurant was very good. See our next post.

Our last post on Ukraine …

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral (Володимирський кафедральний собор) is situated on Tarasa Shevchenko Blvd across the botanical garden and about 2 blocks from our hotel. It is one of Kiev’s major landmarks and the main cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchy.

This neo-Byzantine monument was our first stop in downtown Kiev. It was late afternoon and many office workers were leaving for the weekend and coming in to say a prayer. Ladies have to wear a scarf.

The cathedral was completed in 1882, however, the paintings were fully completed only in 1896.

The interior is quite dark which enhances the gold-accented fresco-lined walls and columns, and giant chandeliers.

The colorful mosaics were executed by masters from Venice. The frescoes were created under the guidance of a professor and by a group of famous painters, including Viktor Vasnetsov and Mikhail Vrubel.

The cathedral is dedicated to Vladimir the Great who in 989 AD accepted Christianity, leading the abandonment of paganism among the Kievan Rus’ people.

The Christianization of Rus people (Русь ) firmly allied it with the Byzantine Empire. The Greek learning and book culture was adopted in Kiev and other centers of the country. Churches started to be built on the Byzantine model.

We do not have a description of the body who is displayed and revered. It is not Vladimir.

St. Volodymyr’s is a beautiful church and in our opinion, more so than those in the site of the cave monastery. See earlier post here.

Inside the church is a few stands that sell religious art and souvenirs. They were not obtrusive and did not dilute the atmosphere. The church was really busy and not a tourist attraction, which is heartening to see. 

In the news at the time this post was drafted, Ukraine created the biggest schism in Christianity in centuries, as it breaks from the authority of a Moscow-based patriarch and formally gain recognition for its own church (“autocepaly”) from Constantinople (Istanbul), taking tens of millions of followers and church properties. Ukraine’s Parliament voted in December 2018 to force the Moscow-affiliated church, currently known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to instead call itself the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

See New York Times article here.

This cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchy will probably become more prominent as a result.

Due to the lack of time, we did not get to see the other even more prominent church in Kiev – St. Sophia’s Cathedral (Софійський собор). Well, next time.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра), also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery which gave its name to one of the city districts where it is located in Kiev.

Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1051, the Lavra has been a preeminent center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. Together with the Saint Sophia Cathedral, it is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra is essentially a complex split into two parts. One above ground and one below. It is very spread out with numerous buildings.

Built in 1073-8 AD, the main church of the monastery was destroyed during the World War II after the Nazi Germany troops occupied the city of Kiev. The reconstruction of the cathedral began in 1998 and was completed in time for its reconsecration during the Ukrainian Independence Day ceremonies in August 2000.

Great Bell Tower –  it was the tallest free-standing belltower at the time of its construction in 1731–1745.

It is an active monastery. Monks dressed in black walk around the complex. The monastery has a very informative web site in English – including information for local churchgoers and pilgrims –

The caves were the beginning of a detailed excavation in which monks created a labyrinth of underground caves and catacombs. Below ground, this network takes on a greater meaning as it is full of mummified monks, religious relics, and icons.

We were so distracted by the above-ground complex that we left it too late to explore the caves. Too bad as it would the most unique sight.  Well, next time.

In the news at the time this post was drafted, Ukraine created the biggest schism in Christianity in centuries, as it breaks from the authority of a Moscow-based patriarch and formally gain recognition for its own church (“autocepaly”), taking tens of millions of followers and church properties. Ukraine’s Parliament voted in December 2018 to force the Moscow-affiliated church, currently known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to instead call itself the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

See New York Times article here.

The cave monastery is owned by the Ukrainian state but occupied by followers of the Moscow patriarch under a long-term lease, could become a point of contention. What an ugly mix of geopolitics and religion.

View of the monastery garden

A view of the monastery from the River Dneiper. Due to the camera angle, the statue appears next to the monastery, but in reality they are actually quite far apart.

On our way out, we noticed these brand new copper tops of church spires. The monastery apparently has a shop that supplies the parishes with this essential architectural element.

We really missed out a lot of sights on this short tour. If this is interesting to you, the monastery has a wonderful 3D tour online at  Go take a look.

Back in June, we spent one day in St. Gallen, on our way to Kiev from Lindau.

After seeing the Abby and its library (see the post here), we were looking for a place for dinner that was not far from the train station and our hotel. Not really expecting much, Lokal was the restaurant we chose from Google map.

Lokal, which is on the other side of tracks at the train station and it turns out to be a part of The Lokremise.

The Lokremise is a cultural center for St Gallen. It consists of a concert/theater/dance space, an outpost for the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, the cinema Kinok as well as our bar/restaurant Lokal.

