Saturday, 27 May 2017

La Maison Blanche

While being in La Chaux-de-Fonds, we could not miss the opportunity to visit one of the houses designed by the world-famous architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, best known as Le Corbusier who was born and raised in the town of the watchmakers. La Chaux-de-Fonds has several houses that he has designed, I propose we visit La Maison Blanche, which he has designed in 1912.

La Maison Blanche means literally "the White House". I am sure you can guess where this name came from.

It was the first creation of Le Corbusier as independent architect. It is neo-classical, with some influence of modern German architecture.

Le Corbusier designed this house for his parents. Nowadays, it is run by an association and can be visited. So let's get inside, my friends.

Le Corbusier was known for his desire to bring light into the buildings. This house is rectangular, with four main pillars that free up the space from walls and let the light in. All the interior have been carefully renovated, in line with old pictures and written memories of the original design.

The windows are large and are a natural link with the garden.

On the walls you can study the original drawings of the house.

There is also a wooden model, that allows you to contemplate how the house is embedded into a steep hill.

Also on the upper floor you will find spacious rooms with large window, open and inviting.

Since the house was designed for his parents, Le Corbusier had a room of his own as well. Additionally, he has planned to have his atelier on the upper floor. The drawing table was lit up by sunlight, entering the room through a large roof window. Unheard of at that time.

La Maison Blanche is quite small but it marks the opening of a new era in modern architecture. The outstanding contribution of Le Corbusier to the modern movement was recognised by UNESCO who has inscribed several building he has designed into the World Heritage Site List. And it all began here, in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Watchmaking museum

Last week we were walking around the town of the watchmakers, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Today I invite you to a very special museum where we will be able to admire the results of their work. Real masterpieces of Swiss watchmaking. And far beyond in fact - let's discover the relation between Man and the Time.

The main entrance of the International Museum of Watchmaking waits for us.

Just next to the entrance you will find an exhibition of the finest Swiss brands, with Baume et Mercier ...

... Jaeger LeCoultre (each worth a small car, maybe even not that small a car) ...

... and Rolex, whose founder was born and trained in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Obviously, when men in antiquity wanted to know what time it was, they did not use smartwatches. They were building sundials.

As we move inside the museum, we discover that actually wrist watches are a novelty. The first watches or more precisely turret clocks were on church and town hall towers. And they were substantially larger of course.

The mechanism was large so it calibration was an art of itself.

The second place where watchmakers were facing challenges were the seven seas where the sailors needed to know the time in order to establish correctly their position. Even if the sea was shaking.

This is why, they were closing clocks in robust wooden boxes.

Gradually, the need to know the exact time was paving its way to houses of the nobility. The aesthetic design was becoming more and more important then, irrespective if it would stand on the floor ...

... or on the chimney.

The definition of what "fashionable design" is was of course changing over centuries. The Watchmaking Museum allows us to follow this evolution in a nutshell.

Finally, the dandy gentlemen wanted to have a watch with them all the time. This is how pocket watches were born.

They were of course coming in different colours and patterns, both when it comes to the faces ...

... and probably even more prominently - the cases.

Obviously since we are in the museum of watchmaking (not just of watches), there is a whole large exhibition devoted to the craft (or art should I say probably) of watchmaking. You can see the workshop of a watchmaker from close.

The beautifully decorated faces required lots of work and artistic skills.

Putting all elements of a watch was a work of great precision.

This is why watchmakers usually wear enlarging glasses.

The relation between man and time is a complex one. We cannot control it, no matter how much we try. Still, it impacts us in all possible ways. We just need to find the balance between treating it too seriously and relaxing. Let master Salvador Dalí inspire us.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

La Chaux-de Fonds

La Chaux-de Fonds is a town of about fourty thousand people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It is located in the Jura mountains at an altitude of 1000 meters. The surrounding lands are not suited for farming and in the mountains getting a job is not easy. So to make their living, people in the region have specialised since centuries in a very special craft - watchmaking. The level of this specialisation was so high, that after a devastating fire in late eighteenth century, the whole town was re-designed to meet the needs of the watchmaking industry. The universal value of the watchmaking urbanism have been recognised by UNESCO who has inscribed La Chaux-de-Fonds into its World Heritage Sites list.

In this orange building you can watch some movies about the history of the town and its urbanism. But I guess you would prefer to see it with your own eyes? Let's go to the city center. At first sight, nothing interesting. Some streets with quite modern buildings ...

... some meteorological instruments here ...

... a fountain there. Nice, but by no means special.

But to fully acknowledge the amazing design of La Chaux-de -Fonds we need to see it from bird's eye view. Let's go up to the top floor of the building in which the Tourist Information is located. Here, you will realise that all the streets are ideally parallel, will large spaces between them. The main idea was that the buildings would not be shadowing those behind them. Because watchmakers need light. Lots of light. At the best natural sun light. You can see it on the left ...

... and you can see it on the  right. All the houses include both workshops (on upper floor, with most sunlight) and residential areas.

If you are curious to find out more about the watchmaking industry in the region, I invite you to check on my next post! Because the watchmakers are still in La Chaux-de Fonds and they continue to work at their benches, carrying on their remarkable ancestral skills.

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Do you remember our little misunderstanding last winter? When my family took me to the Augustusburg castle, just not the one I was hoping to see? I have promised you then that one day we will see the UNESCO World Heritage site of the same name.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Brühl, a masterpiece of German Rococo style.

The Augustusburg castle was commissioned by the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, the brother of the German Emperor, as his summer residence. It is today one of the most visited sites in Germany.

As we approach the main entrance, you can see that the bishop did not count his money. The palace is big and richly ornamented.

But it is inside that one can fully realise what Rococo means, one of the most decorative periods in the history of art. Unfortunately, visitors are generally not allowed to take pictures inside.

 Luckily nobody forbids to take pictures in the garden.

As we turn back, you can see the Augustusburg castle and the garden in one shot.

In front of us comes a pond.

Ponds are great pieces of landscape architecture since they allow to take pictures with reverse images.

But it is not yet all that is to be seen in Brühl. Let's move into the woods.

The bishop was an avid falconer so on the other side of the woods come the Falkenlust Hunting Lodge. It was built on a site selected in accordance with the flight path of the herons, the favourite pray in falconry. They breed in the palace garden and they fish in Rhine near Wesseling.

The lodge is not very big but it has been witness of amazing parties. Supposedly even Giacomo Casanova was a guest here.

Again, pictures inside are not allowed. But I have found an amazing website where you can see panoramic pictures of the interiors (and the gardens!) of Agustusburg and Falkenlust. You can change you spot in the left bottom corner. Enjoy!