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Sunday, September 24, 2006

THE GUGGENHEIM: DAY FOUR, PART TWO

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum began in 1937 as the Museum for Non-Objective Art, but was renamed after its wealthy founder, a copper magnate, and was then refered to as a "Museum of Modern Art". In 1943 Guggenheim commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to erect a new museum, his first in NY. It took sixteen years to complete because of ongoing building restrictions, and by the time the museum was finally opened Wright was 88 years old! Unfortunately, the innovative concrete struction has been plagued by surface cracks almost since it's opening in 1959. Beginning in 2005 twelve layers of paint were removed and the building's concrete surface was revealed. The repair and repainting is expected to be completed by the end of 2007, in time for the building's 50th anniversary.

This is the only NY musuem as famous for its architecture as for its contents. Wright designed it as one single large room on one continuous floor that spirals, helix-like, on a ramp 432 M (473 yds) long. Visitors start at the top and wind their way down the whorl. The only natural light comes into the museum from the glass roof. There are no windows. It feels much like being inside a snail shell, certainly one of the most unique buildings I've visited.

The Museum puts on five or six special exhibits a year, many of which occupy the whole museum. There are a few permanent collections including those of Kadinsky, Jackson Polloak and paintings by Klee and Picasso and others shown in the extension rooms built in 1980.

The exhibit on show to Oct. 25 was titled "Thirty Years in Architecture" a most amazing display of work by the Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid who is known as one of today's most innovative architects. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Zaha Hadid studied in Switzerland, England and Lebanon. She pursued studies at London's Architectural Association and later joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She opened her independent practice in London in 1979 and got international recognition in 1982 for her submission The Peak which won a competition for a leisure club in Hong Kong. Although this project was never completed she has since then designed several other buildings and has been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This was truly one of the most remarkable exhibits I've ever seen. Zara Hadid says "My ambition is always to realize theoretical projects that seem difficult at the time." Her designs are exciting and impressive. My favorite was The Dancing Towers" a model of the three towers she has built in Dubai that, instead of standing erect, intertwine with each other. Her designs distort perspective creating an unorthodox viewpoint with fractured forms that give way to fluid and undulating shapes.

By the time we returned to our hotel later that afternoon, we were both exhausted, our minds crammed full of all the wonderful and unforgettable sights we'd seen that day. It was our last night in New York. We'd only had a few days but we had savoured a delicious slice of what the The Big Apple has to offer.

The next morning we set off to do some shopping but unfortunately didn't make it to Macy's or Bloomingdales we we'd planned. Instead went to some local shops, then, because the day was hot, humid and we were tired of ploughing through the crowds in Times Square, we hung out in the hotel lounge sipping lemonade until it was time to board the shuttle to the airport.

That morning Seventh Ave was blocked off with a street market and Fifth Ave was blocked off with a long never-ending Labour Day Parade (all the trade unions). The cross streets were open but the whole thing created a traffic gridlock the likes of which we'd never witnessed before. Luckily the conceirge had suggested we take the 2.20 pm shuttle to JFK, allowing us plenty of time to arrive at the check-in. The traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper all the way out across the Queensborough Bridge. Strangely, we didn't notice any road-rage or horn-honking which the New Yorkers have been famous for in the past. I've learned since that the City had passed a by-law against horn-honking! We weren't too worried by the delays but one woman in the shuttle anxiously asked the driver at ten minutes to four when we'd arrive at the airport. We were still quite a distance away and her plane was due to leave at 4.45!

We got to the checkin in good time and I was impressed to see how well things went at JFK compared to the nightmare that was LAX when I'd returned from Malaysia in the Spring. We went through the security quickly, and had lots of time to relax in the waiting area before boarding our Harmony flight home at 7 p.m. Unlike LAX it's a bright, airy building and didn't seem to exhude the paranoid and hustle-bustle of L.A.'s infamous airport.

Recapping our short, sweet adventure in Manhattan: We had agreat time, saw lots, walked our feet off and had nothing but excellent experiences which left us impressed and happy.
There was so much more to see, and it would have been nice to have had a bit more spending money, but I managed -- spent it all to my last penny -- and have gained a wealth of memories.

I have to say a big thanks here to the B.C. Travel Writer's Association who provided me with the winning door-prize, to Harmony for the airline tickets, N.Y. Tourism for the City Tours and to all my friends who contributed to help make this a wonderful holiday in the Big Apple!

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