Archive for July, 2017

July 18, 2017

Swimming Lessons

From mid-summer of 2016 to early 2017 I was struggling with ongoing back pain. I didn’t feel entirely like myself because I am such an active person and so I think that I was in a bit of a depression. I have a friend who was encouraging me to try swimming as a low-impact way to be active, and finally I made the leap and booked lessons for May and June with Toronto Recreation. I was pretty happy when my roommate Susan later decided to sign up with me for the same class! We signed up for Adult Swim 2, but by the end of our first lesson we had graduated to Adult Swim 3! Susan and I were in luck because the third person who was supposed to be in our class dropped out and so it was like we had our own personal instructor! We refined our swim strokes, learned egg-beater, learned how to stride jump, and practiced diving. Susan was already a fairly strong swimmer, but learning to dive was a huge step for her because as a kid she had an ear infection and so never put her head underwater. I on the other hand was very comfortable with diving, but had to work at refining my swim strokes. Breast stroke was the hardest for me to learn, probably because I had to unlearn the wrong way of doing it! We also made first attempts at trying Butterfly! We were likely doing it all wrong (the instructor didn’t know it well and it wasn’t in the requirements for Adult Swim 3), but it was very fun to try and get a feeling for it! We also tried the somersault that swimmers do to turn around at the end of the pool.

I have not yet shared the funniest part of the story. When Susan and I had signed up for the lessons, we both needed new bathing suits and I needed goggles and a swim cap. We both ended up liking the same Speedo swimsuit we found at SportChek, and decided that we didn’t care if we were matching. We joked around that we could come into the swimming lessons pretending that we were freakishly close besties who intentionally dressed like twins, or else that we were two strangers who didn’t know each other and who upon seeing each other were appalled that the other had worn the same thing. We couldn’t help but document our roomie adventure by taking a photo in our matching swim suits in the dated change room (note the very bizarre ducts behind that we wondered if whether they were blow dryers)! Susan was also so proud of her diving that we decided take a video during our last lesson… and since we were already matching, we couldn’t help but make up a short synchronized dive sequence. It even included the “dab” move that Susan taught me is all the rage with her students. What a great memory of doing this together! What’s more is that it has become such a normal part of my week that I have managed to continue it by going to a drop-in lane swim on Wednesday nights. I am very proud of myself for finally doing something that I had talked about doing for so long! Next goal: do a sprint triathlon!


July 17, 2017

Boston 2.0


Shadow play on the Stata Center

At nine in the morning I headed back to where the Highline begins because it turned out that is where Megabus picks up their passengers. It took a while to get on the bus and then out of Manhattan because of traffic. I did not arrive in Boston until 3 o-clock! Part of me felt silly for going to Boston because I wasted a perfectly good day, but I was determined to make the most of it! The last time I was in Boston was when I had an amazing couch-surfing experience during my solo trip to visit graduate schools. It helped that I already had a good idea of where to go once I arrived at the bus station. From the South Station I hopped on the subway to Kendall station in Cambridge and met Andrea, Kristie, and Christian who are colleagues I know from my work at PBAI. They generously took time to show me the MIT MediaLab and the Stata Center. The MediaLab was particularly impressive because of the breadth of ideas they are exploring. The Stata lab was interesting because it is in a Frank Ghery building (apparently it has had its share of lawsuits from issues like leaks and falling ice) and the computer science research involves testing their software on robots. Kristie and Christian left early and Andrea and I went to go visit the MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen before parting ways.

For dinner I had planned to go meet my old classmate Dan at a restaurant he had selected which was conveniently a short journey from MIT campus. I went and waited for twenty minutes at the restaurant only to learn from texting Dan that it was not a one-off restaurant and that he was at another location! I felt stupid because I should have known that the restaurant would be in Boston and not up in Cambridge! Google told me it would take a half hour to get to the other location, but I missed the bus by a hair and so it actually took over an hour. By the time I got to the restaurant it was closing and Dan was nowhere to be found! It turns out he was worried because there was apparently a THIRD location (although the one I went to turned out to be the correct one)! I told him I would just come to his house instead. So during all of this running around I got to see Boston by night. The area in South Boston where this restaurant was (the Orinoco), was very quaint with older brick homes, brick sidewalks, and lampposts that gave it a European feel. I didn’t arrive at Dan’s place until 9pm but we made the most with the time we had. By the time I got to his place he had already picked up some groceries so that we could make Hawaiian sloppy joes. Yum! We also had a nice time catching up on our lives.