The Lokremise was built between 1903 and 1911 at the time of the textile boom. It is the largest surviving locomotive ring depot in Switzerland.

I wondered what was the purpose of this tower. It looks mysterious.

The depot is a monument of national importance. The buildings were renovated in 2009/2010 and converted into the current complex.

The circular layout of the rail depot has been adapted to form a courtyard for having drinks outdoors.

Some train tracks remain visible under the pebbles. The space can be a really good lounge-y, party space.

Kinok moved into the new Lokremise cube, designed by the Zurich architects Isa Stürm Urs Wolf SA, featuring a cinema room, screening room and bar.

The art museum’s space is situated behind the cinema.

Sculptures and drinks.

The ambiance changed a little after dark.

The post-industrial, high-ceiling dining room is made less grungy by huge mirrors and warm color light fixtures.

Not sure what the idea is with these rows of chrome hemispheres … but they made the large otherwise stark wall a lot more interesting.

The food was overall quite good; the space is phenomenal. Location is super convenient. Highly recommended.


While we were in Kiev (Kyiv), we had a choice of visiting either Chernobyl (the site of the nuclear reactor accident) or Mezhyhirya (the residence of Ukraine’s ousted ex-president). They were both available as a day trip and one day was all we had. We took the safe option to view this monument of corruption.

We ordered a taxi from the hotel. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the residence outside Kiev.

The Mezhyhirya Residence (Межигір’я) is an estate where Viktor Yanukovych lived when he was prime minister and then president of Ukraine. It is now a museum displaying Yanukovych’s luxurious lifestyle at the people’s expense.

Yanukovych lived in the estate from 2002 to 21 February 2014, when he fled the country to Russia during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution (Euromaiden). He was one of the patrons of the now infamous Paul Manafort (ex-Trump campaign manager).

The estate is over 140 ha (350 acres) and is situated on the banks of the Dnieper river. It is packed with recreational facilities from a yacht pier, an equestrian club, a shooting range, a tennis court to hunting grounds. Unfortunately we did not see any of these facilities as they were quite spread out. We could have rented a golf cart but did not initially think we needed one.

The estate also has an automobile museum displaying Yanukovich’s exotic cars, a golf course, an ostrich farm, a dog kennel, numerous fountains and man-made lakes, a helicopter pad, and a small church. The entire complex is enclosed by a five-meter tall fence along the perimeter.

The grounds are beautifully maintained and we saw several couples in gown and tux taking wedding pictures at various scenic spots.

Gazebo with giant chairs

The main feature of the residence is the so-called “club house”, also known as Object Honka (Honka being the name of the Finnish company that built the log house).

Front of the House

Back of the House – only the top half is visible

He even built a fake Roman ruins next to the the House

On 21 February 2014, the police withdrew and Euromaiden protesters were able to enter the complex. There was no looting or vandalism. Activists later turned it into a public park.

Viktor Yanukovych served as President from February 2010 (defeating Yulia Tymoshenko) until his removal from power in February 2014. It started when Yanukovych rejected a pending EU association agreement, choosing instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia. He is currently in exile in Russia and wanted by Ukraine for high treason.

Yanukovych has been widely criticized for “massive” corruption and cronyism with an estimated net worth of $12 billion.

Private zoo with many different kinds of birds and animals – ostrich

It was said “For most of [Yanukovych’s] career he was a public servant or parliament deputy, where his salary never exceeded 2000 US dollars per month. … In a country where 35% of the population live under poverty line, spending 100,000 dollars on each individual chandelier seems excessive, to say the least.” He was robbing his people.

Viktor Yanukovych hired and paid millions to Paul Manafort who was Donald Trump’s election campaign chairman for a period and has since been found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. He recently lost his plea deal after being caught lying repeatedly to the FBI. Real crooks.

We spent a day in St Gallen, a historic town located in the northeast of Switzerland. It is best known for its university and the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

The collection of buildings in the abbey precinct including its magnificent Baroque cathedral form a unique historical ensemble. The appearance of the abbey’s buildings is largely the result of constructions in the 18th century.

The west side includes the Baroque church (the present cathedral), flanked by two towers and the ancient cloister, which today houses the Abbey Library.

The city of St. Gallen grew around the Abbey of St Gall, which is said to have been built at the site of the hermitage of Irish missionary Gallus established in AD 612. The abbey followed the Rule of St. Benedict, which prescribes the contemplative study of literature. 

We were in awe of this late baroque Rococo decorations.

The abbey prospered in the 9th century and became a site of pilgrimage and a center of trade, with associated guest houses, stables and other facilities.

