I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Building Interest: architectural tourism

Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring
Resort, China.

Build it and they will come. Or will they? Belinda Jackson rounds up the best newcomers on the architecture scene.

Could you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Or
miss the Blue Mosque when in Istanbul? The Tower Bridge is a London
essential and Cairo’s pyramids are possibly the oldest tourist site on
the map.

But tell friends you’re going to Oslo to see the new design
by Renzo Piano and chances are you’ll be tarred with a try-hard hipster
tag. “Architecture is the great public art,” says Eoghan Lewis,
architect and founder of Sydney Architecture Walk, in defence of
architectural tourism.

While not buying into the tallest-fattest-most-brightly-coloured
debate (“Do people really travel to see the new tall?”), he readily
admits to admiring Burj Khalifa, but describes Sydney’s Opera House as
“the most important 20th-century architectural moment”, matched only by
Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica, in Barcelona.

The Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand.

However, if you were so inclined, the battle for the tallest,
longest and shiniest building has just two serious contestants: the UAE
and China, with Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, at 829 metres, currently the
tallest building in the world. Pitch that beside Australia’s loftiest
offering, the Gold Coast’s Q1, and we come out looking positively puny
at just 322 metres high.

Architecture aficionados have their 2013-14 diaries full,
with a smorgasbord of beautiful little offerings from Britain and plenty
of Zaha Hadid curves in Asia.

Off the list is the tediously square new George W. Bush presidential
centre. And while we’d love to jet to Lima for sheer wackiness, its
cliff-hanging hotel is, unsurprisingly, still at the planning permission
stage, while Shanghai’s Songjiang Hotel, where two floors are
underwater, won’t open till 2015.

Back home in Australia, now is the time for quiet, beautiful,
subtle achievers. Read on for a baker’s dozen of great new
architectural statements going up around the world.

ASIA

Here’s a statistic that will probably be outdated by the time we go
to print: nine of the 20 tallest buildings currently in construction
across the world are in China. But just because they’re tall doesn’t
make them fabulous: they have to be beautiful, too.

At heart, many travellers are mountain goats who need to
climb to the top for the birds-eye view of a new city. So take a look at
the new Shanghai Tower, which erupts from Pudong, one big paddy field
until a couple of decades ago.

he stats are impressive: the futuristic
skyscraper designed by American super-firm Gensler, was “topped out” in
early August at 632 metres, making it China’s tallest building; well
under Burj Khalifa. It is expected to be overtaken in the sky race even
before its completion by the ambitious Sky City, in Hunan, which aims to
scrape past the Burj by nine metres. Is it just me, or does this smack
of playground politics? Would it make you plan a trip to Hunan to see a
pointy tower that won’t fit in your camera lens?

Still big but less pointy, the new Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring
Resort, also near Shanghai, is dominated by what’s unscientifically
been dubbed a “doughnut”. Perhaps “glowing horseshoe” is a kinder term
to describe Beijing-based MAD architects’ work: the ring is covered in a
metal skin covered with LED lights, which erupts 100 metres high from a
lake. The resort opened this year to the tune of about $1.5 billion and
should win dinner parties as the ultimate Shanghai weekender.

The Iranian-born, British-based architectural powerhouse Zaha Hadid
has been one seriously busy woman, with the new Dongaemun history and
culture park opening in Seoul next year. With her signature organic
curves, Hadid’s “urban oasis” is in the centre of old downtown Seoul and
includes a design museum and traditional Korean gardens. Detractors say
Hadid hasn’t tried hard enough to keep the old city but her admirers
won’t be disappointed (ddp.seoul.go.kr/eng/).

As an aside, while she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Hadid’s
work definitely is admired by a group of Chinese builders, who have
pirated her Beijing Wangjing SoHo complex, in Chongqing. The copy may
even be completed before the original is finished, in 2014.

For more organic forms and materials, head to Kontum City in
Middle Vietnam for a cup of coffee at the waterside cafe in Kon Tum
Indochine Hotel. Designed by Vo Trong Nghia architects, the cafe’s roof
is upheld by 15 gigantic bamboo columns inspired by Vietnamese fishing
baskets. The cafe is on the shortlist for an award at this month’s World
Architecture Festival at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (indochinehotel.vn).

Den Bla Planet, Denmark.

