Posts tagged ‘architecture’

December 5, 2018

Kigali

Our final stop on our journey was Kigali where we decided to stay for two nights as we traveled back to Kampala from Bukavu. Because I had such a negative experience on the night bus on the way to Goma, we decided to take day buses and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Early on Monday morning we left Bukavu by moto, crossed the border, and then took another moto to the bus station in Rwanda. We took a smaller bus called Omega Express. There are two possible routes to get to Kigali: one that goes through the Nyungwe Forest, a mountainous rainforest, or along Lake Kivu. Our bus went through the forest and the views were stunning. There was one moment I found stunning where we were passing tea plantations but approaching the forest. Another moment we were on a road that was high up on the mountain and there was a view down into the rainforest below that looked so incredibly deep.

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We spent two nights in Kagali: one at Yambi Guesthouse and another at Auberge Beausejour that was recommended by Mark and Karen. On our free day we had plans to meet up with Othy’s old school friend. On our way to meeting her we walked to the Convention Centre which was a building I wanted to check out. Again I was caught off guard by the cleanliness and orderly construction of roads, sidewalks and retaining walls. The convention centre’s dome could be seen from a distance. The landscaping around the building was nicely done. There is also a hotel beside it that has a playful facade that reminded me of basket weaving. A covered walkway offers relief from the sun and rain for people walking from the parking lot. This building is definitely not very approachable on foot from the street as we had to walk all the way around to the back to enter. We went inside the lobby areas but couldn’t find anyone to ask to show us the main auditorium. Overall it is a nicely designed building.

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Next we took motos and went to a restaurant called the Rotisserie where we were meeting up with the friend. We waited for half an hour and she did not arrive. Unfortunately we did not have data and the restaurant did not have wifi to communicate with her. We decided to walk to a cafe called Shokola that shares a building with the Kigali Public Library. It is also a nicely done building. The levels of the library are situated around a generous atrium. It looks like the roof used to be glass but then they boarded it up with wood because of the heat. The cafe is on the third floor and accessed by an exterior stair (I think it could have been nicer for it to have a closer physical or visual connection to the library). To our dismay the cafe did not have working wifi either and so we were unable to meet Othy’s friend. We stayed a while there and then decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped at an art gallery called Inema Arts Center. We saw some beautiful pieces by local artists, some that I have included below. We spent a lazy evening at the hotel watching a movie! The following morning we woke up early to catch a 6am bus to Kampala. It was so early the hotel couldn’t have breakfast for us and so they gave us some fruit, bread and eggs the night before. The driver we arranged for to take us to the station was late and so we took motos instead. It was a fun ride because the roads are so smooth and it was still dark. This marked the end of our honeymoon and it was time to try and get settled back into something of a routine in Kampala.

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December 4, 2018

Around Bukavu

While most of our friends left Bukavu the day after the wedding, Othy and I decided to take one more day to explore the city since neither of us had been there before. Mark and Karen surprised us with a delicious Sunday morning pancake breakfast, complete with locally grown strawberries and close to real tasting maple syrup that they make with maple extract (this is a Canadian saying this). While we enjoyed breakfast they gave us some tips on places to visit. Othy asked me what I wanted to visit first, and I chose ITFM (Institut Technique Fundi Maendeleo) because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to be like and the school offers one of the best views of Bukavu. We hired motos and began the winding journey up the hill. At a certain point the paved road ended and the dirt road was extremely muddy. My driver in particular was having trouble getting through it (Othy told me later it was because he was short) and I wondered if we would fall. Thankfully we did not, though the drivers wanted to charge us more because of it! The motos in Bukavu actually put tarps on the back of their bikes to prevent mud from flinging up and hitting their passengers. We walked through the ITFM campus and were shown around by the guy we met at the gate. Then we exited by the gate that faced the edge of the hill, and found the view that we had heard about. It was beautiful! Bukavu has such a unique landscape with the changes in elevation, the lake with islands in the distance, and several peninsulas, one of them taking the iconic shape of a boot. But with the change in elevation and rains are dangers of erosion and mudslides. Just across the road from the campus, the earth was a large eroded area that in only a few more years might actually reach the edge of the campus and the buildings there! Kids were playing there and standing on the edge of it and even climbing up it!

