Architecture schools have a tendency to compel students to dream big. It is a lesson of life, as well as a lesson of the studio, to begin with a vision and then hone its form through compromise. But a group of architecture students from Singapore stand the chance to learn this lesson on a truly unprecedented scale. Fourteen students have teamed up to produce a master plan for the revival of the 5th century Nalanda University in Bihar, India. The group will present a draft of the plan to the Nalanda University directors, with the goal of partaking in a final competition to design a rehabilitated campus for the ancient institution.
Needless to say, the students are treading on a precious site, one that is thoroughly entrenched in history. The University of Nalanda was founded in the 5th century, making it the first center for higher learning in recorded history. At the height of its activity, the University’s pioneering inclusion of residential dormitories helped accommodate a population of 10,000 students and 2,000 professors, brought to Nalanda from China, Japan, Turkey, Greece, Persia, and other far off countries. Its alumni and associates include near-mythical scholars, such as the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang and the Chinese Buddhist monk I Ching.
The ancient university also possesses an extraordinary architectural heritage, with its vast compounds, temples, meditation halls, and classrooms, interspersed with lakes and parks, and fortified by a massive wall. After centuries of successive sacking and rebuilding, the university has been more or less preserved in its 12th century state, left behind by invading Turks bent on uprooting Buddhism. It was not until 2010 that legislators pledged to pick up the thread of history and revive the ancient site into a functioning, contemporary university.
Under the guidance of Singaporean architect Tay Kheng Soon, the team of 14 architecture students toured the site of the university and conceived of a proposal for its renovation. Their plan consists of a series of state-of-the-art, contemporary buildings, but emphasis has been placed on including a functioning agricultural system within the campus and its immediate vicinity, reports The Hindu. The idea draws from historical precedents, as villages surrounding the ancient university had supplied food to the campus centuries ago. With this in mind, the students envision the new university as a similarly self-sufficient community with the appropriate features to facilitate contemporary cultural, environmental, and ecological studies.
If the proposal finds its way to the final competition, the students will participate in an estimated $1 billion renovation project that has already united China, India, Japan, and Singapore. The hopeful young architects could take on an endeavor that will not only revive a shared piece of world history, but also forge new international bonds. Plus they would have an exceptionally impressive project for their portfolios.
(My first post about a museum!)
The Morgan Library and Museum is a great place to visit, whether you have some time on your hands and want to be fascinated/awed by Pierpont Morgan’s private library or by some very interesting artwork. I have to say, I learned a bit, but my experience was more visceral than anything else.
I walked north, then west toward the building from the 6 train at 33rd street, so I was able to see the original library building from the outside before I went in from the main entrance on Madison Avenue.
There is a beautiful metal fence that surrounds the entire property; I took this by sticking my hands through the fence so I could get a nice shot of the Library entrance.
I had to take a photo of the design on the fence. This was a preview of what was to come inside.
I have no photos of the main entrance, but it was built by famed architect Renzo Piano in 2006, which expanded the gallery space and included a performance hall, lobby, cafe, restaurant, and shop. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how most of the main lobby was lit by natural lighting, and the amazing sculpture created by Chinese artist Xu Bing for the Museum:
At the lobby level.
View from the second floor balcony where the elevator is.
As you can tell, I really liked this piece and kept taking photos from different angles. You can see that the word for “bird” in Chinese transforms through the spectrum of colors into the original conceptual bird. (Note: “Niao” is the romanization of the Mandarin word for “bird.”) I loved this piece for its color, and how it works so well with the open space in the lobby and brings your eye up toward the light source. It felt as if this space and the Library are two very distinct areas. In fact, all of the spaces were very clearly laid out, there is minimal artwork between floor one and two as I climbed the stairs, and each gallery space was clearly defined.
I don’t have many photos from the rest of the Morgan Library because only this part of the lobby and a few other limited spaces allowed photography (which made me sad). But I did get to see four more exhibits before exploring the Library itself:
(a) Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
This was the exhibit that I was interested in before coming to the Museum. There are all kinds of lists, some that I might not even consider to be lists, had they not been exhibited there. One of my favorites was a packing list from an artist’s sketchbook, in which on a single page, each item that the artist was packing into his suitcase was drawn separately. Lists don’t require words!
(b) Jim Dine: The Glyptotek Drawings
This show exhibited Jim Dine’s works of his studies of the classical statues at the Munich Glypotek Museum. It was quite fascinating to see because of the way he made the drawings using charcoal, ink, and a special illuminating technique.
(c) Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands
I enjoyed this exhibit because they had recreations of four different outfits, two for women, two for men, from different periods (faux fur, of course). Manuscripts are placed in chronological order with a timeline of historical events and used to trace the changes in fashion. It was most interesting for me to see how different clothing styles were used to portray different messages in the manuscript drawings. For example, evildoers are always portrayed lavishly and fashionable (while Christ was always in poor robes).
(d) The Age of Elegance
This exhibit was very small and felt detached from everything else. I was confused at first as to where this belonged, but nonetheless, it was a change from everything else I saw in the Museum.
My favorite part of the Morgan was of course, the Library itself. Although I couldn’t take any photos, I spent most of my time in the Library bending over to peer through the glass encased bookshelves to see the selection of books (and the the ridiculous range of dates Morgan’s books fall under). I believe the oldest book that I saw there was printed around 1530. He even had books that were printed shortly after Shakespeare’s death, around 1630!
(a postcard from the shop of the original 1906 library)
Basically, when I wasn’t bending over, I was craning my neck to stare at the painted ceiling, or examining the chairs and desks.
And of course, housed in the Library was the object I was really looking forward to seeing: the Lindau Gospels. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest a quick google search, or even better:
Wow, to see this in person?! You probably can’t tell from the photograph (as I couldn’t), but the jewels are raised about half an inch or an inch high from the surface of the cover. I remember reading an art history essay explaining that the raised jewels allowed light to shine through and reflect off the gold beneath, which creates more light in the piece than if the jewels had been placed directly on the gold surface. Fun fact: did you know that gold doesn’t rust?
It was a great trip, and definitely a place that you can go with another person, partially because of the variety of artwork that they exhibit and partially because I believe everyone can appreciate books that date back hundreds of years (and a library that feels just as historical). By the way, the shop is pretty awesome (and really big for a museum of that size, it seemed).
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016
The Morgan Library & Museum and the Morgan Shop are open
Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Morgan closes at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve and at 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Closed Monday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day
$10 Children (under 16)
$10 Seniors (65 and over)
$10 Students (with current ID)
Free to members and children 12 and under (must be accompanied by an adult)
Admission is free on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission to the McKim rooms is without charge during the following times: Tuesday, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m to 6 p.m.
Admission is not required to visit the Morgan Shop and Morgan Dining Room. This summer, visitors may also dine in the Morgan Café without museum admission.