Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Morocco, Gardens, Art, Architecture

This is a new book that features the best of thousands of images I took this winter (2010-11) while traveling in Morocco.  Each city or town is featured individually, with the idea of showing the unique character of each place and the artisanship that embellishes them.

I loved being in Morocco so much.  There were many days of blissful contentment, having had interesting social exchanges, and seeing so many amazing things.  Life was experientially rich there.  It is worth looking closely at each photo, as Morocco is about the details as much as the whole.  There are many stories you will just have to imagine that go with every page.

Cisterne Portugaise, El Jadida
Baker Boy, Tetouan
Enjoy, Jeffrey

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Patio de los Naranjos, Cordoba, Spain

The Patio de los Naranjos, The Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
Pebble Mosaic and Irrigation channels
One of the places I most wanted to revisit when I went to Spain this winter was the city of Cordoba in Andalusia.  Cordoba’s most significant monument is the Mezquita, the Great Mosque and Cathedral.   Construction began in 785 AD by the Emir Abd ar Rahman on the footprint of a Visigothic church.  It was expanded in the 9th and 10th Centuries to become one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world, covering 14,000 square meters.  1000 years ago, Cordoba was the largest city in the World and a great center of culture and learning.

Doors to the Patio
Adjacent to the Mezquita, and directly across from the hotel I stayed in, is the Patio de los Naranjos, or the Court of the Oranges.  I had first seen images of the patio in a lecture at the University of Oregon and so I had to visit it when I made my first trip to Spain in 1987.  It was in May and the Spring Ferias were happening, so the city was filled with music and Flamenco dancing.  I arrived this time in the evening and the ancient golden doors to the patio were closed.  I got a tantalizing glimpse of the interior through the gap in the doors and was so excited to be back here 24 years later.

The Mezquita’s predominant trademark is the forest of 856 columns topped by red and tan striped double arches.  The design allowed for a feeling of airiness in the massive space.  In the 16th Century a cathedral was built in the center of the mosque which reduced the number of columns from the original 1,293.  Though the cathedral is beautiful in of itself, the mosque was just too magnificent to destroy and was preserved and adapted after the Christian conquest of Muslim Spain.

Columns and Double Arches in the Mezquita
 The most spectacular part of the Mezquita is the Mihrab (prayer niche) and dome, which is located in the qibla, the wall oriented in the direction of Mecca.  The arches are more elaborate in this section and those over the Mihrab itself are embellished with stunning gilded mosaic cubes.  These were gifted by the Emperor of Byzantium of Constantinople, which is present day Istanbul in Turkey.  The mosaic decoration, though Islamic, has a strong Byzantine influence.

Dome over the Royal Prayer enclosure
First thing in the morning I headed across the street before the crowds of tourists arrived.  There were morning strollers and birds in the trees, and the fountains were trickling softly.  The courtyard was traditionally used as a place to do ablutions, which is traditional in a mosque.  One washed before prayers.  The courtyard was developed around the year 976, making it one of the oldest gardens still in existence on Earth.
Rectangular Pool used from Ablutions
The run off from the substantial roof of the mosque is collected in a cistern on top of which the patio is built.  Water from the cistern comes up in to a rectangular pool with four columns at the corners with brass spigots.  There is a central fountain as well that now has a whimsical waterwheel folly that sprays twirling arcs of water in all directions.  The pool is located on the north side of the patio across from the wall of the mosque.  Water from the pool flows in to a recessed brick lined channel that runs the length of the patio.  Perpendicular channels run across the river pebble pavement to circles that surround each of the trees planted in a grid.  Most of the trees are bitter oranges, but there are a few date palms and cypresses and an olive tree as well.  A wooden block is used to control the flow of water in to each channel until the sufficient amount of water needed to irrigate each tree has been delivered.  Excess water then returns to the cistern, minimizing waste.  The flowing water working its way through the garden ties everything together in a beautifully functional way.

