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Neighborhood Jewel February 28, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.

By Alex Sawit

February 28, 2016



Cyrano’s new location? Nah, this was one of our design references, illustrating
how steel shipping containers can be used as the basis for elegant architecture.
But scratch the shipping containers. We’re building a jewel box instead.


   I once heard the great architect I.M. Pei say in an interview that architecture is the purest form of art there is (before I proceed, I need to say that I am not a fan of that colossal, view-hogging glass pyramid of his at the Louvre, which Pei recycled from an old design that was disapproved from a previous project but which he stubbornly stayed infatuated with; I am, however, a fan of his brilliant space plan for the same museum, a masterstroke that connected all the main buildings via a central underground access point, transforming the Louvre’s expansive and previously deserted main court into a bustling haven for both Parisians and tourists).

   Pei’s belief was that unlike a masterpiece painted on canvass or sculpted in stone, a building naturally derives its aesthetics from the beauty of its functionality. Paintings and sculptures aren’t meant to be practical; they can be made as frivolously, as ostentatiously, as pretentiously as the artist desires. Not so with a building. No matter how pretty it is, if the structure doesn’t physically work – if it’s a permanent inferno even with the air-conditioning at full blast or if the leaking roof regularly floods the floor like a tsunami or if the whole thing collapses under its own weight on the day it’s finished – then it’s a dumb design.

   Making it functional in a way that is beautiful is where the art is.

   That’s why I love the work that our architect, Tisha de Borja, is doing for the new location of Cyrano. She understands the beauty of having a “Big Idea”.

   “I want to do a glass box in the middle of the plant box,” said the text message I recently received from Tisha. “Scrap the container. A jewel box.”

   This was surprising news. Scrap the container-based structure? For weeks, Tisha had been planning a new design for the wine shop based on the proposal of building it with shipping containers, which we all agreed would make for a cost-effective solution. But although the news was unexpected, I wasn’t alarmed.

   I texted back, telling our architect that if in her judgement this was the way forward, then so be it. But out of curiosity, I cheerfully asked what made her decide to abandon using containers.

   “Don’t laugh…,” she texted, “a dream!”

   “I’ve done about 6 iterations with the container,” she continued texting, “and it just didn’t seem right. Then I added a glass portion, which was almost right, but not quite. At that point, I was ready to just accept it already. But last night, I realized that you guys talk about Cyrano in a very specific way, like it is this precious neighborhood jewel. And then it hit me – it should just be all glass.”

   I understood what she was saying. It turned out that, as much as we all fell in love in the beginning with the idea of using ready-made shipping containers, these cheap and versatile steel structures had now become their own worst enemy due to the limited footprint of the new location. They were getting in each other’s way and after six different configurations, it just wasn’t working.

   But no problem, because our awesome architect came up with a new idea that was just as functional and much more beautiful. A jewel box? What a wonderful concept, I told her. Plus, it was nice to hear our original Cyrano friend, Tisha, expressing an honest, artistic understanding of Cyrano as a precious gem of the community (although she isn’t our first neighbor to come to that conclusion; that honor goes to our neighbor Waise Azimi, who gladly tells people that Cyrano is a neighborhood “treasure”). It further reassured me that we got the right architect for the job.

   I also told her that it was a good sign that her Big Idea came from a dream, because I too believe in the power of dreams.

   “Haha…well,” she clarified, “not exactly a dream…but that just before sleep state when it turns out, I do my best thinking!”

   Good thinking anyway, Tisha. A jewel box it is.







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