Friday, December 07, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stella's - Well Peopled

Went to Stella's last night for a wonderful dinner with some friends.  The food was outstanding; when you go try the kreatopita - seasoned beef with bechamel sauce wrapped in filo dough.  Our party declared the crab cakes the best in the city.

But what strikes me about Stella's is that it is as much about the communal act of sharing food as it is about the flavor (which is all there nonetheless.)

The light wood panelling and furniture, and well done lighting give the place a warm glow that sets a convivial mood.  There are a variety of seating arrangements - back to back with your neighbors, side by side, and a beautiful marble topped community table which occupies the center of the space, and has been full each time I've visited.  We were seated at the one 'private; booth - toward the back with a low, perforated screen that gives a sense of intamacy without cutting you off from the generall hubbub.

Its been a very lively place at each visit.  Last night there was not an open table until we were leaving around after a leisurely meal.  The general noise of conversation creates an atmosphere of community, but you are still able to hear your own party, even at the side-to-side tables along the front (I have not yet sat at the community table, but people were talking, not sitting in overpowered silence.)

The portions are about sharing, too.  Any of the individual entrees is plenty to share family style (especially the tasty Pastichiatho - Greek spaghetti.)  And the Meze or small plates are not that small and well worth sticking to.  If you can't think of something to talk about - the food will definitely spark conversation.

I like to think of building as a fundemental human act (might be a personal bias;) but Stella's makes me question that assumption.  The sharing of food together may in fact be the foundation of cities.  The sense of community that act fosters maybe compels people to make a place that it can happen again. 

Stella's is a worthy example of such a place. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sketch Fridays - May 2012

From the courtyard of the Richmond History Center -

Isolde Uecker

John Spain

Glenn Suttenfield
Andrew Moore

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to Climb a [Church] Hill, Postscript

Back in August of last year, I made some observations on a significant utility project at Taylor's Park Hill, a City-owned park below Richmond Hill. During construction, the contractor demolished a concrete stairway of monumental proportions, spanning the entire slope. I lamented that the reconstruction appeared to be just that - missing any opportunity for an enhancement of the park. And, unfortunately, I was right. 

The new stair simply leads up in all of its glute-busting glory, with minimal ties to the terraces and without any apparent destination.

It is particularly disappointing that the path to the overlook at the end of East Grace remains without improvement - an overgrown dirt path.

One quirk of the new stair that I do not recall from the original is a ridiculously short "landing" in one of the runs.

Public stairs and paths are an important part of the urban experience and should be subject to care. Sadly, the stairs in this park remains a missed opportunity.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Steven Holl Sneak Peek

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the C3 Breakfast Club event where Dean Joe Seipel of VCU's School of the Arts presented the schematic design for the new Institute for Contemporary Arts. The design is by Steven Holl and has been the subject of great anticipation by the Richmond design community, particularly since Richmond has few works of contemporary architecture by nationally-known, currently practicing architects. This particular project also seems destined to be a flashpoint for the perennial "modern versus traditional" and "what does contextual design mean" debates.

Because of its high profile and presumably because of anticipated controversy, VCU is carefully controlling the release of images of the new project, hiring a national PR firm to manage the process towards a spring roll out. Although Joe advanced the slides quickly, I did manage to make a few sketches of the schematic design. [I was briefly tempted to swipe the copy of the schematic design booklet that was available for viewing at the event, but decided it would be too much.]

Anyway, this is a sketch of the plan showing the corner of Belvidere and Broad. The basic mass of the building is a tall volume on the corner with lower bars extending to the west, splaying out to form a sheltered courtyard. The foreground of the tall volume on the corner is planned as a small plaza. The major materials are weathered zinc and glass, which appears to be channel glass in some areas.

This is a perspective sketch of the building from the corner.

What do you think?