The next morning I could sleep in a bit because I was able to let myself out after Dan was already gone to work. I walked to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that was nearby that has an addition designed by Renzo Piano (this is the most I’ve seen of his work). Another reason I was interested is because I’ve heard it is an impressive collection and it is currently exhibiting an installation by Philip Beesley Architect Inc. that the team installed several months ago. I was sad to discover it was still closed and would not be opening for another hour yet. It was raining and I was in no mood to hang around, so I got a good look at the building from the outside (a common occurrence on this trip) and then headed off. It looked as if the whole day would be rainy and so I took the train back to the South Station, put my suitcase into short-term luggage storage, and went off to see more of Boston. This time I decided to take a suggestion from Dan which was to follow the Freedom Trail, a path through the city that brings you past historical monuments and shares some of the rich history of the city. I enjoyed the walk and also liked that it didn’t require too much thinking because there was a clearly marked brick or painted brick trail on the ground and medallions that marked the special sites. I visited some of the oldest graveyards in Boston, churches that had box pews that were owned by congregants (I had never seen churches designed that way before), and meeting houses where big historical events happened like meetings of the Boston Tea Party that were the beginnings of the American Revolution. I saw the house of Paul Revere who was a silversmith, engraver, and industrialist, but is most known for his midnight ride to alert the colonial militia of the approach of the British before the battles of Lexington and Concord. Lastly I crossed the Charles River to Charlestown to see the Bunker Hill Monument, erected between 1825 and 1843 to commemorate the battle of Bunker Hill that was fought there in 1775, and the USS Constitution, a navel vessel from 1797.

I had an hour left before I had to leave for the airport and so I decided to go quickly back up to Cambridge to see the Sean Collier Memorial on the MIT campus. It was built in 2015 in the honour of Sean Collier who was a police officer killed in the line of duty while pursuing the suspects of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  I heard about this project by a lecture at ACADIA by the designer J. Meejin Yoon who is also a professor and department head of architecture at MIT. It follows a star shape that represents an open hand, and the walls act as buffers from the street and draw you into the monument and also locate the site of the shooting. The stone walls of the star act as buttresses that lift up a thin stone vault in the centre. The details of how it was made are quite fascinating as they involved age-old techniques partnered with digital fabrication technology. I think that the arrangement of the space and use of material have informed a meaningful experience for people passing through. I was glad I went to check it out. Even though it made me more nervous about cutting things too close at the airport, it turned out that my flight ended up being delayed anyways!


The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


Old State House



The Paul Revere House


View from the Bunker Hill Monument


The Sean Collier Monument


July 9, 2017

New York City 2.0

The next day I got up early to pull my things together and head over to my friend Jean’s place who studied and now works in New York. I took the subway to the upper west side of Manhattan and found her at her apartment. It was nice to see a familiar face! We chatted for about an hour catching up and she made me some recommendations of things to see. My goal for the day was to nerdishly visit a list of buildings that have been constructed since I was last in New York back in 2012. And so off I went! I started in the North Manhattan at the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center (they really need a nickname for it), by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR). I tried and failed to get inside but even from the outside I was impressed by the custom shaped concrete panels. I think that the building stands in interesting contrast to the uniform brick buildings that surround it. Next I took the subway down to the Columbia campus and saw the Jerome L. Greene Science Center by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. I liked the details of the building (What RPBW is known for), but didn’t think the building itself had much presence. Then I took the train again to 63rd station and walked a while to see West 57 by Bjarke Ingels Group. I tried to sneak in to see the courtyard but was stopped by security *sigh*. The building looks impressive from the outside, but for me it is the ground level and the spaces on the interior that truly make a building and so I couldn’t make much critique of it. The slanted roof was definitely in need of a wash!



Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center


Renzo Piano lighting


West 57

From there I walked to the start of the Highline. I had been there back in 2012 when the project was still quite new, and was pleased to see that it had aged well. I was very impressed by how mature and full the plantings were. Along the Highline there is extensive new development and I stopped at the Shed by DSR that is still under construction. It is a project that I was introduced to at a lecture by Elizabeth Diller herself at ACADIA last year. I had to peak through the construction netting to get glimpses of the structure and what I saw looked very cool! The raw structure of the shed roof is complete and looks great, and I could also get a glimpse of the large wheels that will allow the it to roll off the building and over the adjacent plaza. I still can’t believe how far DSR got with that concept and that it is becoming a built reality! I wanted to take the subway again to get down to the World Trade Center but had to walk three stops because stations were closed. By the time I got there I was pretty tired out! I accidentally came across the  World Trade Center Transportation Hub by Calatrava on my way to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The space was beautifully lit up with light and the people in all colours stood in stark contrast to the crisp white of every surface! I only saw the museum from the outside (that will have to wait for another time), but was very interested to see the memorial that had still been under construction back in 2012. The voids speak very powerfully; however, it was strange to see those big, deep holes, see those thousands of names, and have crowds of tourists chatting around you and taking pictures.