As a religious city-states, the abbey joined the Swiss Confederation in 1450s and the town became free from the abbot.

The abbey is an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery, represents 1200 years of history of monastic architecture from the Middle Ages.

Confession booths.

The interior of the Cathedral is one of the most important baroque monuments in Switzerland.

Ceiling frescoes.

Scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe l’oeil frescoes – this church has every element of Rococo.

The Abbey library of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibliothek) is recognized as one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. It is also known as the Seelenapotheke (healing place of the soul). It is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of early medieval books in the German-speaking part of Europe.

There was a guided tour and we were required to wear soft overshoes to protect the floor. 

The two-storeys library, its walls and the balconies are ornately decorated. The library hall designed by the architect Peter Thumb in a Rococo style, was constructed between 1758-67. Bookshelves alternate with window recesses on both levels.

The library holds 2,100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through the 15th centuries which are handwritten, 1,650 incunabula (printed before 1500), and old printed books. 400 of the handwritten books are over 1000 years old. These manuscripts are placed inside the glass cases.

Of particular interest are a beautiful collection of early medieval Irish manuscripts unique in Continental Europe.

The 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese is also housed in the library.

This abbey and the library is really THE place to learn and experience central European history and see Rococo.

We passed the city of Bregenz on our way to Lindau, and made it the destination of one of our day trips.

Bregenz is the capital of the province of Vorarlberg which borders three countries: Germany(Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg via Lake Constance), Switzerland (Grisons and St. Gallen) and Liechtenstein. Vorarlberg is the westernmost state of Austria.

The city sits by the lake at the foot of Pfänder mountain (Der Berg am Bodensee).

The summit of the Pfänder (1064 m) can be reached by the Pfänderbahn from Bregenz. The cable car covers a height difference of over 600m in around 6 minutes. We waited for almost an hour to get onto it. Lindau is clearly visible.

With its views over the lake and the surrounding mountain peaks, the Pfänder is one of the most famous lookout points of the region.

One can see a stage on the water which is built for the famous annual international opera festival, Bregenzer Festspiele, which will run in the summer.

From a distance, it looked like a giant pair of hands rising out of the lake. Here is a time lapse video of the construction of this year’s stage for Carmen.

There is a small Alpine wildlife park at the top.

Back to town, the Vorarlberg area is known for its architectural principle – “Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule” – which combines traditional construction and modern interpretation, and involves craftsmen and locals in the building process.

Walking through Bregenz, we saw many modern buildings standing next to traditional houses.

Overall, quite harmonious.

One of Austria’s famous food is the schnitzel – pounded and breaded veal fillet. We were happy to find a restaurant specialized in this dish in a old historic building.

Goldener Hirschen at Kirchstrasse 8 serves many tourists but without being touristy.

Traditional interiors.

We sat outside in a small garden. They also offer a pork version but it was clearly stated and 15% cheaper. Many main street touristy restaurants do not offer a choice and serves pork (especially true in Germany).

The presentation was pedestrian, not as good as what we had in Vienna.  Overall very good.

Click here to see the Wiener Schnitzel we had a while back.

While I was in Beijing, I met my high-school friend NKL who is in the art business there, and he took me to see the famous 798 Art Zone or 798 Art District (798艺术区).

By the way, I am not sure if the pile of bicycles in front of the 798 sign is art or a sign of excess of the sharing economy (people not returning the bikes that were shared via services like Uber).

It was a ugly rainy day and many of the galleries and eateries were not open. The consolation was that there were fewer people. The pictures are not pretty but you will get an idea of the place.

751 D-Park

Wikipedia has a lot of information on the history of the zone. So I will use their information in much of what is to come below.  The official web site is at

751 Ace Cafe

The 798 Art Zone is located in the Dashanzi (大山子) area, Chaoyang District, to the northeast of central Beijing. It is the site of state-owned decommissioned military factories including Factory 798, which originally produced electronics. The zone comprises a complex of 50-year-old factory buildings boasting a unique East German Bauhaus-influenced style (Dessau Design Institute). Factory #798 is only one of several structures inside a complex formerly known as the 718 Joint Factory.

Construction started in April 1954 and the factories started production in 1957. The factory quickly established a reputation for itself as one of the best in China. The Joint Factory produced a wide variety of military and civilian equipment. Civilian production included acoustic equipment such as all the loudspeakers on Tiananmen Square and Chang’an Avenue. After 10 years of operation, Joint Factory 718 was split into more manageable sub-Factories 706, 707, 751, 761, 797 and 798, following the Chinese government’s method of naming military factories starting with the number 7.

