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A One of a Kind “Double Arcades” in Downtown Cleveland

17 Jan

I have been to quite many arcades from my traveling. But never have I seen before two parallel arcades being connected together in the middle until I came to Cleveland again. This “H-shaped” tunnel space is very special because each of the two arcades is uniquely designed and the two look totally different from each other. It looks like someone has connected the two arcades that were built in different times, which could be what happened.

5th Street Arcades – 530 Euclid Ave, Cleveland

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The Fascinating Relics of the Old Superior Viaduct in Downtown Cleveland

15 Jan

Walking along the Superior Avenue across the Cuyahoga River, I discovered this mysterious Roman-antiquity-style-looking arched bridges running through the urban fabric. The great span of the giant arches and the sheer size of the bridge are simply engineering wonder. And looking at how this bridge interacts with the roads and building elements surrounding it is a feast to the eyes.

It turns out that this bridge is actually the former viaduct that carries automobiles to the other side of the river. I am so glad that part of it survived after the old bridge was replaced by the Detroit-Superior Bridge that was much higher for boats to pass through.

Old Superior Viaduct – Superior Viaduct “Street”, Cleveland

How Would Christopher Wren Have Arranged for Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral?

17 Apr

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-7.html

In 1666, the old St Paul’s cathedral in London was severely damaged by the Great Fire. The king’s chief surveyor, Christopher Wren, took this opportunity to build the new St Paul’s which currently stands. Probably inspired by the domes of the Pantheon and the St Peter’s, Wren designed the new cathedral with this mega dome. To present the domed space in its full grandeur, the design of the floor patterns, the altar, the columns and all the niches around the circular space have been specially detailed to work with the dome. The result is that when a person is standing underneath domed space, he can actually feel it, see it and even hear the whisper of the dome.

Looking at this photograph of Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral at the St Paul’s taken underneath the dome, I started to wonder how would Wren have arranged the chairs for this very important ceremony. I am not a hundred percent sure, but my guess is he would have wanted the coffin be placed right underneath the center of the dome which is also the center of the circular floor pattern (the sun). The lines of chairs would have been arranged in a radial pattern, like ripples from the sun. In a way, paying tribute to Margaret Thatcher at her funeral was indirectly paying respect to the old British Empire. The dome has portrayed this empire once the center of the world and on which the sun never sets. Now that I have thought about the meaning of the dome’s center, it got me to think that this strategic and ceremonial spot may probably be reserved for someone even more important than a prime minister. The locations of everything is suddenly justified.

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-10.html

st paul’s cathedral, london – apr 17, 2013

Berkley’s Main Street, Block Party and Parade

15 Apr

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Last summer I went to this really cool main street parade in Berkley, a suburb of Detroit. They basically closed off the whole downtown portion of the main street for the Berkley Parade. Although it wasn’t my first time going to a main street festival, when I was watching how these old cars moving from one end to the other, I started to think about how amazing these main streets are for these gridded cities like Berkley.

Unlike cities with piazza or squares, most gridded cities in Michigan have no one single point of focus. Instead they have a long line of main street that joins things together. When compared with a public square, the disadvantage of a main street is that you cannot quite have a big event or festival easily because the main street accommodates both foot and car traffic. I kind of believe that that’s how Americans invented this thing called “block party”. A block party is basically a street getting closed off on its two opposite ends so no car traffic can go through. As a result you can occupy the whole street and use it as a linear piazza temporarily. This is actually very smart because the grid system of the American cities allows you to block off as long a street as you want, depending on your party’s size and need.

If a square or a circular piazza is prefect for a center-focused event like a circus or a music show, a main street would be more suited for a linear type of event that can incorporate the notions of time and movement like a music score. What’s better than a parade for that purpose? Using buildings on main street as a backdrop, parade proudly showcases the community’s achievement all the way from one end of the street to the other other end. Maybe that;s why parades have become so popular in Michigan at least.