Brick lined irrigation channel
The alignment of the grid of trees mirrors the alignment of the columns inside the mosque creating an ingenious spatial relationship between the two.  Lines of stones in the pebble mosaic pavement also accentuate the grid pattern of the whole complex.  There is a similar patio at the Cathedral in Sevilla that is a remnant of the Great Mosque that once occupied the site there that is paved with brick.
Patio de los Naranjos, Sevilla
The irrigation pattern of a linear channel connecting circular water wells around the trees is mimicked in the fountains of Moorish palaces such as the Alhambra, and the Alcazars of Cordoba and Sevilla.  These fountains are some of the most elegant ever conceived, and use water as a way to connect interior and exterior courtyard spaces.   One of the reasons that these places are so enduringly beautiful is that they speak literally of the root of their inspiration.  Irrigation allowed man to settle and raise food, which led to civilization.  That gift in turn inspired architectural form and reflected the connection between water as the source of life and the ability of man to build and live in an urban environment.  That connection is conveyed with brilliant clarity in the Mezquita at Cordoba. 
Fountains and water channel, Patio de los Leones,  The Alhambra, Granada
I hope that I will be fortunate enough to incorporate more of those beautiful ideas in to my own work in the future.  I am so ready to build something extraordinary.  Let me know if you are interested.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

View from the grand balcony 
                                                    click on images to see larger view 

In my travels I have beheld certain buildings that rank for me as some of the finest of Man’s achievements, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Borobudur, the Pantheon, and the Alhambra amongst the many.  One of the most contemporary of these extraordinary buildings and one that I revisted this year is the Plaza de España, located on the edge of Parque Maria Luisa in the city of Sevilla, in Andalusia, Spain.   I had been their 24 years ago, and it changed my idea of what Man's potential is as an artisan.

Tile panel in the South Tower

Sevilla has a rich history spanning hundreds of years.  Dating back to Roman times, the city was then called Hispalis, a port located a navigable 100 kilometers up the Rio Guadalquivir from the Atlantic Ocean.  The city later became Ishbiliya, the capitol of the Islamic Almohad empire, a sect that came from Morocco.  As that kingdom declined, the city fell to Fernando III of Castilla in 1248.  In the next century Sevilla grew to be the most important city in Castilla, and controlled the trade from New World Colonies in the 16th Century.
Tile elevation of the building
 A large area of the city was redeveloped for the 1929 Iberoamerican Exposition, a World’s Fair, creating the Parque Maria Luisa, with the Plaza de España on one side.  The building was designed by Architect Anibal Gonzales as a venue to showcase Spain’s Technology and Industry exhibits, including the fine art of glazed tile that the city is known for.   The Exposition required 19 years to construct and featured buildings from numerous former colonies of Spain and a complex built by the United States which later housed he U.S. Consulate.  Each of the pavilions showcased the products, industry, and art of the representative countries, with the goal of improving relations and trade between them.  The fair was a very expensive venture followed by the Great Depression.  Scenes from the movies Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars, Attack of the Clones were filmed here.  I never saw the latter and can only imagine how it was used.

Plaza de España, moat, and North Tower
The Plaza de España’s building is an enormous arc flanked by soaring graceful towers with decorative elements reflecting that of the great Giralda tower on the Sevilla Cathedral.  A spectacular series of tiled alcoves represent the various provinces before a promenade.  The plaza itself is separated from the promenade by a moat that reflects the curve of the building, spanned by elegant bridges with ceramic balustrades.  Rowboats ply the moat filled with happy paddlers.
Bridge Balustrade in glazed ceramic

The plaza itself is a massive pebble mosaic of swirls and checkerboards and was the original inspiration for me to learn the art of pebble mosaic after visiting Sevilla in 1987.  A large central fountain in the Plaza was turned off when I was there, as were all of the fountains in Parque Maria Luisa, which was rather disappointing, but they may always drain them in the winter.
Plaza Pebble Mosaic

