Archive for November, 2009

Sand Castles

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

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I hadn’t been to Dubai in ten years. The Emirates Towers project had just been finished and excavation was just starting on what is now the bustling Dubai Marina. So to suggest that things had changed a little was perhaps understating the magnitude of the transformation that was still quite evidently, a massive work in progress.

After those cold, grey days in Oslo, the crisp winter sun cut the towers of the city against the clear, blue skies. En route to my hotel, between the passing tower blocks, I got my first glimpses of the Burj Dubai, reaching ever skyward in the distance. Perched on the footpath outside my hotel, it was hard to grasp the enormous scale as the towers in the foreground along Sheik Zayed Road dominated the field of view.

Even from the rooftop pool terrace on that first evening, the Burj Dubai at first seemed a little underwhelming.

The next morning we started before sunrise, scouting for unobstructed views of the Burj Dubai. Although the tower is now the tallest structure in the world, getting a clear shot at it is actually harder than it sounds. The entire area surrounding the tower is one huge construction site with few passable roads and an endless array of half built projects.

Once you start getting back from the construction though, the sheer enormity of the tower becomes apparent. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of tall towers recently but none of those prepared me for this. Whether you like the design or not, whether you cringe at the seemingly mad pursuit of being the tallest or whatever, there is little to do in this case but shake your head in amazement at the marvel of design and engineering. Or have a camel do it for you.

There’s something both humbling and exhilarating about photographing a project of this scale. And this is, after all, as big as it gets. Given the underwhelming images I have seen published to date, I suspect the Burj Dubai will crush the inexperienced, the faint of heart and the wide of lens.

Having faced off against several skyscrapers, I know you can’t let the sheer size of the thing intimidate you. To prevail you must rise to the challenge, you must find the way inside the architecture, put in the effort to gain its respect and be patient, allowing enough time for the building to reveal itself to you.

With that openness to explore whatever opportunities were offered, I headed out every day before dawn, setting the cameras to capture the extraordinary range of light that played upon the glass facade as the sun rose. The building is so tall that even from a distance, the top of the facade reflects a completely different portion of the sky than does the base. Every morning brought a new palette of colours, a new formation of clouds, another facet of the character of this amazing building.

It was a marvelous way to start the day.

Aldar and Wiser

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

After leaving the Yas Hotel, the road continues towards Abu Dhabi along the Al Raha Beach construction site. While a number of the projects have been slowed down or stopped, the first building to be  completed will be the new headquarters for Aldar Properties designed by MZ & Partners.

Stopping for lunch at the adjacent shopping centre took a little longer than planned when we returned to the car to find one of the rear tyres almost completely flat. We’re guessing the culprit was a large nail probably picked up on the building site next door. With a bit of pushing and shoving, Ahmed had us back on the road in no time.

We returned around dusk to see what would sort of reflections might be happening on the curved facade  The closer we got however, the more disturbing became the apparition in the window panels, giving us pause to re-evaluate of our earlier nail theory.

Grey is the New Blue

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

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At least that’s what I’m going to tell them.

The forecast was looking at least a little hopeful when I landed in Norway. Getting colder but with some chance for a few sunny periods. A few blue patches, some clouds reflecting in the glass facade. It all sounded so promising.

Alas, over the course of the next twenty four hours, the promised sunshine slipped from periods to period, from possible to unlikely and then disappeared from the outlook altogether.

Nothing to do then but get all European about it and embrace the shadowless, white sky version of the built world.

I must say, after my initial reservations, this approach was really quite liberating in that it took all the pressure off being in the right spot at the right time. I mean, apart from get lighter at dawn and darker at dusk, the quality of the light just didn’t change at all.

Fatman of the Opera

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

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Clinging tenuously to the waterfront in Oslo is Snøhetta’s wonderfully spare National Opera House.

With the wind chill off the fjord dragging the temperature well below zero, I was layered up with just about everything I’d packed in my suitcase. Looking to all intents and purposes like some wayward Michelin Man lost on the arctic tundra, I staggered around on the sloping terraces looking for a view that hinted at the understated, yet stoic grandeur of the building.

In dramatic contrast to the almost bleak exteriors, the mercifully warmer interior was rich in colour and texture. The sweeping external walls of the main theatre were intricately clad with slats of wood, enveloping patrons in a warm embrace as they made their way to their seats.

Around the ground floor bar and coat rack areas, lattice walls of repeated geometric patterns echoed the angular forms of the overall exterior. Crystalline snow flakes perhaps, to balance the warm glow of the wood.

No Way to be Sure

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

This morning, while casually browsing the long range temperature forecast probabilities for Oslo (as one does), I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to something else I’d recently seen….

… WOHA Designs’ floor pattern on their Iluma project in Singapore.

Remarkable co-incidence.

But I’m sure it’s nothing.


The flight to HEL (and back)

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Apparently, the easiest way to get to Oslo from San Francisco involves four airports, three planes, two breakfasts, oneworld and an undisclosed amount of Finlandia vodka.

After an uneventful early morning pan-continental crossing on American Airlines, I passed through JFK like some magic bullet and found myself hurtling across the Atlantic in a Finnair 767-300 en route to Helsinki. From there it was a quick hop across to Norway. And to think I was entertaining the thought of running the gauntlet through Heathrow!

Okay, so the inflight entertainment system needed more rebooting more than a midwest marching band but it got there in the end. The food was great and served in specially designed Ittala crockery. Who could ask for more?!