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The same moto drivers waited for us and we asked them to take us to the boot that I described above. On the way down the hill we passed houses that were built rather precariously on the hillside. We passed by the main roundabout Place de l’Independence. We also passed another roundabout with one of the traffic lights invented by Congolese female engineer Thérèse Izay and manufactured by Women’s Technology, although this one is not in the shape of a humanoid like the one I saw in Kinshasa and Goma. Once at the boot the drivers stopped at a parcel with a large tent. We asked the person at the gate if we could see the place, and upon entering we discovered it was an event space. They were in the middle of preparing for an event, and Othy ran into an old acquaintance! The tent faces the water and offers a beautiful view back to the city.

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Our third destination of the morning was to visit a hotel called Orchids that is supposed to be another beautiful spot in Bukavu. We first went to the restaurant and took tea, and then went for a walk to explore the gardens. It was an absolutely stunning combination of gardens, architecture, and another amazing view of the lake and Bukavu. The path meandered its way down to the water and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. The gardens were well landscaped and included many different species of orchid. I loved the simplicity of the clean white-walled buildings with rich wood windows and doors. There were a few larger buildings and then some smaller private cottages. Finally we reached the water where there was a swimming area and sitting area. I noticed that this was the place that Jess and Matt had gone to take their wedding photos because of one photo that they had posted standing on a pier by the lake.

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This time we decided to walk back to the apartment since it was only a few kilometers away. We rested for a short time and then went out again, this time to visit another school called ISP Bukavu (Institut Supérieur Pédagogique). The university has been around for a long time and is where some of the leadership at UCBC attended. Upon approaching the gate we discovered that we couldn’t go and see the campus for the sole reason that I was wearing pants! From the gate we could get a glimpse of the building blocks which have an interesting form. We walked for a bit from there, thinking that we might find a place to get some lunch, when Blaise called and we arranged to meet him at a restaurant called Le Gourmet. He didn’t make it in the end, but a friend of Othy’s called Beni joined us and we had a nice time hanging out. It was coming towards late afternoon and we had talked about the idea of going to Mark and Karen’s church called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) that starts at 4:30. Surprisingly Beni also attends this church and offered to take us there since it was only a short walk away. At this point it was only raining lightly and so we went for it. The service was on the top floor of a newly constructed building and so had a very raw atmosphere. I felt refreshed and challenged by the worship and the message.

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After the service I had made arrangements for us to visit Dachiku, a friend from UCBC and sister to another friend Butoto (we had seen him last in Kinshasa and now he is in Europe). Beni offered to come with us since it was dark and the road to Dachiku’s place is very muddy. Dachiku came and met us at the Eglise Ararati and from there walked to her house. We had to use the flashlights on our phones because the power was off across the city. What a strange feeling to be in such a big city and yet so dark. We went down some narrow steps that opened to what in the the daytime would be a view over the city. Their house was built into the side of the hill. It was so good to see Dachiku again as I was just getting to know her better during my time in Beni before the Ebola outbreak began. I think their family was also happy to meet members from the UCBC community where two of their siblings/children had gone to study. Dachiku and her siblings offered us some whole milk and bread (the milk was like yogurt). As we chatted, more of their family arrived until her parents and all of her siblings were there to greet us (they have a big family)! Othy sent Bututo a picture on Whatsapp and he was so pleasantly surprised! It was getting later and so we soon had to go. The family generously arranged for a driver to take us back since transit at night in Bukavu is difficult. What a full and interesting day it had been!