One of the most impressive aspects of the complex is the way that the building and the landscape before it are inextricably connected.  Every part plays to the whole.  Above the tiled alcoves is a grand curving colonnade, which supports a spacious arced balcony for taking in the entire plaza.  The building is something of a Renaissance blend of Islamic and Christian architectural elements to create what is called Mudejar style.  Mudejar is an aberration of an Islamic word meaning domesticated, which refers to the overthrow of their empire by the Christians.  The architectural result of this style is one of the loveliest on Earth.  Brick is the primary material of construction and is used to great decorative affect. 
Arcade view with Provincial alcoves
 Glazed tile, the decoration of which reached a pinnacle in Sevilla is used throughout the Plaza de España.  The provincial alcoves are truly extraordinary.  Each is flanked by a rectangular bench with outreaching arms, encouraging people to gather within them.  It works so well.  In such a huge and overwhelming space, people sit in intimate groups, soaking up the sun and light, reclining, embracing, and conversing while taking in the activities of the plaza and moat.  A mural representing historic events or iconic landscapes backs each alcove along with other scenes in framed panels.  Trompe l’oeil is used in the frames to create the illusion of 3 dimensional architectural elements that blend seamlessly with those that are actually are.  People visiting from various provinces can frequently be seen gathering in their home spaces for portraits.  It is like a great, beautiful textbook on the geography and history of Spain.

Gorgeous tile wall on a staircase

The plaza is greatly loved and used because it is so engaging, instructive, and gorgeous.  Every aspect is so well executed and literal, representing everything there is about the country the plaza represents.  For me it is the best of what architecture can be.
Province of Alava
Canary Islands
Don Quixote, the Ciudad Real alcove
Trompe l'oeil mural
Tile alcove mini kiosk

Lanterns, moat, bridge and the North Tower at dusk
Thanks for reading this, Jeffrey

Kitty, A new book by Jeffrey Bale

Kitty is a book of images of cats that I have met along the trail over the years.  Most of them live on the street and eat what they can scavenge or by the kindness of strangers.  Though I don't have a cat and don't really want one, I always seem to stop and engage cats when I come across them.  Some are extroverts and are lushes for attention.  Others are quite wary and run when I get too close.  Some have wide open stares.  Some are sparring for territory, and some smell another cat in heat, and often they are curled up trying to sleep.  They are not always easy to photograph either, so this collection is often a captured fleeting moment.  Like people, they all have their own personality.

Certain friends have been telling me that I should make a book from these images and so I finally have.  You can see the entire book by clicking on this link, and if you are interested you may order a copy as well.

Thanks, and mew, Jeffrey

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Arts and Crafts of Morocco

Fountain at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat

Morocco is, pure and simple, one of the most beautiful countries for artistic expression in the World.  Ancient skills are still practiced in precisely the same manner as they have been through millennium.  That is a remarkable thing in a World that has gone through industrialization and extreme changes in such a short period of time.  

The Tanneries in Fes
How many countries have entire markets dedicated to finely embroidered clothing, hand tooled metal work, wood carving and intricate painting?  Beautiful hand loomed carpets are stacked to the ceilings in old riad mansions converted in to sales rooms.  The ceramics in Fez are exquisite, as are the hand cut tiles used in traditional zellij work.  There are markets for dazzling ornamental horse bridles, and fine leather goods are skinned and tanned and dyed just around the corner in tanneries that have functioned in the same manner for 1,000 years.  Then there are the herbal pharmacies, and quality hand made perfumes that provide natural remedies for better health and olfactory bliss, It is like a continuation of the medieval bazaars with royal patronage that existed in imperial cities and along the old Silk Routes hundreds of years ago, where the finest workmanship was created for the noble classes.  Though the Islamic arts find their most renowned expressions due to Royal patronage, practical items used by the middle classes in every day life, such as ceramics, metal work, and carpets often receive a highly refined level of craftsmanship.
Ceramics Souk, Fes
Ceiling, Dar Seffarine, Fes

