Photo by Flora Goldwaithe
This past weekend, I took a road trip with Deb and friends to Tokeland, Washington, a narrow spit that juts out where the Pacific Ocean curves in to form Willapa Bay. The Tokeland Hotel where we stayed is a National Historic landmark, built in 1885 as a farmstead home and later enlarged in 1899 to become a hotel. Abandoned in 1984, the hotel was restored in 1989 and is now a tranquil getaway in southwest Washington. This is a panoramic view of the “front” of the hotel, set in a meadow facing onto Willapa Bay.
At the end of my recent trip to India, Xavier Benedict and I drove down from Chennai to Kanchipuram, where we visited several Hindu temple sites. The most impressive of these was Kailasanathar Temple, the 7th-century Pallava shrine dedicated to the god Shiva. The sandstone structure has weathered over the past 1200 years but is being restored and retains its tiered, sculptural elegance.
While one can read descriptions, study drawings, and pore over photographs of architecture, nothing can compare with actually visiting and experiencing a place. The sights, sounds (or lack thereof), and sense of scale immediately become apparent upon entering. There is no need for any intermediary material. At the conceptual level, however, plans and sections do offer views that can explain the formal layout of a place.
It is Interesting to note the disparity that often exists between reality and how it may be represented. For example, after my visit, I noticed that the plan of Kailasnathar that I had drawn a few years ago is missing columns on the west entry porch.
While I could appreciate the formal order of the temple compound and the artistic expression of the stone carvings, I also realized that not fully understanding the Hindu iconography prevented me from truly appreciating what I was experiencing.
After last weekend’s workshop, Xavier Benedict and I took a day trip to Mamallapuram, site of several Hindu shrines and temples. These examples of the stone-carving tradition of Pallava art and architecture are set amid a landscape strewn with mammoth granite boulders on the Bay of Bengal, 35 miles south of Chennai.
The Shore Temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is so named because of its siting on a promontory close by the shore of the Bay of Bengal. The 8th-century complex of three temples is famous for its profile surrounded by a low enclosure surmounted by Nandis, seated bulls that serve as the mount of the god Shiva.
Unlike the Shore Temple, which is constructed and carved from granite blocks, the Five Rathas is a 7th-century complex of monolithic rathas (chariots) hewn whole from enormous boulders of granite. These South Indian Dravidian structures, also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were never completed nor consecrated.
Thanks again to Xavier Benedict for his generous and gracious hospitality. For photos of the workshop, see Xavier Benedict’s Facebook page at <https://www.facebook.com/xavier.benedict.581/media_set?set=a.10204523441180918&type=1&pnref=story>.
My second attempt at entering India was successful and we began the first of two days of a drawing workshop sponsored by the AARDE foundation. Many thanks to Xavier Benedict for hosting my visit and to the students and architects who persevered and returned to make this weekend possible. We began at the Luz Church, built in 1516, and then moved onto the 7th century Kapaleeshwarar Temple in the Mylapore neighborhood of Chennai. Here is the group in front of the main doorway and a quick study I did of the interior of the temple complex. The temple architecture is a difficult subject because of the multiple layers of sculptural details. The approach has to first establish the geometric framework that holds the details together. Tomorrow we head to Parry’s Corner to visit a prime example of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
Last Wednesday, I departed Seattle for Chennai, India, for a presentation and two days of drawing workshops. Upon arriving in Chennai, to my chagrin, I was denied entry due to an expired visa. Clearly a mistake had been made by the processing agency that had handled my visa application, but just as clearly, I had made a critical error in not checking the visa upon receipt. The immigration authority officially declared me to be a deportee and booked me on a flight back to Seattle.
By the numbers:
- 20 hours travel time from Seattle to Dubai to Chennai.
- 5 hours of frustration, anger, and embarrassment waiting in the Chennai airport, hoping that I might be able to enter the country.
- 12 hours detained in a locked room in the Chennai airport.
- 2 hours waiting for departure from Chennai.
- 28 hours travel time from Chennai to Dubai to Seattle.
- 67 hours total from the moment my flight left Seattle on Wednesday to the return flight landed on Saturday. During this time, I was either on a plane or in the Dubai and Chennai airports.
I must apologize to all those who were inconvenienced by my failure to check the dates on my visa before departing Seattle—my host, the AARDE foundation; the architects who were planning to attend my talk; and especially the students who had made the effort to travel to Chennai to attend my workshops.
During all of this, I was not in a mood to sketch. However, I did document the events as they occurred and managed a quick sketch of the Chennai departure terminal where I awaited deportation from India. One doesn’t appreciate the freedom of movement we enjoy until it is taken away, even if only for 12 hours being detained in a locked room in the Chennai airport.
I am not giving up. I plan to return to Chennai soon to fulfill my obligations. This is assuming, of course, that the immigration authority there allows me to enter India after my last failed attempt.
During a brief visit to Dallas recently, I woke up early one morning and sketched this view of the city’s Main Street. To capture the feeling of a city in transition, this panorama takes in the high-rises of a typical downtown, including the Bank One Center by Philip Johnson and John Burgee (now the Comerica Bank Tower) on the right; one of the many older structures being torn down to make way for new projects in the middle; and the Laumeier Sculpture Park featuring the Eye, a 38-foot diameter sculpture by Tony Tasset. What surprised me was how roughly the sketch developed until I realized that the ink in my pen was not flowing as freely as it normally does because of the 43° weather.
While in Rio de Janeiro a month ago, we had the opportunity to visit Casa das Canoas, the first residence designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1952. It is a true gem, nestled in a beautiful hillside setting and displaying the characteristic flowing lines of Niemeyer’s architecture. Thanks to Caique Niemeyer, Oscar’s grandson, for allowing us the privilege of touring this fine example of modern architecture.
After doing a few sketches of the exterior and interior of the deceptively simple structure, I attempted to draw a plan to try to understand the two-dimensional origin of what I saw in three dimensions.
To verify my plan, I perused several books on the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer but none contained a plan of this house. Upon returning to Seattle, I did an internet search and found this plan drawn by Jeff Hottinger, which is included next to the plan I drew.
In this age of digital 3D modeling where much design thinking and decision-making is made from a perspective viewpoint, it is still a useful mental exercise to try to imagine the orthographic relationships that plans and sections reveal and which perspective views do not. As designers, we should be able to think two-dimensionally as well as three-dimensionally.
Here are a few sketches I did when attending another stimulating Design Communication Association conference held at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. The first are views from Marietta town square; the second is of SPSU’s architecture building; and the third was done during a tour of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, showing Richard Meier’s building but not Renzo Piano’s addition that creates a piazza beyond.
Often when traveling with a small group, we don’t have an hour or more to do a drawing. So if we want to capture a scene, we have to be able to draw quickly. My strategy is to first establish the structure of the overall composition and then, depending on the amount of time available, add whatever details I can to try to capture the spirit of a place. While drawing these very quick 10- to 20-minute sketches in Rio de Janeiro, I was accompanied by my friend and fellow urban sketcher Norberto Dorantes of Buenos Aires, who is a master of flowing lines.
Many thanks to Glaucia Augusto Fonseca for being such a gracious and generous host during our short visit to Rio de Janeiro. The setting for the city is truly stunning.