September 4, 2018

Journey to Kinshasa

Othy and my journey to Kinshasa was an adventure from the very start. Our flight was with Kenya Airways with a stopover in Nairobi. Upon arriving in Nairobi we learned that our connecting flight had been delayed 12 hours for no legitimate reason and instead of the flight departing at noon it would depart at midnight! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the large crowd of frustrated and animated Congolese people surrounding the Kenya airways help desk. They were frustrated for good reason because their flight was probably selected as the one to cancel because the airline would not be obliged to put the passengers on other flights because there were no other flights going to Kinshasa. Othy and I didn’t feel like hanging around the airport for that long and so we inquired about a hotel room. First we had to wait for a form to fill out, and then we had to go into the line for getting the Visa, but no wait… we had to go back and get that form signed, but no wait… the person who was supposed to sign it had disappeared somewhere. He finally showed up again and signed our forms, we waited in line again for the visa, we waited in the baggage claim as they sorted out the hotel details, and then waited again for a bus that would bring us there. What a process! They took us to a hotel called the Tamarind Tree. Our rooms were not ready and so they showed us to the restaurant where we partook of a buffet lunch. The hotel had good food and a nice atmosphere. Finally we were able to check into our rooms. It was a nicely designed suite and so I enjoyed taking a nap, taking a shower, drinking tea, and watching a TV episode to pass the time. We had dinner at the hotel and then at 8pm we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport. We arrived in Kinshasa at 3am only to discover that almost everyone’s bags did not arrive, even though they had twelve hours to make sure they got to the right place! Othy’s friend was there to pick us up and bring us to his place where we would be staying. Few! What a journey!

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First time flying together!

I could not see much of Kinshasa by night and so the next day I got to wake up and discover my surroundings. In the late morning we drove together into the city center. Othy’s friend lives in a neighbourhood called Kingabwa which is a nice spot because it is away from the city center and yet not too far. The first thing to take note of is the traffic. Most of the cars on the road are taxi cars and vans that are painted bright yellow. They stop for people everywhere and so are often the cause of traffic jams. I also learned that they are called “Esprit du Mort” or “Spirit of Death”, likely because of how old and broken down they are, how crazy they drive, and how full many people pack into them. There are also some newer larger buses that were introduced later and were given the name “Esprit de Vie”, “Spirit of Life”. The second thing to take note of is that there is garbage everywhere. It is clear that there is no city infrastructure in place to handle all of the plastic bags, bottles, and steel cans that have been introduced by mostly imported products. The downtown has many interesting buildings that look well designed, though many of them look ruddy from lack of maintenance. Some of the design elements that are common are horizontal and vertical shading, using balconies as a way to offer play and variance in the facade, curves that follow street curves or corners, and interesting uses of concrete which seems to be the most common building material.

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On Monday we went to the office of Othy’s colleague where we did work for most of the day. We also walked to the Kenya Airways office to submit letters of complaint and ask about how to locate our bags (we didn’t want to have to go to the airport until we had confirmation that they were there). The following day we went to the South African visa application center and then to the airport to get our bags. The journey there revealed just how crazy the traffic is in this city! The road to the airport is four lanes wide on each side. Traffic jams are mostly caused by the taxis who stop anywhere, often in clusters, or attempt to do U-turns to go back the other way. Pedestrians criss cross the eight lanes of traffic; large pedestrian bridges were constructed about a year ago, but remain unused. Young men often step up on the back bumpers of the taxis for a ride or sit/surf on top of them. The stretch of road between the downtown and the N’djili airport is the main artery for the part of the city where more than three quarters of the population lives, primarily urban poor who inhabit a vast area of precarious dwellings. It took about an hour to get to the airport. Apparently before the road was widened it could take up to six hours! The airport was also chaotic but somehow our bags were there after arriving on the previous day’s flight! I was so thankful and happy to be able to finally change my clothes! On Wednesday Othy’s mentor offered to take us around to see a few things in the city. He took us to a housing development that seemed to be struggling. The houses were okay but I didn’t think they were worth the money that they were asking. It seemed like it would have been better if they had found a way to target a lower income bracket with denser, more affordable units. After that we visited several buildings in the downtown including a mall. I was feeling light-headed because it was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch, and so we sat down on a terrace in a large atrium and had pieces of cake and Maltinas. From there we went to the main market. It was a maze of stalls and tables selling anything and everything. The place was bustling and I had to concentrate on not losing Othy’s mentor who was leading us. A large part of the market was beneath umbrella-type concrete canopies but also extended beyond them under colourful tarps and umbrellas. At one point there was a vehicle playing Congolese music and everyone around us knew the song and were singing along!