Doors of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
It is heartening to see that these skills are still valued here, and incorporated in to modern design.  I saw in my travels extensive use of traditional tile zellij  in restoration and new construction.  The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the third largest in the World, was only finished in 1993, and needed 6,000 highly skilled artisans to complete it.  These people didn’t need to be trained, they were already adept at their various trades.  Massive bronze doors are meticulously cast.  The zellijes cover acres of surfaces with unusual variations on traditional motifs.  Stone and stucco work is beautifully designed and carved.  Then there are the new train stations in Rabat, Fez, and Marrakesh, with giant hand tooled lanterns and inlaid floors with tessalate geometric patterns of great complexity.  Old Riad houses are being restored in all of the major cities for use as homes, guest houses, restaurants and shops.  I stayed in one of the finest Riads in the ancient city of Fes, called Dar Seffarine.  It is located in the metal workers souk around the Place Seffarine and is something of an affordable dream place to reside.  In fact is probably the most beautiful place I have ever stayed.  Every aspect of the house was derived from carefully conceived design, proportions and embellishment.
Bronze doors on Hassan II Mosque
Tile Zellij, Hassan II Mosque

When I was in Tetouan I visited the Artesanal School where master artisans teach apprentices the methods of designing and executing traditional methods of painting, wood, metal, ceramic and textile work, and stucco carving.  The school received patronage of the King and the work is of the highest standard to ensure that the traditional arts continue to be passed on to the next generation.
Wedding Cabinet made in the Artesenal School in Tetouan

Manhole Cover, Tangier
We rarely if ever see this kind of work in the United States.  One of my pebble mosaic patios was once featured on the cover of Landscape Architecture magazine.   I ran in to one of my professors from the University of Oregon in a nursery in Eugene one day and happened to have a copy.  She looked at the image of an intricate Persian carpet patio made of pebbles and said ‘What is this?’  It was entirely out of her range of comprehension that a patio could be built by hand of anything, let alone exercising skill and patience, and she had been teaching Landscape Architecture classes for 25 years.  It kind of made me feel sad.  You see pebble mosaic used all over the Mediterranean as a form of pavement.  It is commonplace.  The surround for a manhole cover can be a beautiful thing to behold.  Yet few people other than myself have learned the craft in the U.S.

After the magazine came out, whenever I was approached by a Landscape Architecture office about the possibility of doing a mosaic project it was treated as a decorative element that would be surrounded by vast quantities of poured concrete.  I was introduced to the term ‘Value Engineering’, where the cost per square foot was the key to whether or not a pebble mosaic could be plugged in to the project.  In the end, all of those projects ended up being paved over entirely with a faster  but not necessarily cheaper material.  Many of these projects had enormous budgets, and in the end became forgettable places of minimal integrity.  Why are we so impatient to the point of compromising the very quality of life we live?

But enough about that.  I’m back in the U.S. now and already I am despairing the state of our nation.  In Morocco there were days when I was so overwhelmed by the richness of beauty that I had encountered that I would start to cry.  I saw thousands of wonderful doors that I would have to  stop and admire.  The richness of shapes and colors and embellishment on hand hewn wood or metal doors never seems to cease.  The hinges and reinforcements and latches are made by metal smiths in the same manner as in Medieval times.  They are works of art, the entrances to everyday homes.  Moroccan houses in the old Medinas don’t traditionally have front gardens, but stand directly on the street.  An inner courtyard and roof terraces are where the outdoor living spaces are located.  The courtyards of fine houses have tiled floors and carved stone columns and stucco and woodwork, and are often covered with a transparent roof so that light can flood in while allowing the space to stay clean and dry.  There is often a tiled or marble fountain at the center of the courtyard which would double as a decoration and source of water for the household.
Carved door, Fes

Madrasa Bou Inania, Marrakesh
Carved stucco is a craft that was used in the palaces of the Viziers of Andalusia in places such as the Alhambra, and is still used to enrich the walls and ceilings of buildings today.  Carefully applied thick layers of smooth stucco are intrically carved with delicate fine tools to create seemingly impossible reliefs.  The best work can have three overlapping designs, with Islamic caligraphy, tessalated geometric patterns, and foliar motifs juxtaposed over one another.  The latter two can be extended limitlessly in order to convey the endless realm of God.  Images of human and animal figures are not used in Islamic design.  Sometimes paint is applied inside the carving for added brilliance.  Designs are made on stencils and then transferred to the stucco and then carved.
Stencils of designs for carving stucco panels, Artesenal School, Tetouan

Stucco carving tools, Artesenal School, Tetouan
Decorative painting is used on wood doors, windows, and incredible ceilings that beg a person to lie down on cushions and spend hours in contemplation of their exquisite designs and rich colors.  Fes has always been considered the center for the finest painters and artists from this city were frequently brought to other parts of the country to embellish fine houses, palaces, and mosques.  Usually a stencil is drawn and cut and the design transferred to the wood to be painted in several colors afterwards by a steady hand.

