Articles and Essays


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Preservation

Consumer Retorts

Chris Houston, the charmingly curmudgeonly owner of Modern Artifacts in San Francisco, is not your typical retailer. Though his shop is packed to the rafters with an eclectic and highly covetable range of vintage furniture, lighting, art, and craft, Houston takes a slow and thoughtful approach to retail and commerce.

At his workshop in the East Bay, he works with a fleet of California artisans—platers, refinishers, caners, upholsterers, framers, lacquerers—to impeccably restore the pieces he sells both online and in his shop. Dedicated to the credo of “less is more,” he recently got rid of his cell phone (Read More…)

Old Ways, New Path

On a wooden platform in the middle of the village, dozens of young women gather, dressed in intricately embroidered aprons and jackets—the traditional costume of the Dong, one of the many ethnic minority groups of southwestern China. Nearby, a large group of villagers huddles around a bonfire. Everyone in Dimen, this tiny town about 400 miles northwest of Hong Kong, is preparing to celebrate the inscription of the Grand Song of the Dong onto UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (Read More…)

In The Modern World: Protect and Conserve

In construction-mad Beijing, “development happens at a crazy speed, like a tsunami,” says Matthew Xinyu Hu, the former managing director of the nonprofit Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (BCHPC). This was especially evident in the lead-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. The government poured more than $40 billion into improved infrastructure, razing much of the traditional urban fabric of the city in the name of modernization.

The Olympics bore the brunt of the bad rap, but in truth, Beijing’s historic city center has been at risk (Read More…)

El Cosmico: Trailer Made

Three days before its grand opening party, El Cosmico was humming. Under the big West Texas sky, a crew of artists, musicians, and designers poured concrete floors for the hotel’s outdoor showers, raked gravel along meandering pathways, and transformed salvaged regional materials—abandoned oil drums, ranch fencing wire—into lobby furniture and shade structures.

The brainchild of Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert, El Cosmico is a new kind of lodging: part trailer park, part creative commune—“a Trans-Pecos kibbutz (Read More…)

Mint Plaza in San Francisco

Photo by CMG Landscape ArchitectsJust three years ago, this stretch of Jessie Street in downtown San Francisco was a gritty back alley, populated by parked cars, pigeons, and the down-and-out.  On one side of the street sat a Vietnamese sandwich shop and a budget SRO hotel; on the other hulked the granite and sandstone Old Mint, a Greek Revival building (Read More…)

The Skill Set

Indian artisans are breathing new life into old traditions.

jaipur

If you close your eyes and block out the visual cues — the red ocher 18th-century buildings, the brightly colored bazaars, the monkeys scrambling maniacally over the dusty rooflines — you would still know you were in Jaipur, India. The country’s center of traditional craftsmanship has a distinctive soundtrack (Read More…)

Oaxaca Gets Real

My best-laid plans were scrapped the moment I arrived in Oaxaca City. “You want to see the real, authentic Mexico, right?” asked Alejandro Ruiz, one of the city’s most renowned chefs, as he giddily steered his SUV through narrow cobblestoned streets (Read More…)

Prayers at an Exhibition: Bhutan’s Art and the Monks Who Protect It

On a recent afternoon, art handlers in T-shirts and tattoos paced the sixth-floor gallery of the Rubin Museum of Art, wielding levels and hammers as museum employees with clipboards leaned over tables laden with gold and bronze sculptures. (Read More…)

Sacred Acts

As the pace of change quickens in Bhutan, so do efforts to preserve its centuries-old Buddhist art. Jaime Gross heads into the Himalayas to report.

Driving Bhutan’s single highway, a serpentine road hacked precariously into the side of a mountain and perpetually under repair, is an exercise in nerve. It averages 20 curves per mile, and requires honking before every one to warn the overloaded trucks and grazing cows that lurk around each bend. (Read More…)

Palm Springs Forward

A determined group of midcentury modern devotees is helping this kitschy desert city embrace its future while preserving its past.

“Modern architecture is like a black dress or a trench coat: it’s classic, and you can’t get tired of it,” declares Los Angeles fashion designer Trina Turk. We’re sitting in the living room of her 1936 weekend house in Palm Springs, California, known as the Ship of the Desert (Read More…)