Archive for March, 2008

Light Touch

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

In Oakland, the Cathedral of Christ the Light designed by Craig Hartman of SOM, is progressing well. The external glass skin is complete, the plaza and interiors are still under construction. The Cathedral is expected to open later this year.


Piano Tuning

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Over at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, everyone is pushing to get the building ready for the September opening.



Things are moving along with finishing off the various exhibits. The next few months will see quite a few animals making the move from the temporary exhibition space in Howard Street to the new space. Already there is an advance school of bewildered fish cautiously exploring the seemingly endless depths of the new tanks.



Apparently there was talk of transporting the penguins using public transit but sadly, that didn’t eventuate.. But you might look out for…   yes…  Snakes on a Bus!


In the African Hall, the original diorama murals, which were well beyond repair, are being used as reference for newer versions.


Stay tuned.

Break It

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

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Everywhere you go these days in Beijing (and anywhere else in China I suspect..), dramatic changes are underway. The incredible momentum of new development is changing not only the look of the cities, but the very fabric of social interaction that has held them together for so long.

One of the most ubiquitous symbols of this change is a simple Chinese character, usually spray painted with dismissive haste on the doors, pillars and walls of properties that stand in the way of progress.

Literally translated, the character says Break It

In many cases, these are places that have been in existence for centuries. Others are more recent and simply in the way. A road widening, a new shopping mall, perhaps a forest of high rise condos, it’s the glossy allure of the new.

Once you start noticing it, the character seems to appear all the more frequently. Like some insatiable vampiric thirst that is slowly but surely consuming the lifeblood of the city.

As a Western interloper, it’s hard to begrudge a developing nation the trappings of success. Still, one can’t help but feel that some of the essential physical structure that gives any particular city its unique character, is being lost.


Bubble Rapt

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

One of the star buildings of the impending Beijing Olympics is undoubtedly the fabulous National Aquatic Centre, or Water Cube, designed by architects PTW from Australia, with engineering by Arup (led by Tristram Carfrae). From a distance it is relatively low key (at least when compared to the adjacent Birdsnest) but as you get closer, it gets more and more interesting with odd juxtapositions of scale provided by parked cars and a swarm of stressed out landscapers.


The building opened for a few days of test events in February but is now back relatively under wraps.

Dirty wraps too, it would seem, as the dust bowl that is still basically a construction site continues to deposit topsoil on everything around. In an effort to at least soften the current look of the landscape and no doubt help reduce the dust, a large area surrounding the Water Cube has been covered with a kind of green mesh. An Olympic Green, if you will.


Access to any of the areas surrounding the buildings is understandably difficult for the time being but where there’s a wall, or in this case a stack of paving stones, there’s usually a way.


Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Cat Stevens may well be followed by a Moonshadow but I get the uneasy feeling that I’m being pursued by a rather large bag of hot air. And while this may indeed be the fortuitous harbinger of the lucky breaks in weather I’ve been having of late, it’s starting to give me pause.

When they first began, the sightings were a novelty, a curiosity of sorts. Buzzing me on a rooftop shoot in Los Angeles seemed harmless enough. Then it popped up again at a football game in the mid West where I was photographing the newly opened stadium. Mere co-incidence, of course.

Back in San Francisco, it hung around for weeks. Slipping in and out of the fog banks like a dolphin on a bow wave. I watched it from the balcony of my apartment. And all that time, I swear, it was watching me too.


The next time I saw it, my suspicions began to grow. This dare-devilish bag of gas was dive bombing the barges plying the Hangpu River in Shanghai, much to the amusement of the unsuspecting holiday crowds along the Bund. Now that’s a long way from San Francisco…..


But why here? Why now? Time and time again it returned, passing close above me with its bland, lawn-mower like engine sputteringly mocking gravity’s will. I scurried away down narrow alleys, circuitously winding my way back to the relative safety of the hotel. Still, a sense of unease had descended upon me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow, my every move was being observed…


Forward a few months to a busy few days in Guangzhou…

At first it was a faint recollection, a subtle trigger in the back of my mind.. I turned an ear to the wind to listen, as if someone had called my name from a distant hill. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as the insidious sputtering grew more distinct….


Lost Horizon

Friday, March 14th, 2008

It’s always a gamble scheduling a shoot in Guangzhou ahead of time (though the odds of a blue sky are probably better than in Chongqing). So when SOM nominated a few specific days in March to document their Poly International Plaza project, I pencilled it in with a certain degree of trepidation. The project definitely needed some strong light and while the forecasts looked promising, previous experience would suggest that the term “partly cloudy” means entirely different things in different places.

We lodged at the adjacent Shangri-La Hotel, with views over the Pearl River and back across the ever-expanding Guangzhou Convention and Exhibition Centre.


Each night, the hotel would leave a quote from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon on the pillow. A nice touch but for the fact that when looking out the window each morning, the concept of a lost horizon took on a whole new ominous meaning.


Fortunately, due to a change in the wind, or perhaps the benevolent ghost of James Hilton, we managed one day of clear skies and rushed about, making the most of the rare opportunity.



Also in construction along the river to the west, is the quirky Guangzhou TV Tower, designed by Information Based Architecture and Arup. Final height is suggested as 610 meteres, making it the tallest TV tower in the world.



Hello Sailor

Monday, March 10th, 2008

On the shores of Marina Bay in Singapore, a new skyline is gradually taking shape. As a visitor to Singapore for the past fifteen years or so, this transformation appears to have been a slow but determined creep seaward. Beach Road, once the waterfront, is now several hundred yards inland. The result of Singapore’s growth (in every sense of the word) over the past thirty years or so.


Collyer Quay, currently under redevelopment, was usually the first landing place for the crews of foreign trading ships anchored offshore. It had been that way for a hundred years. The adjacent Change Alley, presumably named for the original black market money changers, is now more of a retail gauntlet of cheap tailors, second hand stores and dodgy eateries. I still recall the windows full of exotic Russian cameras and lenses that seemed so attractively priced. Now I wonder where did those Russian sailors spend the cash from hocking Aunt Tatiana’s favorite Kiev 66?

One of the projects nearing completion in Marina Bay is The Sail, a twin tower apartment development designed by Peter Pran of NBBJ. For the moment at least, this will be the new beacon to greet the arriving seamen from around the world.


I’ve worked previously with Peter on projects in Seattle and Oslo and always enjoyed his penchant for using dynamic lines to create a sense of movement in the finished buildings.

The Sail@Marina Bay is due for completion later in 2008.


Saturday, March 8th, 2008

The usefulness of Apple’s sleek iPhone seems to know no bounds. Even before turning it on, one can wedge a rocking café table, crack stubborn walnuts and signal passing ships when next marooned. Given my tendency to set cameras a tad high, it was becoming a hassle checking the spirit levels atop the chassis. However, with a flourish of the iPhone, problem solved.

Also recommended for checking aperture and speed settings on the front of large format lenses when perched on window ledges and such.