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The following days fell into a rhythm of work some days at the office and other days at the house. I was glad to be able to take time to focus on E4C and IRI work after being distracted during the last week in Beni and then being on the road. For lunch when at the office we had takeout a few times, and walked to two nearby fast-food restaurants. At the house I reheated leftovers a few times. In Kinshasa food is almost the same price as in Toronto. Most things are imported and so the food is not fresh like in North Kivu. Othy’s friend’s girlfriend generously cooked for us many times, and often we would come home at 6 or 7pm and there would be a meal waiting on the table. Near the end of our second week there, Othy’s mentor took us on another small trip, this time to visit a garbage dump that had failed, and a logging port. The “Centre d’Enfouissement Techniques des Dechets” or “Technical Centre of Landfill Waste” is a project that the EU had invested in, but after a time operations stopped and the equipment was pillaged and is now just sitting there and rusting. It was sad to see. This is one example of many large projects in Congo with foreign investment that have failed. The logging port was another site to see. The logs were gigantic and sitting in large piles. The port is on the Congo river and so we walked down to see the water. The trees are brought here on long metal boats and transferred to shore with pulleys. It made me sad to think that these trees are likely coming from unregulated or illegal forestry. I couldn’t help but think of an article I had read recently from Global Witness called Total Systems Failure about how the government is looking the other way while companies, many of them international, are logging illegally and committing social and environmental abuses.

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I discovered during this time in Kinshasa that this city is where all of the challenges that the country faces can be seen in high definition. It also seems that many people are either powerless to make change or have given up in trying. One Congolese person said to me that the hearts of the Kinois (Congolese in Kinshasa) have been replaced with a mechanical survival mechanism that is pumping blood but has no feeling. I was definitely overwhelmed by everything that I saw. We got on the topic when Othy and I were eating lunch with a friend of ours from Beni who was also in Kinshasa for a short time. How can you not be paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of problems and need? The answer is to start small, do the small things that you can, and over time it will grow and maybe even inspire others. I am not sure yet what my contribution will be if we end up settling here in the long term, but a lot of ideas were beginning to brew in my mind about how to turn waste into construction materials, how to build more with the sand that is the main type of soil here, and what kind of funding/construction mechanisms could be used for upgrading precarious dwellings. Despite all of the many challenges I have presented here, one redeeming aspect of the city is how friendly and welcoming the people are. I felt well received by all of Othy’s friends and colleagues. Another positive aspect about Kinshasa is that it is close to some beautiful natural places. In the next post I will write about two such places that we visited on the two Sundays during my stay. I think that I saw a good amount for only a two week visit!

July 1, 2018

Transit through Rwanda

In the past I have always travelled through Uganda to get to Beni, DRC, but this time I was instructed to go fly into Kigali Rwanda, drive to Goma, and then fly from Goma to Beni. Although I was sad not to be able to visit friends in Uganda, I was excited at the opportunity to see another country I had not yet visited. I had heard so many things about Rwanda and was looking forward to seeing it for myself. I arrived in Kigali on Saturday afternoon and hired a taxi to take me to Yambi Guesthouse that came on good recommendation from a colleague at Congo Initiative. The first thing that I remarked on during the drive was how almost unnaturally clean everything was, and how the main roads seemed almost European. It was strange to see because it looked so much more organized than the other African cities I have visited. All of the roads had generous sidewalks and some secondary streets were made with cobblestones. Yambi Guesthouse is a comfortable place with a nice atmosphere. It was about dinner time when I arrived, but I didn’t want to spend money or eat more restaurant food after being several days at a hotel. The hostel has a kitchen and so I walked down the street and bought the ingredients for an omelette from a little shop. Instead of spending $10 on a meal, I spent under $2. While eating I met the owner whose name is Patrick. He offered to take me to see some parts of Kigali the next day. That evening I chatted with Othy because it was his birthday and unfortunately we couldn’t be together in person.

