Go (firth of) forth and conquer modern Edinburgh

For a modern architecture and design lover, Scotland is not the first country that you’d think of visiting. But my husband is from Scotland so that means that every year, whether we want to or not, we travel there to visit family. The perk: we get to live like a local in another country. The downside: rain.

On this visit, I took my son Noah to Edinburgh, the most iconic of the Scottish cities. I knew Noah would love the art and architecture there and we needed a little alone time. Travelling together as a family for 3 weeks is a bonding experience but the group decision-making and being out of your routine can drive everyone a little crazy!

The minute we emerged from Waverly train station, we could hear the bagpipes and see the castle. Edinburgh Castle is like one of those creepy paintings where the eyes follow you wherever you go – no matter where you are in the city, you can still see the castle looking down at you.

Noah and I both avoid large groups and tourist traps like the plague (which struck Edinburgh in 1645 and almost wiped out the city), but we were both drawn to the Ferris wheel in Princes Street Gardens and so on a whim, we went for it. The views of the entire city down to the Firth of Forth were well worth it!

Back on solid ground, we headed over to the free Scottish National Gallery to check out the Impressionists and watch the street performers. And then to lunch at the new Eden Locke hotel and Hyde & Son coffee shop designed by Grzywinski + Pons. I saw it online while back in the US and just had to check it out. The tropical minimalism (I just made that up, but is should be a thing!) is so refreshing compared to the old Scottish tartan, brass and velvet interior look that runs rampant in Scotland.

After our tea and croissants, we headed into Old City to take a look at some of the modern architecture. Our first stop was the Museum of Scotland to see Dolly, the first cloned sheep, and to check out more city views from the modern green rooftop.

We then braved the crowds and walked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace and the new Scottish Parliament building. This is one of my favorite spots in all of Edinburgh thanks to the urban planners and landscapers who designed the wading pools, a tiered terrace covered with wildflowers and much needed open space that allows you to take in the view of Arthur’s Seat (an ancient volcano).

It was a sunny day so plenty of people were wading in the water and sunbathing in front of the Parliament, a post-modern building with branch-and-leaves design by architecture firm EMBT and Spanish-Catalan architect Enric Miralles (he died before the building was completed). Noah was in awe of it and took a ton of photos to post to his Instagram account. We laid down in the grass, head to head, for a much needed rest (be prepared to walk a lot in Edinburgh and mostly uphill!) and talked about how no matter where you go in the world, people are pretty much the same; and what we were both going to be when we grew up :-).

A day in Glasgow, Scotland's other city

Glasgow is Scotland's city of music. From The Verve to Oasis to Radiohead to Franz Ferdinand, all have had early careers in Glasgow. But when you're with the kids and can't stay up late checking out the music scene, here are some things you can still explore to take in the modern Glasgow-vibe.

The Riverside Museum on the River Clyde in Glasgow is designed by Zaha Hadid (who sadly passed away last year). Its zinc-clad zig-zag roof is dynamic and energetic, evoking the transportation theme of the museum. With large open spaces and a view of the river, it's a perfect spot for kids to run fast and then visit the now-free Tall Ship that sits nearby.

More modern views from the Riverside Museum by Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid.

Kelvin Hall houses 1.5 million museum objects, including the only surviving complete suite of interiors by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Plus it's the new home for Scotland's Moving Image Archive. And this modern makeover makes it an even more appealing spot to visit.

Kelvingrove Museum has 22 themed galleries and is sited at the edge of a beautiful park (think NYC's Central Park) so it's an easy favorite with the kids - plus it's free, which means you can spend 1 hour or 4 hours there, whatever fits your schedule. Pictured above: Sophie Cave's Floating Heads installation

OMGaudi! A week in Barcelona

One of my favorite cities to visit with kids is Barcelona. It’s got great weather, interesting architecture, good museums, a beach and Gaudi! And the people who live there actually LIKE kids. Instead of being relegated to the back of a restaurant at the bad table, they give families the best table in the house.

We took the kids last year and had such a blast that we consider going back again every summer (we then reluctantly opt to explore the rest of the world first). We stayed in an AirBNB casa in the El Born barrio of the city – filled with authentic shops, a café on every corner and the Picasso Museum. With murals EVERYWHERE, I came home with over 35 photos of the kids in front of different brightly painted graphic murals spread across Barcelona (#muralobsession).


And the architecture – OMGaudi! Of course we toured Sagrada Familia – and yes, they are still renovating it! We spent a full day in Parc Guell hiking and ogling Gaudi’s sculptures, tile work and magical buildings. And Casa Batllo did not disappoint either. Just like Picasso’s art, Gaudi’s architecture is so appealing to kids – it’s whimsical and fantastical and unlike anything they’ve seen in the US.