SCANDINAVIA
For most, the drawcard of Copenhagen’s Den Bla Planet (The
Blue Planet) won’t be the architecture, it’ll be the 20,000 marine
animals wriggling around on display at this new aquarium, designed by
Danish architects 3XN. The largest aquarium in Northern Europe, Den Bla
Planet holds seven million litres of water inside, is encircled by a
reflection pool outside, and the building’s form is inspired by a
whirlpool, a visual treat from the air when you fly in to nearby
Copenhagen Airport. Australian aquarium architecture specialists
Crossley Architects, who spent almost four years working on the project,
name the Amazon display as the best in show (denblaaplanet.dk). The aquarium has just won its category for display architecture at the 2013 World Architecture Festival.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Masdar City

Normally, we’d associate the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with excess:
the world recreated in man-made islands (“Anyone for Nigeria?”) or very,
very big, pointy towers, a la Burj Khalifa. Abu Dhabi’s new World Trade
Centre won’t disappoint on that count but for something completely
different, Dubai’s bankroller is also home to a sustainable,
zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city.

Set beside Abu Dhabi’s airport, Masdar City is designed by
British architect Norman Foster of Foster & Partners. A so-called
“arcology” project, which marries architecture and ecology to create
self-sustaining, densely populated cities, Masdar City runs on solar
energy – sensibly, given it’s built in a sunny desert.

Expect
super-modernity from the car-free city, which is connected by little
driver-less pods, but expect also lessons from the past, such as wind
towers, or barjeels, Iran’s ancient alternative to air-con (masdarcity.ae).

The Shard

BRITAIN
Architects
feature consistently in the top 10 sexiest occupations, which must make
Renzo Piano, co-architect of Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou,
absolutely irresistible. Britain is currently revelling in golden years
and Piano’s Shard, which opened in February, is the new jewel in
London’s skyline. Stats first: topping 310 metres, yes, it’s the tallest
building in Western Europe, with 11,000 glass panels and, amazingly, 90
per cent of its construction materials are recycled. It’s not just a
viewpoint, the tower will soon house a hotel, four restaurants and
residencies with a price tag from £30 million ($50 million) (the-shard.com).

Shard aside (and we haven’t even gone to Glasgow’s
Commonwealth Games build), this year’s top talking points are all
low-to-the-ground historical landmarks, led by the new Mary Rose museum
in Portsmouth, which opened in May. The Mary Rose, a 16th-century Tudor
warship, was built on these docks in 1510, sinking after 34 years’
service. She was raised from the bed of the Solent River and four
centuries and $56 million later, is now encircled by a modern museum
displaying her sunken treasure. The museum is designed by architects
Wilkinson Eyre, the name behind Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and the
Crown Sydney resort at Barangaroo (maryrose.org).

Going further back into the mists of time, the new visitors
centre at Stonehenge is set to open in February next year, after two
decades and more than $60 million spent on planning and construction.
The building has sparked interest among the design community for the
hurdles it faced: the low-key design, by Denton Corker Marshall, sits
lightly on the ground so as to not disturb nor detract from the ancient
Salisbury plain (stonehenge.co.uk).

The Mary Rose.

Serious design aficionados already have their names down for
the chance to sleep amid the serene architecture of celebrated architect
Peter Zumthor, winner of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2013. The Secular
Retreat, which taps into the concept of “ecclesiastical architecture”
(read “monastic use of rammed concrete”) is located among the rolling
hills of South Devon and will be completed in 2014 (living-architecture.co.uk).

OCEANIA
As a half-Tasmanian, here’s a sentence I never thought I’d
utter: “You must go to Glenorchy and check out this amazing piece of
architecture.” The Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP!) sits on the
banks of the Derwent River, just a couple of kilometres downstream from
another fine architectural statement, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

GASP, Tasmania

Designed by the young guns at Room 11, a boardwalk that curls around the
bay to MONA opened in 2011, followed in April by a new pavilion of rose
glass and concrete that juts out over the river. GASP! is already a
popular promenade and there are plans for regular art events and a new
social enterprise cafe and food truck. Ferry to MONA and hire bikes to
coast down to GASP or borrow free Art Bikes in Hobart and ride 30
minutes to GASP! (gasp.org.au, arts.tas.gov.au/artsatwork/artbikes).

Across the pond to New Zealand, the Cardboard Cathedral in
Christchurch officially opened in late August, already has a solid fan
base. Designed and donated to the city by “emergency architect” Shigeru
Ban after the Anglican cathedral was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake,
the temporary cathedral is an exercise in the resilience of faith and
community. Made from gigantic cardboard tubes, it has a life span of
about 20 years (christchurchnz.com/planning/cardboard-cathedral).

Architecturally, across the world there is no one trend:
there are small conversations and there are immense statements. With
Australia’s and the world’s top awards soon to be announced, the
conversation continues.