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View from Yambi Guesthouse

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I took the next morning to get some work done, and in the afternoon Patrick took me to the oldest neighbourhood in Kigali called Nyamirambo. We walked the main streets and then in behind where there are precarious settlements. He said that these houses are illegal because the areas always experience erosion with heavy rain, but people build there anyways. Next he took me to a memorial for the Belgian peacekeepers who were murdered at the start of the Rwandan Genocide in 1993. Part of the memorial is the very buildings where the troops were killed. It is a powerful testimony because the building remains untouched with bullet holes in the walls. A chalk board inside the room is covered with messages from family members expressing anger towards the perpetrators and also a UN general who saw that something was happening but chose not to intervene. Near the memorial there was a conference centre with an area where local arts and crafts are sold. The path approaching the crafts building is a tensile construction that I thought was nicely done. The craft pavilions are constructed out of oriented strand board that I thought gave warmth to the space and highlighted the arts and crafts that were on display. My favourite display was a wall of woven baskets because I love woven furniture and accessories! I think it would be cool to make an artwork in my house out of a selection of baskets. Soon after getting back to the guesthouse a driver came and picked me up. We went first to the airport to pick up Jon and then started our journey on to Goma. The drive took about four hours and we enjoyed watching the sun set over the green hills. As we approached the border crossing, I got a short glimpse of the glowing crater of Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano 20km north of Goma in Virunga National Park.

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June 23, 2018

Nairobi

I am in awe at how God works things out sometimes. When I accepted to serve with IRI in Congo, I committed to serve 3/4 time because I knew that I would need to find some other work for additional financial support. Soon after, I was offered a position to be an expert fellow with Engineering for Change from May until September. This opportunity was ideal because the work is part time and done remotely. What amazed me even more is that I discovered that E4C had decided to have two kickoff sessions this year, one in Portland Ohio, and the other in Nairobi Kenya. Also, the kick-off session in Nairobi was being planned for May 11th, only a few days after my flight was scheduled to arrive in Kigali! All it required of me was to post-pone my arrival in Congo by one week, and book a flight from Kigali to Nairobi. The only inconvenience was that flight times were limited and so I had a 5 hour layover and a red-eye flight that left Kigali at midnight and arrived in Nairobi at 4am after a stop in Entebbe. The flight didn’t allow me any sleep, and so it was only the adrenaline of being in a new place that kept me going. My friends Jon and Kate recently moved to Nairobi and so I had arranged to stay with them for the first night. I know them from my time in Congo in 2014 and since then have visited them once in Ann Arbor and again in Congo. I was looking forward to seeing them again after two years! Jon had kindly arranged for a driver to come pick me up at the airport. The drive to their place took almost an hour. I was amazed at how cool it was and near the end of the journey we drove through thick patches of fog. Finally we arrived and it was still dark. How wonderful it was to see such warm and familiar faces! I sat with Jon and Kate in their living room and we caught up as they enjoyed their morning coffee. They were the first I shared the news of Othy and my engagement with, which was extra cool because they know both of us! Afterwards Kate made bacon and eggs and we enjoyed breakfast together and were soon joined by the boys. I enjoyed seeing the lush landscape out of the large back window as dawn arrived. Jon and Kate live in a house in Limuru, which is apparently one of the colder parts of Kenya and is an area known for its numerous tea plantations. It is so fresh that they heat the house by burning wood in a fireplace. Because of the fog and the rain, they were having trouble finding dry wood.

Shortly after breakfast I went and took a two hour power nap. I didn’t want to sleep so long as to throw off my schedule. I helped Kate do some homeschooling with the boys and then we went on a walk. They showed me their backyard which was a vast area of lawn and gardens full of large tropical plants and trees. We also visited the neighbour who rents the house to Jon and Kate and is responsible for creating this piece of paradise over the many years she has lived there. Her house is beautiful and from the colonial period. We chatted for a while with her and warmed ourselves by her fire. From there the boys showed us the soccer pitch that the landlord had set up for them and then took us through a trail at the back of the property. There were so many beautiful flowers and thick vines hanging from the trees! Jon and Kate decided to take me to have lunch at Brackenhurst. It is a nicely developed hotel and conference centre. Afterwards they took me on a drive to see the tea fields. The landscapes are stunning and I found that the pictures I tried to take didn’t really do it justice. We returned to the house and spent some time working, and then in the evening we made the decision to go and visit Phil and Emily who live only 40 minutes away at Rift Valley Academy. Phil and Emily are long time friends with Jon and Kate and I know them from my time working with EMI Uganda. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The view of the rift valley we had along the way was amazing! We drove along the top edge of it, and then to get to RVA we started curving our way down into it. We enjoyed catching up over a dinner of pizza and salad and delicious homemade cookies. The visit was short and sweet and we were soon on our way home. Unfortunately some fog had rolled in and it was a bit stressful coming back out of the valley because of being unable to see very well. We made it out and home safely and by then I was pretty out of it! I went straight to sleep! The following morning Kate made pancakes with a delicious homemade syrup. I played some lego with the boys for a bit and then Jon arranged for the same driver to come pick me up to take me to the Azure hotel where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Nairobi. I was sad to say farewell to Jon and Kate so soon, but was thankful for the time we had together and for their generous hospitality!

