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Psychological Bar Reviews (8)

The bar at August Antwerp forms a pleasing rotunda around the former chapel’s altar alcove, placing it at the aesthetic centre of the artfully desaturated former cloister. Golden stained-glass reflections and bulbous lamps in Vincent van Duysen’s dark bespoke fittings illuminate the white marble countertop.

The mood is demure. Everyone is at dinner, leaving the bar to the dedicated few who skip it all in favor of a prompt digestif. The barkeeper is working a solo shift. His heavy-set frame, colourful tattoos and overall unkemptness add a welcome edge to the slightly too sober sage-green staff uniforms. Drinks are processed expertly and not without flair, in a mesmerizing swaying choreography between freezers, cutting boards and the stately, four-story bar shelf.

Bites appear on the counter: Sardines in oil, capers and shrimp croquettes, crispy fried bread, Bellotta ham. Their inherent naughtiness is effectively balanced by August’s soft architectural dignity and the flawless etiquette of its patrons, who nonchalantly handle advanced seafood and amber-hued alcohol in civilized ways.

From the dining-room, an older man in a brown glencheck sport coat and an angular moustache approaches. After some deliberation and sweeping gestures, first a ladder, then a stately bottle of scotch is procured from the topmost echelons of the shelf. Informed about its price per glass, the gentleman carefully puts down the bottle and elects to go for something more quotidien.

A well-appointed middle-aged couple finally empties their margaritas, finding each other’s eyes and their room key with some determination. As they leave, two scooped-out maracuja shells are filled with vodka and ignited, a subtle act of riot and mixologist pyrotechnics that is left uncommented by everyone.

August Bar, Zuid, Antwerp.

The Liminal Pool

Viewed from the coast, the atlantic ocean is a singularity. It has no end and no dimension.

Alvaro Siza carved a pool into the void – human ambition inserted into the unending sea. Ultimately, Piscina das Marés is a vantage point: A place to observe, and a place to dip into a singularity on a hot day.

The basins and all infrastructure are built using concrete that has been made from rocks of the coast, ground down to silicate sand. The structure may be the only one on the planet that is literally spliced into itself.

Only part of the main pool is built. Rather, it is grafted onto a natural fundament. Its built components remain gestures that add edges and plinths to rocks and sand. Their expression is structural, visual appeal emerging from precise emptiness. As structural interventions, they appear as sculpture without gestalt. They are closer to land art than architecture.

As all swimming pools, Piscinas das Marés is fundamentally about the body, and about the beach as environment for the relationship of bodies. A stage for the bared human form, observed between rocks, from platforms and planes. The body is put to use, to measure the basin, to define its blurry dimensions by traversing it, to draw dotted lines between the realm of modernity and the vast entropy that expands at its edge.

Swimming is measuring: by using the pool, by crossing the water and by walking its perimeter, measurements are taken unconsciously. Using Piscinas das Marés defines its blurry dimensions, draws dotted lines between the realm of anthropocentric modernity and the silent entropy beginning at its edges.

The basin’s water is clear and salty – sourced from the atlantic ocean, filtered and cleaned. It is an odd sensation to swim in this type of water – an unnaturally clear simulacrum of sea water contained in a basin within itself. It feels oddly artificial, a simulated liquid lapping the granite rocks that form part of the main pool. Every dive, its saltiness is a new surprise. This water brings to mind memories of the pure, clean and deadly desert, rather of other oceans.

The atlantic ocean was still during my most recent visit. Piscinas das Marés by Alvaro Siza is, of course, the most beautiful swimming pool ever built.

Raum und Zeit und Selbst

Ich hege eine gewisse Zuneigung an das Zurückkehren, an den zweiten Blick auf einen Ort. Markiert der erste Blick einen Punkt, das Eintreten des Neuen, beschreibt der zweite Blick eine Strecke: Sie schließt ein psychologisches Dreieck zwischen der ersten Wahnehmung, dem zurückgelegten Weg und dem zweiten Besuch. Erst das Wieder-Erkennen eines Ortes stellt eine Relation her, die über bloßes Betrachten hinausgeht1. Einmal irgendwo gewesen sein bedeutet nichts. Zurückkehren bedeutet alles.

Ich habe Oporto häufig besucht, einige Male der Liebe und der Arbeit wegen. Ich kehrte zurück wegen Álvaro Siza, Serralves, der Topographie und der Bruchteile verwitternden Grandeurs. Schließlich wegen des seltenen Verständnisses: Diese Stadt ist mir zu eigen. Da ist eine Version dieser Stadt für mich, und eine Version von mir für diese Stadt.

Oporto hat in den letzten zehn Jahren eine beständig wiederkehrende Rolle in meinem Leben gespielt, leise und absichtslos2. Ich werde nun also eine Zeit dieses an Zeiten nicht eben armen Jahres dort verbringen. Ich bereue, das Neubauten-Konzert in der Casa da Música um ein Jahr zu verpassen. Ich freue mich auf all die Aussicht, und die Nacht in der Straße. Ich erinnere mich an den Text über Xmal Deutschland, den ich in der Nacht an der Kammer am Fluss schrieb, und an den Tag danach, die Hallen von Campanhã. Mehr, eine entschiedenere Linie beschreiben.