718 Art Ahead

The plans for the factory buildings, where form follows function, called for large indoor spaces designed to let the maximum amount of natural light into the workplace.

Arch-supported sections of the ceiling would curve upwards then fall diagonally along the high slanted banks or windows; this pattern would be repeated several times in the larger rooms, giving the roof its characteristic sawtooth-like appearance.

In 1995, Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), looking for cheap workshop space away from downtown, set up in the now defunct Factory 706. In 2001, American Robert Bernell moved his Timezone 8 Art Books bookshop, gallery and publishing office into a former factory canteen; he was the first foreigner to move in. Later that year, Tabata Yukihito from Japan’s Tokyo Gallery set up Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (BTAP, 北京东京艺术工程) inside a 400-m² division of Factory 798’s main area. BTAP’s 2002 opening exhibition “Beijing Afloat” (curator: Feng Boyi), drew a crowd of over 1,000 people and marked the beginning of popular attention in the area.

In 2002, designer artist Huang Rui (黄锐) and hutong photographer Xu Yong (徐勇) set up the 798 Space gallery (时态空间) next to BTAP. With its cavernous 1200-m² floor and multiple-arched ceilings at the center of Factory 798, it was and still is the symbolic center of the whole district.

Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to divide, rent out, and re-make the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, art centers, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars.

Insight Bookshop

Giant mural of the zone in isometric view

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA (尤伦斯当代艺术中心) is an independent institution of contemporary art, founded in 2007 by Belgian philantropist, Guy Ullens, out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue.

In June 2017, a group of China-based investors came together to restructure UCCA, separating its commercial and non-profit functions, ensuring its long- term presence in the 798 Art District, and securing its future vision.

When we entered the Center, a volunteer gave us a guided tour of the exhibits in Mandarin. He was enthusiastic and memorized the opinionated spiel about the paintings. But it took too much time and our attention, so we declined the personal tour after a few rooms. I did not take any photo in the Center except in the shop which had a decent range of books and design objects.

Apart from contemporary art, we visited the gallery of a copper artist/craftsman who made incredibly beautiful and complex copper sculpture.

798 Art Zone mixes art, commerce and tourism. It is exciting and exhausting at the same time due to its size, novelty, and diversity. If I live in Beijing, I will come here regularly.

One could think of this as Beijing’s version of New York’s Soho. While the development of the Zone has undergone a similar industrial to artistic to commercial pattern, it is not quite the same. The Zone is in a suburban area, not central Beijing, and much larger in terms of area. To me, it felt a bit like a theme park.

After the 798 Art Zone, my friend took me to the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. See the next post.


After seeing the famous “Treasury”, we continued with our walk through the gorge which gradually widens and open up to a vast area. I, like many people, thought that the only thing to see in Petra is the Treasury.

It is the highlight of the site but there is an entire city on the other side. Petra (then known as Raqmu) was an important trading post located strategically in the desert at the northern end of the caravan route from Arabia to the Mediterranean. The people had great wealth and power at the time of the first centuries B.C. and A.D. It was reported by the Metropolitan museum of art that the fame of the Nabataean kingdom spread as far as Han-dynasty China, where Petra was known as Li-kan.

Petra is also called the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. Apparently, at certain hour early in the morning, the rock faces are lit by the sun creating a spectacle. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

During the reign of King Aretas III (r. 86–62 B.C.), the Nabataean kingdom extended its territory northward and briefly occupied Damascus. The expansion was halted by the arrival of Roman legions under Pompey in 64 B.C. Petra’s importance declined as sea trade routes emerged and many structures were destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century.

The Byzantine Era witnessed the construction of several Christian churches, but the city continued to decline, and by the early Islamic era became an abandoned place where only a handful of nomads lived.

It remained unknown to the world until it was “discovered” in 1812 by a Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches.

We walked into an amphitheater – one can easily imagine a town meeting or a performance being attended by people who live in the caves around the valley. The theatre consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways and was carved into the mountainside during the reign of King Aretas IV (4 B.C. – 27 A.D.). Jesus was born at around the same time when this was being constructed.

Under the emperor Trajan in 106 A.D., Petra fell to the Romans who annexed and renamed Nabataea to Arabia Petraea. Apart from the many incredible structures carved out of the mountain, they also built free-standing buildings.

Great Temple – remnants

Inside the settlement

Animals in Petra – donkey – a less active ride than that offered by a camel.

Notice the pattern of marks chiseled in the rock behind the donkeys  !

Looking back towards all the tombs on one side from the Great Temple … one gets a sense of the human scale of this early settlement.

