Tag Archives: Architecture
I just returned from a long weekend away with my husband in Bilbao, Spain. I say that with trepidation, as, according to many Basque people, it is not Spain, but Basque Country. There are some who are content to remain part of Spain and France, and others who want independence, so when in Basque Country, say it the Basque way.
As a lover of history, linguistics and just about everything else except strenuous exercise, I can say that it was a great weekend (even though a lot of exercise snuck in)! Great weather, great food, great architecture, confusing languages, and interesting sites all round. Here are some highlights:
Guggenheim Museum: The building itself is well worth the visit! The architect, Frank Gehry, literally designed the building on one of his free-form doodles. With only one straight wall that I could see, I can imagine that he was doodling when the phone rang and made his hand jerk, causing the straight line… it’s an engineering feat, to say the least. Just outside the Guggenheim are several sculptures, notably a giant dog made of flowering plants; it was intended to be a temporary display, but the people of Bilbao fell in love with it, and it’s now a permanent landmark. There’s also one for us odd arachnophiles out there, a giant spider. Two sculptures look like they’d float away, even though they weigh tons: “Tulips”, and a tower of balls.
The weather was perfect, so we took a “Bilboat” tour down the waterway; it gave us the chance to see areas of the city which are usually far from the tourist route; areas that are in the throes of rejuvenation and restoration.
Pintxos: You can’t go to Basque Country and eat in a usual restaurant! You need to go (what my husband and I dubbed) “Pintxopping” – like pub crawling but for a Pintxos (“Pinchos”) dinner. They are similar to Spanish tapas but far more elaborate; 5-6 will make a meal. 12 Euro will get you 6 Pintxos and a pint of beer. Any Pintxos bar worth their salt will spread out a wide variety of the treats along the length of their bar, and diners choose a selection of hot and cold delicacies. Bars pride themselves on signature creations; one bar we ate at had a mound of crab meat baked under a layer of squid-ink-tinted cheese, in the shape of a regional mountain. Most are served atop toasted slices of Baguettes, though there are also many on skewers, or served as spring rolls. If you’re now hungry, sorry about that – but you can find recipes all over Pinterest.
Language: The Basque language (Euskara) is a language isolate – in other words, it is unrelated to any other known language. Within language families, one could interpret this or that word based on a known relative language, e.g. between English street and German strasse. But looking at a road sign in Bilbao, you would have NO clue as to which word is the street name, and which is the word for street, road or path. Unless you know Basque, you would have no chance of interpreting anything – even if the context is known. An example sentence from the article on Wikipedia illustrates that point: “Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit” means “Martin buys the newspapers for me”. It is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe, with every other language that might have existed in relation to it having gone extinct, so there’s no way to decipher it based on a comparative method, linguistically. It may have been related to the Aquitanian language, which was spoken in the region before the Roman Republic’s conquest in the Pyrenees region, but the exact origins are unknown. It’s a fascinating study, if you’re interested!
One of the images above was taken on my flight home; the Alps were in fine form, and the weather great for flying; Matterhorn can be seen in the centre. I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour, and I would recommend that you get yourself a pintxo or two to tide you over until your next meal…
Take a moment to stop what you’re doing, and close your eyes: What do you hear? A tea kettle? The hum of your computer? a television? A car driving by? All of these sounds tell you something about your environment: That water is boiling; that your computer is working well, or struggling, or processing something that makes it slower at the moment; that someone, perhaps in another room, is occupied; that traffic is flowing, or that it might be dangerous for children outside at play.
Now take away all those sounds. It can be disorienting; it makes you feel insecure. It also makes you more alert to other environmental cues, and to your other senses – particularly sight. If a person mumbles, or turns away, or moves their hand across their face while speaking to a deaf person, communication is disrupted. People can be sensitized to the challenges, but can architecture? Yes. It can be made suitable for various perceptions and perspectives.
When I lived in Scotland, I translated regularly (BSL) for the deaf in our church, and would hang out with deaf friends sometimes. Some of them lived in a flat complex designed for the visually or auditorily-impaired, with bold red counter tops, light switches and phones to help them navigate, as well as light signals for various things such as the door bell or the phone ringing. The deaf sports club was a wide-open space, with room for a large crowd to chat in groups; as a hearing person, it was a unique experience to be in a crowd of signing people: There are few secrets in the deaf community, because even across the room one can understand the conversation; and though we were all signing, it was not quiet – sounds made with the mouth to support the sign, or the slap of skin on skin, or a laugh, or the shifting of clothing could be heard.
Look at the layout of your room, or office: If your interaction with the people around you needs to be visual, what could potentially hinder it? A solid wall, a glaring light fixture, blind corners, stairs (which must be focused on, to navigate), or a narrow passage that makes it difficult to walk side by side, signing. Deaf architects have begun incorporating their unique considerations into designs, and they not only offer a unique perspective on architecture but, by doing so, have created some stunning spaces: Deaf Space. To see a short video on the topic, please click here. Do yourself a favour, and watch the video at least once without sound. Below are a few images of deaf space from Google Images.
As a writer, it is always fascinating for me to explore new perspectives, and to try to see the world around me through the eyes of others; doing so enriches the writing experience, and opens new possibilities in developing characters, environments, or situational elements.