  1. Ich neige dazu, signifikante Wege in Städten immer wieder zurückzulegen. Vermutlich ist es der Versuch, durch das Überlagern ganz verschiedener psychologischer Zustände und sich verändernder Orte eine Linie zu erzeugen, die aus großer Ferne sichtbar bleibt: Markierung und Verbindung von Raum und Zeit und Selbst. ↩︎
  2. Überrascht stelle ich fest, dass ich das vor sieben Jahren bereits ähnlich sah. Es ist irritierend und kostbar wenn sich Dinge meiner Entscheidungswut widersetzen. ↩︎

Architectural Travel Notes, Morocco

Wind over water at the unornamented mirror lake of Menara Gardens. Built afar, adjacent the olive grove, by an imagined beduin cult of brutalist worshippers.

There is no photographic image, no advertisement, no glowing condensed corporate typography. Buildings seem to emerge directly from the reddish-brown ground, molding into soft cubes and boxes. The cityscape does not pry for attention, its decidedly nonmodern psychogeography seamlessly merges into a pastoral sprawl inflated to vast dimension and density.

I have a great affection for cats, as all tasteful and self-respecting humans do. Particularly, I cherish their arcane capability to offer a particular kind of intense, but silent companionship. Observing a city beneath a full moon, low and heavy, in quiet unison with a cat is a privilege quite uncomparable to anything else.

Palais el Badi: Afroeuropean Mythologies

A gleaming S-Class in black and chrome is parked next to a reddish clay wall, passed by a kid on a creaking bicycle and a handsome old man in a grey kaftan (I take special note of his accurately groomed, short grey beard). The limousine’s presence marks the place as psychogeographic science fiction. It is an intruder, an object from another time and universe, one I seem to be strangely familiar with: NFC readers, softly organic trainers, caftans, dust, cooked wool, satellite dishes, Buckydomes, walled gardens, fliphones, iPhones, hairstyles, all somehow materializing in an unexpected kind of 2020.

Urban Moroccan housing defaults to a subtle ledge starting on the first floor. It offers shade to the life in the street, increases the size of the living quarters (ground floors are mostly used for storage or workshops) and lends an element of decided, simple ornamentation to the otherwise plain cube. This is usually mirrored by the roof construction: the top floor is reduced to about a third of the ground floor area, creating a large terrace. From this, the shape of the residential unit emerges: a soft-edged rectangular box, defined by two interrelating incisions.

A bed in the desert, nature in perfect silence. There is the soft sound of flocks of small puffy birds passing overhead, and a warm breeze. Sun sets over the ranges, the desaturated Atlas mountains loom in the background. Life is forced into equilibrium. Many ways to go from here. (02/10/20)

In Casablanca, architecture appears to be more substance than artefact. It seems to bee perpetually melting, flaking, merging with nature and civilisation. Many buildings echo a faint Art Deco heritage, misunderstood even by the foreigners that brought it to these parts. Since, the idea of the graceful line seems to have evolved into something more organic, matching northern African sensibilities and energies. Here, the new and modern appears as just another iteration, reintegrated into the profoundly social mechanics of the medinas and markets, all refinement reserved for two-storey courtyards, areas of consultation and quietness.

What would you go to Casablanca for? For two days? — Ingrid

Gasoline Zen

It’s remarkably silent as we slowly cross Beethoven Street. I ponder the gradually passing shadows and whether they are the most real thing I’ve seen today. Dry-clean smell permeates this black Kia Optima. We keep inching along Culver. Finally, the freeway sprawl, in front of us. I servo down a window in anticipation – only to find the freeway packed with the afternoon jam, and myself in stasis again.

Jon said that Uber has put a layer on top of the city, opened it up. It provides no freedom, replacing one rigged system with another. New economics, but no new access (economics newer create new things). Nothing improved, it’s a stall, sideways momentum. My driver is a quiet, chinese man, entirely clad in beige. He puts a Muji tray of caramel sweets on the handrest. I take one and never eat it.

Under the street lights, a Volkswagen Passat stops to pick me up. Its interior smells of industrial strawberries, the stereo playing progressive sidechain arpeggios. There is a moody iridiscent sliver in me that enjoys how well this music matches the ride, the nighttime tunnel flow. We are traversing the dark city in an almost meditative state. Gasoline Zen, I post to Twitter.

The music selection is an integral part of every ride, in a very different way than during Berlin Taxi rides. American radio stations somehow seem to have access to a deeper archive of 1980s rock classics, inacceptable music that seems strangely adequate in Californian air. Toto, Stones, The Wings, they all seem to complete a cliché that may be more real than the actual city.

Thomas is driving me. He is in a palm tree-patterned daishiki. He is listening to The Wave radio at full volume, some black-eyed R’n’B, and keeps humming along. The ever-present industrial strawberry smell mixes with his vanilla perfume. All of this is highly pleasant.

This one blasts trap beats, the stereo’s volume perfectly tuned. As the sun casts soft shadows onto my ankles, I notice yet another variant of the faint dry clean/dried fruit scent that I am unable to place (this country’s olfactory industry has long since emancipated itself from the limited selection of fruit available on earth, I scrawl into my notebook). The car is en route to Los Feliz, where I’d like to visit Ennis House, and stare at the cityscape in dusk and sun. On Glendower Avenue, the door closes and the Prius hums away. I remain by myself on a steep road, next to a vaguely Aztec structure.

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