FIVE CITY ARCHITECTURE TOURS
MELTOURS ARCHITECTURE TOUR
Found in Melbourne; costs $39, phone 0407 380 969; see meltours.com.au.
SYDNEY ARCHITECTURE WALKS
Costs from $30; phone 0403 888 390; see sydneyarchitecture.org.
CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION
Costs from $10; phone +312 922 3432; see architecture.org.
THE BAUHAUS TOUR
Found in Tel Aviv, Israel; costs $18; see bauhaus-center.com/tours.php.
EDINBURGH ARCHITECTURE TOURS
Found in Scotland, phone +44 1620 825722; see edinburgharchitecture.co.uk.

FIVE MORE OCEANIA BUILDINGS

MELBOURNE
Occupying the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets, the
super-restrained Design Hub by Sean Godsell Architects is tipped to
clean up at this year’s national architecture awards, agree Eoghan Lewis
and Jerome Miller, of Meltours Architecture Tours. The building’s
“skin” is a grid of disks that can be rotated to catch the sun,
ultimately to power the building. Jerome also names 700 Bourke Street,
Docklands worth a look for its vivid “slices”, best seen from Southern
Cross Station.

CANBERRA
Opened in February, the National Arboretum is 250 hectares
dominated by a dramatic amphitheatre with secret gardens, cork oak
forests and high-arched, stone-clad visitor centre overlooking Lake
Burley Griffin, designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects and
landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean (nationalarboretum.act.gov.au).

SYDNEY
The new Prince Alfred Park+Pool in Surry Hills is designed by
Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design. The 50-metre heated
outdoor pool lined playfully with palms and smart, sunny yellow
umbrellas, set amid grassy mounds that “fold” over the main building,
hiding it from street view (princealfred.org).

AUCKLAND
The Auckland Gallery Toi o Tamaki has just been named 2013
World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. It was
remodelled by Sydney’s FJMT and Auckland-based Archimedia and reopened
in September 2011 (aucklandartgallery.com).

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.


Tasting tradition: Ramadan kareem

Cairo at sunset. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Today is the first day of Ramadan 2013, which for me is about the scent of almonds, the sweetness of fresh dates and the call to prayer. 
If you’re shaky on the whole Ramadan thing, it’s Islam’s holy month, where Muslims take time to
reflect on themselves and their lives. 
The most
obvious part of Ramadan is fasting: followers don’t let anything pass their
lips from first light to sunset. At the moment, wintery Australia is considered a cushy place to be for Ramadan 2013: first light this morning was around 6am and the sun set at 5.15.
In comparison, it’s high summer in the Middle East, which sees 14-hour days,
with 5am sunrise and sunset not until 7pm.
That
means no food, no water, no cigarettes (a tough one for countries such as
Egypt, where smoking is rated a profession). Some people don’t use
toothpaste in the daylight hours…mmm.
Of all
the Muslim countries I’ve visited during Ramadan, I had the most fun in Egypt.
Egyptians like to joke that they actually put on weight in Ramadan, sunset
is the time for feasting, and feast they do. In a city where you can hit a
traffic jam at 1am, the streets are empty at sunset: you can cross town in 20 minutes,
normally a two-hour journey, as everyone’s sitting down to drink sweet drinks
such as tamrhindy (tamarind) or qamardeen, a thick, sweet apricot juice, and taste elaborate dishes and desserts made
only in this month.
Ben Youssef madrasa, Marrakech.
Photo: some helpful, random tourist
who didn’t run away with my camera.
The five-star hotels and the streets are lined with Ramadan ‘tents’ that serve banquets from sundown to sun-up, elaborate low lounges designed for smoking shisha and nibbling sweets, drinking tea and catching up with old friends. Music tends toward the traditional, though I spotted plenty of glam actors and smoking hot MTV stars (Amr Diab, people!). During Ramadan, TV shows tend toward swords-and-sandals dramas with strong moral punchlines.
I also
like the solidarity of Egypt’s citizens: around 10 percent of the population is
Christian, yet they will never smoke, eat or drink on the street. It’s
considered poor form, and most tourists get the picture.
In far
more liberal Morocco, where tourists amble around in hot pants, wining and
dining on street cafes during Ramadan, it must be tough not to have a tiny
touch of resentment when you’re hot, thirsty and hanging for a fag. But the locals I know are proud of their country’s
tolerance of all cultures, and they have some pretty fabulous Ramadan sweets, including honey and sesame cookies, halwa chebakia
I rate my favourite fitar or iftar (the meal you take when breaking fast at sunset) as the cool almond milk and dates stuffed with almond paste served at Marrakech’s sublime La Mamounia hotel.  
In
comparison, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we foreigners were ushered into makeshift
restaurants in the five-star hotels’ basements for lunch, and the bars were
shrouded affairs, if open at all. We were instructed sternly by hotel staff to dress even more modestly than usual, and our attire scanned before we left the hotel in case a rogue knee or shoulder should present itself to daylight.
Wherever you find yourself, Ramadan mubarak (Happy Ramadan)!