27 sites in Petra are now available on Google Street View. Even if you are not going to see Petra any time soon, it is worth checking it out using better tech than my photos here.

In Oslo, with our ticket purchased for the National Museum in Oslo, we could use them to enter the National Museum of Architecture as well.

This establishment was opened in 2008. The main building was completed in 1830 as a division office for Norges Bank. It was adapted and extended by Sverre Fehn (1924–2009), who was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1997.

A gingerbread architecture competition is held annually by the National Museum (Nasjonal Museet), Norway.

Oil rig

All the entries can be seen here at the museum’s website.


Some of the results and the winners were on display.


The gingerbread exhibits was retrievable by the contestants on January 6 and any Houses not retrieved will be eaten.


After the audience award ceremony on January 7, a gingerbread House smash-and-eat was held to conclude the competition.


Continuing with our visit of Oslo …, the Nobel Peace Center (see previous post here) is at the start of Aker Brygge.

Aker Brygge is a part of the Sentrum area, just west of Oslo down town.  It is known for its piers, where eateries with outdoor tables serve international cuisine, or casual fare like burgers and steak. It is one of the most visited area of Norway.

It was the former ship yard of Akers Mekaniske Verksted, which ceased operations in 1982.


A few old industrial buildings were demolished, while several of the major workshop halls were rebuilt as shopping areas. The first step of the construction was finished in 1986.

The area was reorganized between 2010 and 2014.

A popular summer boat bar is moored nearby, and ferries depart year-round for the scenic Oslo Fjord. There were locals and tourists around even in mid-winter – it must be really fun in the summer.

The new development included an inside street, going through the main buildings. Aker Brygge area today consists of 13 separate units.

Local cultural draws include the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (designed by Renzo Piano, see next post).

Tyuvholmen is the area located on a peninsula sticking out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord.

The first element of the name is tjuv = ‘thief’, the last element is the finite form of holme = ‘islet’. Thieves were executed here in the 18th century. An older (Danish) spelling of the name was “Tyveholmen”.

The name for a modern hotel on the islet –  The Thief – also originates from this history.

It was a good 20 minutes walk from the Nobel Peace Center to here.

At the tip of the peninsula is the Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park. The park’s concept was designed by Renzo Piano and developed in conjunction with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

We did not have time to walk out to the beach but the sunset was spectacular.

Take a look inside the Astrup Fearnley museum in our next post.

Rotterdam Blaak Station is the intercity train station nearest to my hotel. Above ground it has a flying saucer-like canopy.

It is a station situated below ground for the national railway network but not part of the Rotterdam metro system. The metro stop also named Blaak is next to it. Confusing isn’t it, unless I misread the maps.

While waiting for a train to take me to Schiphol Airport, I snapped these pictures in a quick burst before my train arrived.

To me, the station is an exercise in De Stijl (and perhaps a bit of Constructivism).

De Stijl was founded in 1917 in Leiden which is only 2 stops away from this station.

Having 4 platforms, the station was completed in 1993.

The blue/green neon-ish lights and transparent glass bricks do remind me of some MTV music videos of the 80’s.

Sections of the roof is wavy.

Simple arrangement of tiles to depict train carriages.

Sculptured underside of the landing and walkways … it echoes the graphical lines on a transport network map.

A hint of surrealism with these framed mirrors.

Notice the optical illusion at the feet of the white-tiled pillars.

Since this is not a major stop, many trains dashed past passengers on the platforms at high speed without slowing down.

My train arrived on time. It stopped at Delft, The Hague, and Leiden before the airport which was about 30 minutes away.



Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen) are a set of residential houses designed by architect Piet Blom and based on the concept of “living as an urban roof”, i.e., high density housing with sufficient space on the ground level. It is built in the late 70’s over Overblaak Street between Blaak and Oude Haven.

Blom tilted the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and rested it upon a hexagon-shaped pylon. The walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees. The total area of the apartment is around 100 square metres (1,100 sq ft), but around a quarter of the space is unusable because of the walls that are under the angled ceilings.

His design represents a village within a city, where each house represents a tree.

The cubes share a common area with no traffic which presents a nice atmosphere of a community. They reminded me of the heads of giant anime robots – mecha – think Gundam, for example.

There are 38 cubes and two large cubes, all attached to each other. There is a museum of chess pieces in one of the 38 cubes and a hostel in one of the larger cubes.

An apartment is opened as a museum –  Kijk-Kubus  – but it was too crowded and I did not bother to get inside.

Just across the square from the Cube Houses is Marthal. On 19 November 2009 work began on Marthal – the first covered market in the Netherlands. It was officially opened in 2014.

