The Modernist Architecture Nerd’s Guide to Suriname and Guyana

Architecture is always top of mind when planning our travels.  We will often make detours to out of the way locations if we find out a building or monument of particular interest is located there (looking at you, Pleven, Bulgaria).  For die hard modernism and brutalism fans, planning an itinerary based on hopping from modernist relic to relic is easy in places like the Balkans, Baltics, or Central Asia.  When venturing off the beaten path in the Americas, to places like Guyana and Suriname, for instance, the game becomes a little more difficult.  

David and I hadn’t done any pre-planning in terms of architecture tourism for our recent trip to Guyana and Suriname – in that way, it resembled our trip to Southeast Asia last year, where we happened upon beauties of the New Khmer style designed by Vann Molyvann.  But Guyana and Suriname lacked the direct colonial influence of the French that allowed for an easier transfer of modernist styles and forms from Le Corbusier to architects in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  Suriname and Guyana, on the other hand, are better known for wooden colonial architecture from the British and the Dutch – the likes of which in Paramaribo are listed under UNESCO World Heritage.  That said, while walking among British and Dutch colonial structures in various states of (dis)repair crowding the streets in Georgetown and Paramaribo, we found a great number of modernist examples worth going out of the way for (if you happen to be a concrete fetishist, that is).
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A Love Letter to Paramaribo, Suriname

95% of the time, David and I travel fast.  Because we’re constrained in time off from our jobs, we try to see as much as possible in a very condensed amount of time.  This typically results in us spending a couple nights here, and a couple nights there; never spending much time in a single place before jetting off to our next destination.  However, Paramaribo, Suriname was a game changer for us.  The city grabbed hold of us hard as soon as our tiny prop plane sputtered into Zorg en Hoop, Paramaribo’s domestic terminal.  On our short cab ride from the airstrip (it is an international airport by technicality – it has two flights a day to and from Georgetown, Guyana – most of its traffic is to and from Suriname’s dense jungle interior) we saw places of worship from no fewer than four world religions, dense jungle flora the likes of which we hadn’t seen previously, and wonderfully intact examples of Dutch colonial architecture.

There’s a long list of cities David and I have grown to love over the course of our travels: Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sofia, Bulgaria, Riga, Latvia, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan come to mind.  But we didn’t linger in any of these as long as we did in Paramaribo.  Reflecting on our time in Parbo, as it is known affectionately, there wasn’t one single thing that made us fall in love with the city.  But rather, we fell for the sum of its parts. Read more

A Walking Tour through Soviet Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

One of the things that most excited us for our trip to Central Asia was the number of well preserved buildings from the Soviet Era. Bishkek, in particular, had a great concentration of the buildings, ranging from Stalinist to Socialist Modernist, all within easy walking distance from one another.  As you know by the title of my blog, I am a big fan of concrete architecture, and this post is for all of those wishing to see the greatest examples of the medium in the shortest amount of walking time.  I did a great amount of research before our trip to ensure our two days in the Kyrgyz capital wouldn’t be spent idling about.  We had an itinerary, and we stuck to it.

To start, here’s the route we’ll cover:

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Osh, Kyrgyzstan: Not So Large, but Contains Multitudes

Boo yeah, that is a Walt Whitman reference in the title!  Literary self-congratulations aside, the description fits our impressions of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city.  Often referred to as Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, Osh feels completely different from Bishkek – less modern, more steeped in tradition, and more Islamic.  As we ventured even further south, to Sary Mogul and deeper into Kyrgyzstan’s Islamic heartland, stores even stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes.  Despite how Islam is portrayed by American media and, sadly, the incoming presidential cabinet, we found that as places became more majority Islamic, so too did their people become more friendly.stans-2016-292_29912580065_o

Though, to be fair, the comparison is mostly Islamic versus Russified.  And in comparisons of friendliness, I’m afraid Russians will typically not make the podium. Read more

Renewing our Vows at a Post-Soviet Wedding Palace: Almaty and Bishkek

Unlike our time in Southeast Asia this past May, where we were pleasantly surprised by several examples of our favorite architectural styles in Phnom Penh, I knew leading up to our Central Asia trip that Almaty and Bishkek would be tremendous places for modernist/brutalist architecture spotting and photography. Thanks to several books I’ve collected over the years and some mildly creepy Instagram stalking, I already knew the places I wanted to see in both cities. I’ve always been particularly captivated by Soviet Wedding Palaces, and prior to this trip we’d seen some great examples, most notably being those in Tbilisi, Georgia and Vilnius, Lithuania. And while not much has been written (in English, anyway) on Almaty’s Wedding Palace, Bishkek’s Wedding Palace has been well documented all over the internet – particularly well by this post by Cooper Thomas, a former Bishkek expat.

