Traffic began building on these roads about two years ago. Civil unrest triggered a social movement that called for reformations in the constitution. Some people call the movement The Arab Spring. Here, it’s more often referred to as The Democratic Spring. I was given the opportunity to travel the roads of Morocco as a part of a legislative fellows program wherein nonprofit professionals from Chicago meet professionals from NGOs in its sister city, Casablanca.
Like any big city, Casablanca is on the move. When I first arrived I felt like I had to hit the ground running, and faster than usual to keep up with its pace. The geographic bridge between Europe and Subsaharan Africa, globalism and multiculturalism define Moroccan society. Walking the streets, I overhear conversations between residents that flow from French to Arabic and sometimes English with ease. I see women in traditional hajibs and kaftans check their cell phones for messages, and a stylish young man light a cigarette as he leans against a centuries-old wall. It’s easy to see how the country earned its nickname, the global crossroads.
Morocco is also a country of aesthetic inspiration. Maybe it was the African sun, but colors seemed a lot bolder to me. I know the pinks are that pink because it helps deflect the heat out of the building. The blues are common, though I’m sure the color didn’t have the same functionality. Whether it was a farm, personal home, or holy institution, a lot of detail was put into the SPACE itself. And it did not go unnoticed. I was really drawn to windows, doors and tile work. As I walked through alleys, museums, ancient ruins, and mosques, I reveled in the detail so much that I had to capture it. Here are some of the images I observed during my time in vibrant, enchanting Morocco:
Huzzah! The first Matter Observed post of the new year is to announce that I won Inhabitat’s Top Original Reporting for this story I wrote (and photographed) on the Eames Case Study House last month. And in case you missed it, I also wrote a Matter Observed post and made a short video about the modern design mecca earlier this year. A nice start to to 2013!
Here’s to more designing, more writing, more photographing, more blogging, and more discovering this New Year. I cannot wait to share all of this with you, right here on Matter Observed.
On the road again... this time to Duluth, Minnesota
You can sail to Duluth, Minnesota from the Atlantic Ocean via a long (2,300 miles) and sinuous route, chartering a series of rivers, canals and passages, through four of the five Great Lakes until you finally reach Duluth Harbor and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge. Total trip time, about nine days. You can also get to the “Emerald City on the Hill” via U.S. Route 53 in far less time (a little over eight hours from Chicago by car). I did the latter and drove into Duluth on a crisp December day just after the sun had set.
Hillside view of Duluth and Lake Superior
Coming down the hill into the light bespeckled town, I could faintly make out the vastness of Lake Superior and thought to myself, “Man, you don’t get this kind of view of our Great Lake back in Chicago.” It was spectacular. I could not wait to observe and explore the town I had heard so much about. At that moment, I slowed my speed down a bit and turned up the volume – it was Medicine Magazines by Duluth’s own, Low.
Watching youth hockey in sub freezing temperatures is the norm in Duluth
One of the first things that I observed about Duluth is that they take their hockey very seriously. It’s a way of life for many Duluthians, with outdoor hockey rinks in just about every neighborhood and park. Frank Gehry would love it here.
An early 20th Century east end Duluth mansion
Duluth has always been known for its commerce and trade, beginning in 1679 when French explorer Daniel Greysolon Du Luth (the town’s namesake) arrived to help optimize the local fur trading industry. During the beginning of the 20th Century, it was the leading port in the United States, surpassing New York and Chicago. At one point, Duluth was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world.
Dylan's boyhood home (yellow house on the right)
Duluth was also the birthplace and home to one Robert Allen Zimmerman for the first six years of his life. He would later move to Dinkytown in Minneapolis where he started introducing himself as Bob Dylan. The house on 519 N. 3rd Avenue East sits on a quiet hillside overlooking downtown Duluth and Lake Superior. One observation… you most certainly don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows from here.
The 'American Mariner' coming into port
The good majority of Duluth’s economy is driven, both literally and figuratively, by these freighters – commonly known as “lakers” and “salties” (for ocean-going vessels), hauling coal, wheat, and taconite from the Iron Range to the rest of the world.
Duluth's show (and traffic) stopping Aerial Lift Bridge
Originally built in 1905 and most recently upgraded in 1929, the Aerial Lift Bridge is the first of only two vertical lift bridges ever built in the United States and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Canal Park has a maritime museum and is always buzzing with activity. The bridge is raised between 25-30 times daily, letting freighters in and out of port. As the bridge went up, I observed an interesting and apparently customary exchange of friendly horn blowing between the freighters and bridge control as ships pass under, which can be heard from town up into the hills of Duluth.
My brother, Gwydion (left), and myself outside Fitger's
There are many great restaurants and shops in Duluth to observe, including the historic DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace. One of my favorites was Fitger’s, where there’s a historic hotel, shopping, a brewery museum, and the oldest continually operating industry in Duluth and Minnesota’s oldest brew pub (1881), Fitger’s Brewhouse. Yuuummmm.
The David Salmela designed headquarters for Loll, Hawk's Boots
My final observation was of the Hawk’s Boots facility in West Duluth, where I met with Greg Benson, CEO and co-founder of outdoor furniture design company, Loll. Greg generously made us some tasty espressos and we proceeded to tour the David Salmela (my new favorite architect) designed building, where he explained its early beginnings, his company’s day-to-day operations, and a sneak peek into the future (look for this exclusive Matter Observed post soon). Very exciting stuff.
Headin' home... very, very slowly
On my final day as I left Duluth, my first thought was, “how the heck am I going to get out of here?!” There were 17″ of snow on the ground from the night before, and it wasn’t stopping anytime soon. Chicago most certainly would’ve shut down, but in Duluth it was business-as-usual. Once I had made it down the perilously slippery roads and onto the main highway, I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful and cool the city of Duluth turned out to be, blowing away all of my expectations. From the people, to the sites, to its natural beauty, even in the incredibly cold weather, Duluth is a special place – a place more people should observe for themselves.
A very special THANKS to all the kind people of Duluth, especially my gracious hosts and dear friends, Andrew and Sigrún (and the world’s most creative six year old boy, Odinn), who welcomed me into their beautiful home on the hill.