We all have our own reasons to travel- I like the discovery of exceptional architecture, museums, gourmet food, unique food recipes and of course, to meet people, see art, learn the local culture.  I just came back from a wonderful trip to Barcelona where I discovered a few architectural similarities with Buenos Ayres.

Barcelona and Buenos Aires have a surprising quantity and quality of architectural works.  Barcelona- has Gaudí, Domenech I Montaner, Pinon and Viaplana and the new ultra modern buildings; Buenos Ayres has a number of well preserved historic buildings and also some beautiful decaying ones, but also brand new contemporary architecture by the hand of skillful AFT Architets in addition to  delightful urban renewal projects. The two cities also have similar museums by different architects.  I’m speaking of MALBA in B.A. , home of the Costantini Collection, designed by AFT + Partners (Atelman, Fourcade and Tapia architects ) and MACBA IN BARCELONA – MUSEU D’ART CONTEMPORANI DE BARCELONA, by Richard Meier.

MACBA façade and square
MALBA- Jacarandas that surround it
Both museums are lavishly illuminated by daylight, though MACBA has a darker entrance and it gets lighter as you move inside the central hall.  

MACBA interior


MALBA- interior
Both have beautiful bright structures, (MALBA’s exterior is light beige and Richard Meier’s work, of course, is white).   Both have extensive glass curtain walls, very transparent look alikes.  They both treat their internal spaces in almost the same manner.  Both museum’s internal space receive a lot of light coming from the long side of the curtain wall and the exhibition halls are housed on the other side that is sheltered from light.  One uses ramps to access its floors while the other uses escalators.  Both structures have treated the access to the floors in the same manner, placing the ramps or escalators it along the longest side of the building.  MACBA faces a square with lots of access ramps that attracts skateboarders of all expertise levels.  MALBA looks onto a busy avenue on one side and an old  building on the other.  Their floor plan is a long and narrow, incredibly similar (MALBA has a trapezoid floor plan and MACBA is rectangular),  with a central brightly sunlit well modulated by louvers and long ramps to access each floor. Externally, Richard Meier’s curved attached volumes are impressive, as if the long box had received a “bit” of Gaudí, perhaps to remind you you’re in Barcelona.  These curvaceous modules are there to visually connect the building its older area where it sits.  AFT’s building has a glass curtain wall with mesmerizing reflexes.


MACBA- view from the square
MACBA- entering the main hall


MALBA- the beautiful reflexes 
MALBA- curtain wall reflexes

I believe no architect fully predicts the wonderful sensations they provoke with the space they create  – or all the colors and the shadows the spectator will see at given moment.  As you walk up the ramps of MACBA you are bathed in a dance of constructive art of shadow and light projected by the building’s structure. Both buildings delight the spectator with the quantity of natural light.  Richard Meier’s intention was to create an intermediate shadow zone between the full light of the window and the darkness of the closed halls.  But the overall impact is much more impressive than the original intent.

MACBA- access ramp to floors

MACBA- exhibit halls are located on this side

Richard Meier’s structure seems very light because of its white brightness, characteristic of the author’s signature, while AFT’s has a genuine geometric light structure that is fascinating.

MALBA- light structure
MALBA- structure and lighting

MALBA has a “plus” that can only be fully appreciated during summer.  – at the end of November, beginning of December when the Jacaranda trees of Buenos Aires are in blossom,  MALBA  is surrounded by these trees and the building almost “smiles” with the blossoms shining and reflecting from its curtain wall.  This doesn’t happen to the museum in Barcelona because the square is very void of vegetation. Both museums are impeccably curated.  When I visited MALBA last year there was a complete and entertaining retrospective of Marta Minujin.  MACBA is showing Muntadas and an impressive work by Anri Sala. The film: 1395 Days Without Red- a collaborative project between Sejla Kameric and Anri Sala.  The film is about the siege of Sarajevo that lasted 1395 days.  During that period  between 1992 and 1996 any citizen crossing town was threatened to be shot down by snipers and every time they reached  a corner they had to hold their breath and hope they would make it to the other side of the street alive.  The camera follows a woman going across town, stopping at each corner, trying to reach the rehearsal of the orchestra she is part of.  As she walks she rehearses the piece in her head and hums the concert while walking through the treacherous streets.  It’s an unforgettable film- just like the museum showing it!




The impact of sunlit windows on our lives.

My dad was very curious about engineering and early on in his married life he confirmed the basic need for North facing windows in the southern hemisphere, and south facing in the northern hemisphere.  In the beginning we lived in Vila Mariana, in a small two-storey house in which the master bedroom and living room faced south.  My mom invariably woke up shrieking with a migraine.  I was always sick. We only noticed the impact when we moved to a house on Rua Carlos Sampaio.  Its living room and two main bedrooms plus flat roof (which were transformed into study and party rooms), faced North.  We woke up with the sun kissing us.  It is possible that my family does not suffer from photophobia so the sunlight does affect our mood positively.   However, what really mattered in all the houses I’ve lived in was the quality of the sunlight, especially when we also had a West facing window. How wonderful it is to be able to watch a sunset every day- its changing colors, the warmth it brings.  It’s like watching a new show every day.

My current home has a such a setup.  The living room faces north and west and has almost no walls however, I am surrounded by glass windows.  The remaining walls are covered with books.  And light.  My late afternoon guests are awed by the sunset’s spectacle.  My photographer friends envy my light.

With the invasion of super highrises, the city has lost a large percentage of sunlight and brightness.  For nine months I lived on the fourth floor of an apartment in Rua Pernambuco, Higienópolis.   It is a modern, north facing,  apartment, with large  windows that go all the way down to the floor.  Beautiful, but not enough.  The proximity and height of the facing buildings block a significant percentage of light, which meagerly reaches us for just a few hours a day.  In addition, you need to get real close to the window and look up to see the sky.  So not even the comfort of having everything I might need within two block’s walking distance (versus spending 45 minutes in traffic to buy a box of matches in Morumbi) made me feel good. I spent those nine months in a sour mood searching for sunlight.

Today, when I contemplate moving to an apartment I realize how impossible it is to repeat my home’s lighting situation. If I am lucky enough to find  a well lit, north facing apartment it has to sit on a corner in which the facing corners have almost no chance to be sold to give way to another high rise.  My only choice then, is to go on watching my daily shows and putting up with traffic… win the lottery…and buy a penthouse!  So much for daydreams!