Stencils for decorative painting, Artesanal School, Tetouan
The painting is usually done on wood panels  that are ornamented with hand jig sawn and carved wood.  Some of the most fantastic pieces of furniture are Wedding shelves with honeycomb patterns and Moroccan arches.  Ceiling panels can have star and tessellated geometric patterns to emulate the night sky in stylized interlocking knot designs.

Tile Zellij work, Artesenal School, Tetouan
Tile zellij is the process of hand cutting individual pieces of different colors of tile to form interlocking patterns.  They are used to adorn fountains and walls and floors and staircases.  Different patterns were used for various applications.  Stairwells always seem to a specific pattern of green, white, and ochre squares.  Walls will get tessellated geometric patterns in a huge range of patterns that can extend in to infinity.  Some allude to stories from the Koran or geographic context, and the colors have meaning.  Zellij fountains were installed as sources of water the the Medinas of every city.  In the Imperial city of Fes the tiles are cut with a chisel after they are fired.  In Tetouan the pieces are cut from the wet clay and then glazed and fired.  The finished look is different in appearance and to the touch.  I personally loved the Fes technique more as the edges have the slightest roughness that comes from the chip of the chisel.
Zellij fountain, Mnebhi Palace, Marrakesh

Functional hand painted ceramic items such as cookware and dishes, and pots are so beautiful as to irresistible.  We visited a workshop in Fez and did not leave empty handed as they were the most beautiful dishes we had ever seen.  The clay comes from nearby mountains and is mixed with water in vats, allowed to rest and then turned on wheels to make the forms.  They are then bisqued and glazed and fired and perhaps glazed a second or third time.  The elegance of the shapes and designs is a feast for the eyes.  If I was rich I would be replacing all of my dishes at home.
Fes Pottery, Art Naji

Carpet weaving is another age old tradition still practiced on a massive scale throughout Morocco.  The Berber carpets are distinct in that they are embroidered flatweaves and are durable and meant to be used for floors.  They incorporate geometric designs and stripes and are made from a mix of wool, silk, and cactus fibers colored with natural dyes.  Nomadic pile rugs are softer and made originally for reclining and sleeping rather than walking on.  The designs are more pictorial, with borders and garden scenes and curvaceous arabesque patterns being typical.  Beautifully tiled floors graced with gorgeous carpets make for some of the wonderful room treatments I have ever seen.
Carpet Shop in a Riad, Tetouan

Lantern Shop, Marrakesh
Metal smiths cut and hammer brass, iron, and copper to form huge kettles, pots, lanterns and hardware.  Moroccan lanterns are a distinctive item that are pierced with intricate patterns to cast fantastic sprays of light across rooms.  Colored glass is often set in them to add jewel like brilliance.  Hardware on doors, hinges, and locks are one of the reasons that doors are such captivating sights along the streets. 

Lantern Shop, Marrakesh
Each of these mediums deserves an article on its own as I am barely brushing the surface.  I hope to self publish a book of photos in the near future on the Gardens and design of Morocco and Andalusia, and perhaps one with just photos of doors as I have an amazing collection of images.  I will forever be inspired by what I have seen, and will continue to make it a part of my life’s quest to raise the bar in the country that I live in by creating and encouraging a richer and more meaningful embellishment of the spaces we inhabit.  We can live in a more beautiful world.
Marble and Tile Floor, Dar Seffarine, Fes
Woodworking Department, Artesenal School, Tetouan

Thank you for reading this, Jeffrey
Tile courtyard and fountain, Meknes
Tile patio, American Legation, Tangier