The gigantic wheels of the Shed!


Children’s landscaped play area on the High Line


Nicely detailed stair on the High Line


World Trade Center Transportation Hub

The last place I went to was a suggestion from Jean. She recommended I go to Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island designed by Louis Kahn. She also recommended I take the Roosevelt Island Tramway. The tramway was such an amazing way to look back on the city and see the Queensboro Bridge! I was so tired that I tried to take a bus that drove up with the hope that it would eventually go to the park (the island is not that big). Unfortunately it headed North but I took it as a time to rest as I knew it would eventually turn around and head back. When it reached the northern tip I had to switch buses. At one of the stops on the way back an older man got on the bus that looked so familiar to me and I didn’t know why at first. But as I looked at him more I realized that he was the pastor of Redeemer Church in New York whose name was escaping me! I thought of going to say hello, but thought it would be silly since I could not for the life of me recall his name! It only confirmed who he was when it looked like another stranger came up and started talking to him. When we arrived back at the tramway station and we had gotten off, I then realized that it was Tim Keller and likely his wife. But by that point he was getting on the Tramway and I still wanted to go see this park. So I had my first ever celebrity citing… if you could call it that!


The park turned out to be a nice reprieve from the urban bustle. There were only a handful of people and I enjoyed the monolithic forms of marble. The sun was getting lower in the sky and lit up the skyline. I enjoyed the whole experience (the sloping walls, the lines of trees), but did not like how the park terminated at the southern tip. It ended at a thick stone guardrail when the form really wanted to extend as a pier or slope into the water. As much as I would’ve liked to stay their longer, I had agreed to meet Jean at the Metropolitan Museum at 7:30pm. I took the tramway again, and from there decided to walk to the museum and look for something to eat on the way. I found an amazing bagel place called Pick a Bagel and ordered a delicious reuben sandwich on a bagel. I took it and ate it on a bench by the museum and it was sooo good… probably one of the best bagel sandwiches I’ve ever had! When it was time to meet Jean I moved to the steps of the museum. While I waited I got to enjoy some music by a street musician who was playing the saxophone. He played wonderfully and there were two little girls who were dancing to it. It was such a beautiful scene to take in. When Jean arrived we went directly to the roof because we wanted to see the sun set from there. We couldn’t have picked a better place or time. There was an amazing sculptural exhibit of life size sculptures. The sculptures, paired with the setting sun, the vines and hedge, and the people chatting, created a dreamlike atmosphere. We discovered that the sculptures are replicas copied from pieces in the art in the museum and then reconfigured to create a new scene. It felt like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Jean and I walked around and took in the scene and the park and skyline beyond! We then headed back into the museum to see an exhibit presenting the work of avant-guarde fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. We had just enough time to see most of the exhibit before the museum was closing.



Beautiful Louis Kahn handrail detail



My view eating dinner outside of the Met



Exhibit on the roof terrace of the Met

You would think that I had done enough already, but the day was not yet over. Jean and I walked through a quiet and dark Central Park (which I had been accidentally calling High Park over and over again…. you’re welcome Toronto!) to get to a bar she had in mind in the Upper West Side where we could chill and talk some more. This was the first time I had been to Central Park at night and it was so peaceful. By sheer luck we passed by the portico at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. I had seen it before in the daytime, but at night it is lit up in such a way that the amazing pattern of ceiling tiles are put on display and makes you experience the space in a whole new way. It was beautiful! We didn’t end up getting to that first bar because we got sidetracked when Jean discovered that I had not yet seen Lincoln Square. So off we went to a plaza that I had walked by earlier that morning but had not gone to explore. It is a complex of three monumental, concrete clad buildings that are the musical hub of New York. There were things I liked and didn’t like about some of the buildings (the Opera House tried too hard to refer to an older architectural style). My preferred building on the square was the New York City Ballet that had a balcony where people on intermission from the show were looking over the courtyard with the fountain at its center. DSR did a redesign of the public spaces back in 2009 including an area with trees and lit benches, and the Hypar Pavilion that had a sloping grass roof. Jean and I went to the Italian restaurant that occupies the pavilion and treated ourselves to expensive drinks and dessert. From there we took the subway home and I was exhausted but very content. Part of me wished I had planned to stay longer in New York, but at the same time was very excited to visit friends and see Boston again!


Portico at the Bethesda Terrace



Lincoln Square and the Hypar Pavilion