Its design is unique in that apartments are draped over the daily market in a horseshoe shape. It is spectacular given the scale of the whole structure.

The main hall houses the market itself, shops and restaurants, a supermarket and a 4-storey car park underground. It was a very popular location for locals and tourists alike.

There is a Chinese grocery store – Wah Nam Hong – which has a “restaurant”. The store is well stocked but the menu is however very limited. I tried but would not recommend it. If you want Asian food, the all-you-can-eat sushi chain restaurant is much more attractive and extremely popular.

The artist Arno Coenen created the Horn of Plenty, the biggest work of art in the world. Its bright colours cover an area of ​​11,000 m2.

While I was there, the weather was quite miserable – wet and cold. This marketplace is the perfect antidote to the grayness outside and to fill up with foods from the world.

One stop shopping for all of one’s culinary needs.

Wish there is one in Switzerland.

Rotterdam is a fun city.

I(Chris) spent a day in Rotterdam and walked from the Maritime Museum to the Museumpark along the street Witte de Withstraat. Part 1 covers the shops, bars and restaurants on Witte de Withstraat.

Museumpark is an urban landscaped park located between the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Westersingel, Westzeedijk and the complex of the Erasmus medical center in central Rotterdam. The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Kunsthal, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Chabot Museum, and the Natural History Museum (Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam) are all located there and connected with each other by this landscaped park.

First, the establishments – the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (see a dedicated post later)

Chabot Museum is home to one of the most important collections of Dutch expressionist painter and sculptor Henk Chabot (1894-1949).  The white villa was built in 1938 and represents a highpoint of the functionalist ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’ (New Construction) style of architecture. It was designed by Gerrit Willem Baas and Leonard Stokla in 1938 as a private residence.

Chabot Museum’s next door neighbor – there are a few more houses/villa that are built in this style in the area. But I couldn’t tell if it was built around the same time as the Chabot museum or it is a later emulation.

In Het Nieuwe Instituut – the Museum of Architecture, Design and Digital Culture – shows temporary exhibitions with a recurring theme of innovation. The museum examines the designed world and how it is constantly being changed by new technologies, new ideas and shifting social priorities. The concept is similar to that of the MAAT in Lisbon – click here for our earlier post.

Instead of a lawn, the institute has a pond covered in algae in front of it. Look carefully, it is green water.

The institute has a modern and comfy cafe

… but the bookstore (not so much a shop, but more like an open market) was closed. The stalls were all covered up.

The park was designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA in close collaboration with the French landscape architect Yves Brunier and the designer Petra Blaisse.

The park has a very innovative design: four zones – a paved zone; a romantic zone with trees, flowers and a pedestrian bridge (just visible above); a city zone which is covered in asphalt and often used for public events; and a well-tended orchard area.

I used all my time in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen so the Kunsthal was closed by the time I got to it.

Although it is not eye-catching like a work by Gehry, this is a masterpiece of architecture by Rem Koolhass –  read more about it here:

One of the sculptures outside the Kunsthal.

The city’s Natural History Museum is next door.

As I walked back towards the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, one can see the other side of the museum where Claes Oldenburg’s Screwarch is installed.

I read somewhere that the ponds and fountains in this park are designed to act as buffers to prevent flooding of the city.

The green and built spaces around the park are really harmonious.

I will definitely come back to have a closer look at the museums and relax with a drink at the establishments on Witte de Withstraat.







The MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, opened its doors to the public on 5 October, 2016. I (Chris) had the chance of a private tour in October 2017. A young museum, just over a year old !

Presenting itself as a new cultural centre in the city of Lisbon, the MAAT represents an ambition to host national and international exhibitions with contributions by contemporary artists, architects and thinkers. Click here for its web site.

Our private guided tour started in the early evening and it was eerie inside.

No shopping.

I saw two exhibits. The first “Tensão e Conflito – Arte em Vídeo após 2008 (Tension & Conflict – Video art after 2008)” – 22 artists made video of their personal views on current events. The museum is turned into a number of film viewing spaces.

The second exhibit is “Shadow Soundings” by Bill Fontana as commissioned by MAAT.

It was created from the sounds and vibrations of the 25th of April Bridge (visible from the museum) and the Tagus River (just outside), and then amplified until they acquire a musical quality.

Using seven projections, the installation shows unique views of the bridge and the Tagus river, as well as unknown angles of the shadows of vehicles moving across the bridge.

The MAAT also represents an effort to revitalise the riverfront of Belém’s historic district. It was designed by the British architecture firm Amanda Levete Architects.

The MAAT also occupies the recently renovated Central Tejo power station (closed since 1975) next door which we did not have a chance to see.