I especially liked the Berkley Parade because I was with my best friend, but also I enjoyed seeing the few blocks of Berkley’s Main Street through the sun set. It was an amazing experience particularly at the end when people along the blocks gathered outside the Berkley Theatre for a little music time. The “line” becomes a “dot”.
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berkley parade along twelve mile road by robina ave., berkley, michigan – 7:10pm, aug 18, 2012

Ruins of Luk Keng Village

30 Mar

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Very interesting to know that villagers are eager to pull down the ruins of their hundred-year-old homes to put up completely new three-story concrete villas. Some of the villagers had let the old houses decay on purpose years ago when they left, believing that the villages and/or their descendants would one day come back and rebuild them. Their plan works.

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luk kent village, fanling, hong kong – 4:05pm, mar 29, 2013

Sunset at Ocean Beach in San Fran – A City Defined by Its Stunning Outdoor Spaces

12 Feb

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view to pacific ocean

Before the first time I moved to San Francisco, my friend told me: “Kam, things especially housing are very expensive there. But the weather is really nice and you get to do a lot of free outdoor stuff there. They have great outdoor space in San Fran.” Well, the old me paid way much more attention to buildings than outdoor space. To me, cities were defined by their buildings in the downtown – NYC and Empire State Building; Chicago and Sears Tower; Seattle and Space Needle. And of course, San Francisco was defined by the downtown’s skyline featuring the Transamerica Pyramid.

The more time I spend in SF, the more I feel that the city is all about its open spaces – the hills, the parks and the oceans. Downtown does not really pay a big part in the locals’ life at all. In everyday conservation, people like to tell you what they have done in the parks over the weekends and what nice walk or hike they have taken. I slowly have become one of them too. Taking the dog to the Buena Vista Park which is indeed a hill and chilling out at Dolores Park have become a daily ritual to me. In the city of seven hills, it is amazing how many different vistas you get from up and down the hills.

Indeed every city has outdoor space, but not many of them are able to preserve the rustic quality of these spaces. Take Ocean Beach as an example, there is no McDonald’s, giant parking lots, tourists’ center, surf shops, hotels or any other commercial components. A beach is pretty much what you get there. The natural beauty of the beach simply touches your heart and makes you come back for more. That is what makes most San Francisco’s outdoor spaces so successful

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view to land’s end, with people watching sunset

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view to pacific ocean, with people chilling out

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surfer

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final sunset

ocean beach, san francisco – 5:35pm, jan 25, 2013

The Mysterious Twin Gymnasiums by Golden Gate Park

6 Feb

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looking west at the two gymnasiums on federick st. with kezar stadium on the right

When you walk down Frederick St. by the Kezar Stadium near the Golden Gate Park, you will see a row of Victorian houses and in between them there are two enormous masonry buildings topped with an arch. These two almost identical art deco-styled buildings that seem so un-related to the current streetscape are indeed the remains of the former San Francisco Polytechnic High School. The narrower one on the east was the Girls’ Gymnasium and the one of the west was the Boys’ Gymnasium. When the city tore down the school to build residential housing, the neighborhood managed to rescue the two gyms which have become the current homes for the Circus Center and the ArcoSports Center.

I really admire the effort put into saving the gyms by the people of San Francisco. Most of time whether these buildings would be saved has nothing to do with the physical context such as the buildings themselves or the design of the new projects. The buildings are only saved when the people who care about them do something about it. And of course, the concerned authority would only have respond to its voters’ want in a democratic society. If it were in mainland China or even in Hong Kong, protests would mean nothing to the government and every bit of the old buildings and infrastructure including streets and landscape would be demolished in no time.

Keeping these old monuments have contributed positively to the diversity of built environment of San Francisco. The grand scale of these monuments, the engravings on buildings and the lavish ornaments simply cannot be done in the modern day budget-oriented buildings. These artifacts of the past really make the city more charming, rich in history and memory. And they give you something to discover during each walk or ride. Isn’t that what we like about taking walks in San Francisco?

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looking eastat the two gymnasiums with buena vista park at the end of federick st.

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new housing development in between the two gymnasiums

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current look of the west gymnasium (home of the circus center)

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circus center trains student to perform circus arts

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the lavishly ornate entrance to the circus center

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the large practice hall inside the circus center

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classes and events at the circuit center

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wall painting at the circus center

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the relationship of the two gymnasiums to the kezar stadium, too bad the trees have over grownn to block the view of the west gymnasium

federick st. by kezar stadium, san francisco – 11:30am, feb 5, 2013