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April 14, 2018

Queen West SCS

This past year I had the opportunity to work on a small project with Philip Beesley and Rolf Seifert called the Queen West Supervised Consumption Site (SCS). Several SCS have opened up in major cities across the country to reduce the impacts of substance use on individuals and communities. Health Canada has a helpful website that explains the reasons, goals, and how the sites work. The project was a good opportunity for me because it was small and I was able to do everything for the project under the supervision of my boss including the bidding and negotiation process and contract administration. I learned a whole lot from working on this project, am proud at how it turned out, and am excited for the impact it will have! Photos are the property of Philip Beesley Architect Inc. and Rolf Seifert Architect. The photographer is Alex Willms.

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July 17, 2017

Boston 2.0

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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!

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The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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Old State House

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The Paul Revere House

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View from the Bunker Hill Monument

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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!

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Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center

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Renzo Piano lighting

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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.

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The gigantic wheels of the Shed!

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Children’s landscaped play area on the High Line

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Nicely detailed stair on the High Line

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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!

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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.

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Beautiful Louis Kahn handrail detail

 

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My view eating dinner outside of the Met

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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!

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Portico at the Bethesda Terrace

 

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Lincoln Square and the Hypar Pavilion

December 14, 2016

Amsterdam Reunion

My last stop in the Netherlands was Amsterdam. I decided to stop in Delft on the way to meet up with Laura and Emily who are two old colleagues from my undergrad who studied their masters in Delft. We caught up over a nice lunch at a cafe, walked around a bit through the old center, and then I had to head out already! Once I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal I walked to my cousin’s place where I would stay for the last two nights. That evening I caught up with them and also took note of some things to see in Amsterdam for the next two days. I was super excited because the next day I would be reunited with my good friend Andrea who has been working for several years in Switzerland. In the late morning the next day I walked to meet her at the train station and we went straight from there to explore the city! First we went to the Jordaan neighbourhood to look for a place to grab a coffee. We also had delicious apple pie! Yum! From there we decided to explore the north part of the harbour that neither of us had seen before. We took the ferry and visited the Eye Film Institute by Delugan Meissl Architects, then we took the ferry back and walked to the Palace of Justice building by Claus en Kaan Architecten. I’ve never seen so much marble in a modern building before! Then we took a different fairy to another area on the north side called NDSM Wharf. Well actually, that’s where we intended to go but it brought us to a place called Distelweg instead but we decided to walk to to the wharf instead of wait for the ferry back! NSDM is the historical remainder of the largest shipyard in Amsterdam. We explored the NDSM Warehouse, a large building that houses creative ateliers and exhibitions. It was a patchwork of different mini constructions inside the larger building. NDSM presented a very different side to the Amsterdam (primarily the old center) that I had experienced before!

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Shipping container room complete with balcony at NDSM. Can that be mine please??

By this time our feet were tired from walking and we needed a break! We took the ferry back again, this time to the central station. From there we decided to head east towards a few more buildings I had on my list (yes I’m nerdy like that), but planned to stop at a lunch place on the way. We ended up going up to the Sky Lounge at the Mint Hotel by Bennetts Associates. It offers a beautiful view of the city even if it hurt my wallet a bit! We explored the building a bit afterwards and found that there were some nice spaces and details. The next building we came across was the Amsterdam Public Library by Jo Coenen & Co Arkitecten. We only went in and out quickly, but we both decided that though there were some nice spaces in the interior, the building as a whole had way too many architectural languages happening at once! Our next building to see was the NEMO (the National Center for Science and Technology) by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The building looks like a boat launching into the harbour and is built on top of one of the tunnels that connect the North and South shores. Also nearby was Architectuurcentrum Amsterdam (ARCAM), the city’s architecture center and exhibition space.