The two buildings are united by an outdoor park, conceived by landscape architect Vladimir Djurovik, offering an outstanding leisure space along Lisbon’s riverbank.

If you go online, you can find photos of the museum taken from the river.  It looks like a low undulating wave.

During the day, people can stroll up to the roof of the museum via the “ramp” to view the river at a higher vantage point.

Well worth returning – for a stroll along the river and a very modern experience.



In October 2017, I(Chris) attended a conference held in Lisbon, Portugal at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown – a state-of-the-art facility for research and clinical care.

The Centre, designed by the Indian architect, Charles Correa, was inaugurated on October 5th 2010.

It is situated at the point where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic and from where the great Portuguese navigators once set sail.


… the architectural space


Our conference was held in the auditorium across a wide paved passage.

The auditorium which seats 400 has a giant elliptical window with a view of the river.

The shapes of the holes in the wall and the auditorium window echo the biological cell.

Opened in 2011 with the mission of offering high quality clinical care, primarily in the field of oncology, the Champalimaud Clinical Centre occupies most of the lower floors of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown.

The research labs are situated on the higher floors overlooking the tropical pergola garden.

The buildings are connected by a transparent enclosed bridge. There is an outdoor amphitheater and a gently sloping walk to an area bound by an infinity pool and a “pebble beach” where one can take in the view of the river.


Another place for gathering.

At sunset, the view was magnificent. Breath-taking.

We were facing west towards the open Atlantic Ocean and the Americas on the other side. Pebble beach and infinity pool.

The Champalimaud Foundation (Portuguese: Fundação Champalimaud), a private biomedical research foundation, was created according to the will of the late entrepreneur António de Sommer Champalimaud, in 2004. It conducts research in neurosciences, oncology, and particularly blindness.

Notice the light blue paint on the tip of the concrete pillar mimicking the color of the sky. Presumably, on certain days when the light conditions are right, the pair of pillars could look as if they reach into the clouds. Nice touch !

Some of the write up here come from the official web site of the foundation. They have a video about the Centre.

What a site for a conference !


We spent a few days in Edinburgh in June. Here are some snapshots of the city.

Princess Street Garden is in the center of Edinburgh. It bridges the old (Medieval) and new (Georgian) parts of the city. View from Edinburgh Castle.

Scott Monument at the edge of the garden. Who is he?

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession.

He was best known as a historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics e.g., Ivanhoe, and Rob Roy.

The Scottish National Gallery is in the center of the Princess Street Garden.

Floral clock in the garden

Ross band stand in the Princess Street Garden

St. John’s Episcopal Church just below the Edinburgh Castle (see later post).

Scottish Parliament, at the far end of the Royal Mile (away from the Castle). Built by Enric Miralles, from the outset the building and its construction (1999-2004) have been controversial. It was over-budget and late, hated by the public and praised by academics.

“Trigger Panels” –  an abstraction of curtains drawn back from the windows of the Scottish Parliament Building

Arthur’s Feet in Holyrood Park overlooking the Parliament Building

Leith – north of Edinburgh which is a port and had a shipbuilding history

Ships that lay undersea cable (looks like its function given the giant spool) – it is pretty important for the internet.

Royal Yacht Brittania, now retired (1954-1997), berthed at the Ocean Terminal at Leith for tourists and events (we were too late to enter).

The Royal Yacht’s last foreign mission was to convey the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, and the Prince of Wales back from Hong Kong after its handover to the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997.





Almost forgot this post which we wrote earlier in the year.

We visited The former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters, now renamed PMQ 元創方 in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong earlier this year. The buildings and grounds have been turned into a landmark for the creative industries. It is truly a great place to wander and shop as well as to soak up some local history and creative culture.

The history and preservation efforts of the site are well researched and documented here officially. Much of the writings below have been taken from various Hong Kong government sources.

In 1951, the site started as the Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters — the first dormitory for Chinese rank and file police officers. The site included 140 single rooms and 28 double rooms, with a semi-open design that allowed greater interaction between the residents. The site had been vacant since 2000.

The two buildings have been refurbished and upgraded for new uses. Residential units have been converted into design studios and shops, offices for creative enterprises and lodging for visiting designers. The buildings of PMQ are of modern style, feature a simple and clean appearance with a more utility approach for the design of space and form. This style emerged in the early 1950s when there was a great increase in population, resulting in great demand in buildings which required fast and efficient construction.

In order to cope with this, the design of building aimed at meeting the minimum requirement and standard which resulted in a simple and functional design. Buildings of this style are mainly built of strictly utilitarian reinforced concrete with flat roofs with minimal decoration.