Almaty Palace of Weddings
Almaty Palace of Weddings
Bishkek Palace of Weddings
Bishkek Palace of Weddings

Wedding Palaces served a very interesting role in Soviet society – a role which continues today in many post-Soviet nations: to gather information, making sure every couple is properly registered. It seems like the actual ceremony plays second fiddle to the act of registering itself. Despite this, it appears that weddings in the post-Soviet world have adapted to incorporate the more conspicuous displays of wealth commonplace in American weddings. The weddings held in these Wedding Palaces aren’t traditional to the region – contracts between families and festivities that usually linger for weeks – but instead more closely mimic their Western counterparts. Official documents are signed, then couples are whisked off in a fancy car, often back to everyday life. Read more

Almaty, Kazakhstan, Dressed in Resplendent Concrete

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of Central Asia was Kazakhstan’s former capital, Almaty.  It remains the largest city in the country, as well as its cultural epicenter.  My knowledge of the city was somewhat lacking (aside, that is, from my standard furious pre-trip googling and wiki-ing), and the city threw me through a loop.  Not because of culture shock – actually, it was quite the opposite.  Almaty was strange to me because of how cosmopolitan, ostentatious, and developed it was, thanks in large part to the Central Asian (primarily Kazakh) oil boom.stans-2016-13_29877361666_o stans-2016-127_29877426286_o Read more

Big Concrete and Bigger Nature: Central Asia 2016

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been captivated by Central Asia.  My father runs an antique rug store in the Seattle area, and since I was a wee child I’ve been surrounded by Central Asian textiles, from Uzbek suzanis to Kyrgyz shyrdaks.  For one reason or another, I’ve yet to make it to the region from whence these textiles came, but that is about to change.  David and I are heading on our second trip of the year – to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.  And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/depenbusch/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/depenbusch/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mibuchat/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mibuchat/

I long thought that Central Asia wouldn’t happen for me until I was older – its remoteness proved to be a hindrance, with only expensive and lengthy flights serving the region from my relative backwater of Seattle.  However, with Momondo flight alerts set, I stumbled upon round trip tickets to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, for under $1,000 and with only one stop (in Frankfurt, of course), for precisely the times David and I would be able to travel.  I jumped, and bought the tickets, and decided to figure the rest out as the cards fell. Read more

Off the Beaten Path in My Google History: July 2016

As a full time employee of Corporate America, I spend a lot more time daydreaming about travel than actually traveling.  I toyed around with the idea last year of posting about the places that take me down wikipedia and travel blog rabbit holes, but with little follow through.  And as I’m kind of spent talking about Southeast Asia for the moment, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit my various wanderlustings.  So without further ado, find below the five spots keeping me up at night, planning adventures well into the 2020s.

Mozambique

I have never been to Africa.  And while there are a million places I would love to visit there, Mozambique is at the top of the list.  I know a few people who have had the privilege of traveling there and I have only heard amazing things.  From the unspoiled Indian Ocean beaches (the country stretches from South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north – that’s an impressive coastline), to a fascinating and tragic history of Portuguese colonialism, to the diversity of people found there (like many places on the Indian ocean, trade routes catalyzed cross fertilization of cultures belonging to the nations surrounding the body of water), everything about Mozambique is attractive to me.  There’s even a healthy dose of modernist architecture to be found in the larger cities of Maputo and Beira.

Well, maybe everything but the million hours and several thousand dollars it takes to get there from Seattle.5984289274_0b89e1edfd_z 23533936000_f4703e77f9_z Read more

Googie Architecture and a Piece of Infamous Seattle Real Estate

I didn’t know a term existed for the quasi-futuristic, kitschy American architecture of the 50s, 60s, and 70s until a few days ago.  But as I drove home from my parents’ house (the same house I grew up in) on the less-than-scenic Lake City Way last week, I drove by the in-progress restoration of Ying’s Chinese Foods Drive-In – as I have done multiple times before.  I decided I needed to photograph it, and in my googlings I came across the term “Googie Architecture.”  Things started to click, and I made plans to take the husband on a Golden Hour Thursday night date to document this both captivating and extremely kitschy building.DSC_0053

Growing up, as my father was working to start his own business, I remember going to Ying’s on special occasions for American Chinese staples like General Tso’s or almond chicken.  I was particularly attracted to the fried rice cakes the kitchen staff had colorfully and artificially colored vibrant pinks and greens and yellows.  The building has always had a special place in my memory, and yet I didn’t know the history of the plot of land itself. Read more