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Enjoying the view from the Mint Hotel’s Sky Lounge

Lastly we walked Southeast towards the zoo and then followed the canal Southwest to the Museumplein. On the way we passed the Hubertus House by Aldo van Eyck and the Sarphatistraat Offices by Stephen Holl Architects. The offices have perforated metal cladding that extends past the wall and has a beatuiful weathered green patina! Another great thing to see was that the Rijksmuseum at the Museumplein is finally complete (it has been under renovation for years), and I also liked the look of the new addition to the Stedelijk Museum by Benthem Crouwel Architects. Few! That about covers our architectural explorations!

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Sarphatistraat Offices

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Stedelijk Museum

The following day Matthew and his aunt joined us for one more foray into the city. This time we walked more into the old city. We went past the palace where there was a big carnival midway set up! I directed us to a small enclosed courtyard called the Begijnhof that was built as a sanctuary for the Begijnhofjes who were a Catholic sisterhood. Because it was a rainy day, we took the tram to the Rijksmuseum where the others intended to spend the afternoon. Andrea and I took a remake photo in front of the I amsterdam letters before I headed out to go and catch my flight home! We were reminiscent of the time we spent wandering around Amsterdam on Christmas eve back in 2010. It snowed that day (a rare thing in Amsterdam) and the city was deserted! Not this day! There were people everywhere! I felt so fortunate to be able to spend this time in the Netherlands and have this quick reunion with Andrea. It was a nice way to transition from my time in Uganda to home. img_20161014_182654

November 26, 2016

Rotterdam

Upon arriving at Schipol Airport I took the train to Rotterdam. I had arranged to stay with my cousin Geertien for the first night in the Netherlands. I found my way right to her house which is in the city proper. Oh how I love how easy it is to get around the Netherlands without a car! The flight was a red eye and so I was running on only a few hours of fitful sleep! I enjoyed breakfast with Geertien, cleaned up, did some research to decide what I wanted to see, and then Geertien generously offered to take me to see some of the places I had on my list. I also asked her to take me to one of her favourite neighbourhoods!

It was fun to experience Rotterdam by car. First we drove down to the center and visited the Markthal by MVRDV and then went to the Central Library across the street so that we could get a view of the square. I can’t decide what I think about the area. In one way I like it because it is an architectural laboratory of creativity and experimentation, but at the same time I wish that the designs were less alien and responded more to one another! Because each building is so self-focused, the space in between feels very accidental and without meaning. Next we walked to Timmerhuis that was designed by OMA. I thought this building responded well to the surroundings and has a form and facade that are beautiful but not overdone. Lastly we went to the Luchtsingel bridge that is an urban infrastructure project that was crowd-sourced and provides a backdoor access that connects three or four converging neighbourhoods while reinvigorating what was a more deserted, “sketchy” area. We met a man on the bridge who could tell we were tourists and wanted to know what we thought of the project. He used to work at the city and we learned from him that the project was quite controversial. From there we walked back to the car and Geertien brought us to the riverfront where we could get a good view of the Erasmusbrug. Beside it is another building by OMA called De Rotterdam. It is part of the redevelopment of the old harbour district on the southern side of the river. By then I was beginning to fade, but still wanted Geertien to bring me to one of her favourite neighbourhoods where a lot of Turkish immigrants live. It is a place where she has been engaged in community projects as a social worker, and she shared with me about a community project that was recently completed to transform an old church into much needed housing for Turkish girls in the community. I really liked the look and feel of the place, and think it is a great thing when a community takes it in their own hands to improve their neighbourhood.

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View of Central Rotterdam and the Markthal

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Timmerhuis

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Erasmusbrug and De Rotterdam

The following day I took the metro and wandered around Rotterdam on my own. I brought my bags with me and put them in a locker at Rotterdam Centraal so that after exploring I could head to my next destination that was my aunt’s place in Middelharnis. To get there I had to take the metro and then the bus. Again, I found my way to her house and as I walked up I could see Tante Els, Ron, and my Oma and Opa sitting down to dinner! It was wonderful to see them all again! Els informed me that she and Ron had something special in store for me the following day! We were going to try an activity called beach sailing!