This place turns out to be the childhood homes of both Hong Kong ex-Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his predecessor Donald Tsang.

When the government was going to auction the land, conservationists launched a campaign, citing social historical values embedded in the buildings and the fact it was once the site of Hong Kong’s first government school offering Western-style education.

Given that nearly HK$600 million of public funds has been spent on its renovation, PMQ is seen as a major test case on how Hong Kong conserves and revitalises historic buildings.

We thought about Common Ground in Seoul (see post here) – which is also a cool place for locals and tourists to socialize and shop.  Common Ground is more commercial while PMQ is more artsy – perhaps it can afford to be so as some of the tenants are sponsored.

PMQ’s mission statement says it wants to nurture the best design entrepreneurs in town, put them on the path to commercial success and become a popular destination for tourists and locals in its own right.

On the ground and first floors, there are fancy eateries and established designers and retailers like Vivienne Tam and G.O.D. Having known designer names on the premises is vital to the sustainability of the whole project, not just because of the higher rent that they pay, but also their crowd-pulling power.

We rested our feet with a few drinks at the Tai Lung Fung which adopts a certain vintage Hong Kong eatery designs.

The style is before our time and we cannot tell if it is accurate but it looks authentic.


Highly recommended.

After reaching our westernmost destination on our Alps-Atlantic trip at Biarritz (click here to see related posts), we came back via Bordeaux and stopped for a few days to explore the area.

The Cité du Vin is a museum as well as a place of exhibitions and academic seminars on the theme of wine located in the city of Bordeaux.

The building, meant to suggest a decanter, was designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of XTU architects.

La Cite du Vins was official opened by the President, François Hollande on May 31, 2016. So the place is not even a year old, it is brand new.

The building has 8 floors with most of the exhibition spaces and classrooms on the lower floors.

In an open exhibition space occupying more than 3,000 m², nearly twenty different themed areas invite you to take a voyage of discovery and enjoy a unique experience exploring the many and varied facets of wine across time and space.

One can spend hours watching, listening, and even smelling the exhibits. There is so much media content to be consumed.

One darkened area has several tables where visitors can sit around and watch a virtual host explain various topics – history, entertaining, food pairing.

The table is actually a screen and the image changes continuously – sometimes it is a dining table but it could morph into another image seamlessly and quickly.

There were several tables that allow visitors to discern the aromas present in a wine. A squeeze of the small black rubber bulb releases the aroma which can be inhaled from the copper horn.

This part of the exhibition was unique in that they provided many different sources of aroma.

We participated in a multi-sensory workshop where we tasted several wines, learnt about its origin (not all were French) and pairing with food around the world. It is “multi-sensory” because certain aromas were sprayed into the room to invoke a sense of a place and its food which were projected on surround screen.

The workshop was entertaining and its delivery employed state of the art technology.

There are 2 restaurants. We did not eat there. Our entry ticket include a free glass of wine to be enjoyed at the belvedere which affords a 360 degree view of the northern end of Bordeaux city and the river Garonne.

“Downtown” direction view of the city of Bordeaux.

There is a souvenir shop “La Boutique” which sells every wine-related gifts one can imagine.

Next to it is the wine store which stocks thousands of bottles from around the world. Not just Bordeaux or French, a truly comprehensive international collection.

We spent almost the entire day here. The city really did a good job in creating this museum to educate and promote wine culture, and giving adults the sense of fun that kids have in a themed amusement park.

Our first night of the 2017 Alps-to-Atlantic trip was spent in Saint-Emilion.  This small medieval village is known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and extremely well known for its red wine.

Our hotel “Au Logis des Remparts” is located at the edge of the village center and was built using a part of the remaining defensive wall. The village is so small that the hotel’s location is essentially central.

There are three floors. There is an elevator for luggage but not people.

One can see parts of the rampart with a walkway on top and a stone parapet.

This village was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it was the first wine-making entity that was listed as a “cultural landscape”.

While our room is unremarkable, the garden is heavenly.

Geometrically-shaped trees in the middle.

We and our friends really like it and spent a good few hours lying on the lounge chairs, staring up at the trees, and falling asleep.

We had it all to ourselves.

Can’t remember the last time we had such a naturally serene and relaxing moment.

Since it was the beginning of the season, the owner was moving the sculptures around the garden looking for an optimal place to show them.

The pieces are apparently all available for sale.

The weather was perfect to be outside. But it is too cold for swimming.

The patio has the perfectly shaped shady olive tree (I think it is an olive tree).

We took our breakfast underneath it one morning.

Highly recommended.