Sunday, 2 December 2012

Unusual Architecture

Think of beautiful and unusual architecture, and the first buildings that spring to mind are the Taj Mahal (with or without Princess Diana on a marble bench), Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona  and the Sydney Opera House.

A very lovely building, that reminds me a bit of the Opera House, is the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India. Its 27 "petals" are similar in shape to the "sails" of the Opera House. The temple is a Bahai House of Worship, but is interdenominational in the sense that worshippers of any religion are allowed to read or chant inside it, in any language. Sermons and ceremonies are not permitted. Any religious music may be sung a capella, but no instruments may be used.

The design was inspired, as the name indicates, by the lotus flower. (I suspect it was also inspired in part by Jorn Utzon's work!) The temple, surfaced in white marble, can seat up to 2.500 people. It is surrounded by nine ponds and 26 acres of gardens.

The spectacular Opera House in Beijing certainly rivals that of Sydney for unusual design. It was designed by a Frenchman, Paul Andreu, and took seven years to build. The design is ellipsoid: a dome set in a reflective lake, so that it looks like a giant egg. The entrance to the vast glass and titanium structure is via a hallway that goes under the lake. Inside are three theatres, two seating over 2,000 people and a "small" one that seats only 1,200.

From stately elegance to frivolity and fun … in Sopot, Poland, we find Krzywy Domek, the Crooked House. Inspired by the fairy tale illustations of Jan Marcin Szancer (the Mem Fox of Poland), this jolly, cartoonish structure is not a house but a shopping centre.

It belongs in Diagon Alley, the shopping street in the Harry Potter books! I like to imagine that inside there are curious shops like Flourish and Botts' Magic Book Shop and Ollivander's Fine Wands, but I suppose in reality it's all K-Mart and Target and those kiosks where they want to sell you a mobile phone that can play chess and launch a rocket ship.

As someone who has spent a large slice of my life in libraries (on both sides of the counter), my favourite unusual building has to be the Kansas City Public Library. The "community bookshelf" which runs along the south wall of the building, showcases 22 book spines, eight meters high and two wide. It clads the multistorey car park, so it is not obscuring any windows in the library itself.

The selected titles were voted for by the local community and provides an interesting view of what the good citizens of Kansas City like to read. The chosen works include such iconic books as Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Silent Spring. Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolkien get a guernsey, but Tolstoy, Hemingway and Joyce don't. The only poetry is that of Langston Hughes.  What, no Keats?

The non-fiction includes the Journals of Lewis and Clark and a biography of Harry Truman. Go figure.  Is he the most interesting American president? Weell, I suppose he does hold the record for obliterating cities and killing people. Maybe George Bush killed more, but it took him a few years. Harry did it in one fell swoop. OK, two swoops. Anyway, they love him in Kansas.

There are eight children's titles, among them Winnie the Pooh and The Wizard of Oz. Dr Seuss makes the cut, but Lewis Carroll doesn't.

I wonder what a WAS Community Bookshelf would look like? Let's find out! E-mail me your choice of three favourite adult and three children's books (fiction or non-fiction) and I'll compile a list. Get your friends and family to vote too: we need a lot of entries so we can be sure of getting it right before we start putting up the scaffolding round the Highway Gallery!