For a dip, drop and shop

The pool is the lure and the cure on a bright Dubai morning.

When in doubt, go to Dubai. So what that it’s 14 hours’ flight from Australia.

FACT: the best way to cure pending jet lag is to jump straight off the plane and into a pool.

Click here to read more…


Hot to shop: Dubai

33C outside, -4 inside at Ski Dubia, in the Mall of the Emirates

In the US, they’d ask ‘do you want fries with that?’ In Dubai, they ask, ‘do you want the world’s largest aquarium/tower/shopping mall with that?’

You’d think Dubai might have tempered its outlook  after being ravaged by the global financial crisis, but no. It’s still got a one-way ticket to Hubris Central.

Spotted in the malls: Jimmy Choo’s collaboration with the Ugg boot, a Versace cafe (serving Illy coffee) and the world’s longest street of watch stores.

For record-breaking, up-to-the-second shopping, it’s all here. Click to read the full story here


Tom’s in town and speed’s hit the fan

It’s all go here in Dubai. Time Out Dubai was gossiping about him only last week, then suddenly, the front page of the Khaleej Times is splashed with Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a building, shooting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Tom was back on the front page the next day, learning how to balance a falcon on his arm, his teacher His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai (whew!)

I too went up Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building, today. They wouldn’t let me hang off any ropes. It was all strictly controlled. You know, I’m not a real ‘tallest building’ kinda girl, as demonstrated by my apathy for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur recently. It’s all just so obvious. The buildings are, kinda tall.

Burj Khalifa, which used to be called Burj Dubai until Dubai ran out of cash and had to suck up to its rich but daggy bro, Abu Dhabi, to bail it out with a new name, is 828 meters high. Its closest rival is not even close…Toronto’s CN Tower, at 553m.

At the base of the tower is, of course, the gift shop where you can buy ‘At the Top’ branded t-shirts, clocks and branded scented candles (of course. I wonder what they smelt like. High? Haha.)

The lift took a minute to shoot up to the observation deck, travelling about 36km/hour. My ears popped three times on the way up and I lost count on the way down.

The view from the top was extreme. It shows a city gouged out of the desert, where a forest of metal and glass buildings is coated with a layer of dust, the desert sands threatening to take back what once was theirs.

I’d show you my pix, but I left my download cable at home. Uhhhhhgggggg!


Travelling 14 hours just for you, Bryan Adams

Straight off the plane and into the rooftop pool…

It took four people to get me off the aircraft and to the hotel: the woman to meet me and take my passport and rush me through customs, the baggage man, the hotel rep to say hello and the driver, whose white Lincoln shussssssshed down the near-empty highway on 114km/hour.

“The speed cameras pick you up if you’re above 115, 120,” the driver explained as my brain tried to catch up after the 14-hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai. “Not like the Dubai-Abu Dhabi road, where they don’t catch you till you exceed 180.”

Luckily at this time the smooth roads were quiet, and the early morning light catching the construction cranes, illuminating roadside portraits of stern sheiks and glinting off Burj Khalifa, pointing like a dagger in the distance.

My hotel, the new Pullman, is in the massive Mall of the Emirates. Take a lift to the first floor and walk into shopping hysteria.

The mall’s soundscape ranged between the call to prayer echoing throughout and Bryan Adams, played a few tasteful moments after prayers. FYI, iPads are no cheaper than in Australia, and the shops are stocked with grey and black knits, as Dubai goes into its long, dreary winter (think: Melbourne winter, but shorter, drier and about 20 degrees warmer). Temps today: a pre-set 20.5C in my hotel room, 33C out in the sunshine.


Carpets, gold and pink champagne: Dubai, I’m coming…

Melbourne’s Emirates airline lounge is a sea of caramel leather, with bottles of pink Moet on the buffet, alongside bottles of pink Verve, if you’re a champagne snob. The dates have had their stones removed so you won’t crack your priceless dentures, and it’s all just so… soothing.

The lounge is a nice intro to Dubai, which seems to have shrugged off last year’s GFC (is it just me or does that acronym remind anyone else of KFC?) and is powering ahead, with yet more celebrity chefs looking for a space to hang their shingle, where champagne brunches are all the current rage, and in true Emirates style, if you don’t have a beach, build one.

I’m checking the US dollar rate, the dirham exchange rate and, frighteningly, the current gold rate. Gold and carpets: people, this could prove expensive…


Global Salsa

Well, you’ve scrolled this far. What do you think? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

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