And these days, it seems like every 10-year old boy I know is obsessed with soccer, the Futbol Club Barcelona, and the man known as Messi. I'm not a sports fanatic but the soccer vibe is strong in the city and very empowering for young kids. Mine insisted on faux-hawking his hair and taking his soccer ball every where we went but that was fine by me - the impromptu games of keepie-uppie with the local kids was worth it!

Keep in mind: It’s a walker’s city though so be prepared for those little legs to walk a bit – we took a taxi sometimes and lots of gelato breaks as incentive to walk another mile.

A Frank Lloyd Wright Tour (de force) in Pennsylvania

To honor Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday this week, I thought I’d share a trip that my mom, the kids and I took last summer. I felt this overwhelming need to show my kids his Fallingwater House immediately, since I saw it when I was ten years old for the first time (the same age as my son Noah) and then again when I was 20.

So off we went, piled in the car on our way from Raleigh to Pennsylvania to see some architecture. My friends thought I was crazy and they felt sorry for my kids – what mom plans an architecture tour in the summer for a 7 and 10 year old?! Why wasn’t I taking them to Disneyworld or the beach? I ignored them all and felt confident that we would love the trip, kids included.

We headed to Fallingwater first. The waterfall was roaring and the cantilevers were balancing and it was so dramatic and wonderful, just as I remembered it. The interiors were still 100% perfect with their custom furniture and a story to go with every object. And much to my delight, the kids were in awe. We walked along the creek, hiked into the woods and then hit the gift shop.

Later, we visited Frank’s other home nearby called Kentuck Knob, a home he built when he was 86 years. The highlight of our tour was meeting the homeowner while we were there – Lord Columbo who also once owned a Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier home (oh to be a Lord!).

To complete our architecture tour, we visited his Pope-Leighey house outside of Washington DC built by Wright in the 1940s for $5000 (the true meaning of #modestmodern). It’s a Usonian house filled with plywood modular furniture (think IKEA only better!).

All in all, a great intro for the kids to an iconic architect and in their words “so much better than Disneyworld”. (Of course, they’ve never been so they don’t know any better – shhhh!)

Perez Art Museum in Miami

Before Christmas, we went on a trip with the kids to Miami. My favorite part of the trip by far was our visit to the Perez Art Museum. Renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron designed the space that is much more than a building – it feels like a garden and a park too. The 3 story building has a large overhanging canopy with vertical gardens of lush tropical plants, all overlooking the Biscayne Bay.

As usual, we spent more time outside the museum than inside, which honestly almost seems part of the intention of the architects. But inside, the kids loved the exhibit by Brazilian artist, Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botanico. And there’s something about the expansiveness of the building that made my kids and their friend want to run…fast…everywhere.

Fly’s Eye Dome by Buckminster Fuller   . A prototype of an original design for a fully functional, air-deployable, off-the-grid temporary dwelling.

Fly’s Eye Dome by Buckminster Fuller. A prototype of an original design for a fully functional, air-deployable, off-the-grid temporary dwelling.

The café is superb with lots of outdoor seating and there’s a modern sculptural swing set next door. When we were there the swings were filled with hipsters who quickly made room for our kids. After that we all ran fast down to the bay and spotted jellyfish and a heron in the water. From the bay’s perspective, you can take in the full sight of the Perez – and it really is breathtaking.

Museum of Art in Raleigh

Modest Modern is not just about the house you live in. It’s about the life you live too. And nothing makes me happier than to explore the world with my two kids, Chloe 4 and Noah 8. Because I love modern architecture, I want them to love it too. So I try to expose them to as much of it as I can, in a fun way, and sometimes in a way in which they don’t even realize it. We spend many weekends at the North Carolina Museum of Art which boasts the new very modern West Building designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners – and with the largest museum art park in the world – many times we don’t even go inside the museum. We walk around the outside grounds, looking for frogs, jumping off rocks, throwing a ball around…and looking at the building. Why did they make a flat roof? Why is the siding so reflective? Why is the entrance hidden?

And on every trip that we take, I try to pick one architecturally-interesting building for us to explore – mostly modern, but sometimes not. It’s fun to watch how they interact with it, what they see that I don’t, what I love about it that they think is just ‘meh’.

This shelter built by Tonic Design (the same firm that built my house) at the NC Art Museum is one of our favorites. The kids love throwing football off of it and the built in storage units (they swear a mummy is hiding in one of them) – and I love the way it disappears into the landscape so I can hide from the world for a moment.