This is a view of Place du Grand 9 Avril 1947, also known as Grand Socco (Big Square), just outside one of the gates to the médina of Tangier. The square is named after the speech Mohmamed V gave in support of Moroccan independence on April 9, 1947. Normally the space is filled with street performers and vendors selling a variety of fruits, spices, and second-hand goods but it was somewhat quiet due to the beginning of the observance of Ramadan—the annual holy month of praying and fasting for Muslims worldwide
The Médina of Fès is one of the largest car-free urban zones in the world and through its pathways people and goods flow like the blood coursing through our arteries and veins. Because of their narrowness, it seems awkward to call these pathways “streets” although that is how they function. In addition to serving as paths for people and conduits for goods carried by handcart or donkey, these “streets” serve as informal social spaces and as extensions of small commercial establishments.
There are generally three scales, ranging from main streets as seen in the first image above, to side streets, and finally to back streets as narrow as a meter wide as seen in the images below.
This post is not about drawing. Rather, it concerns the issue of scale—the relative sizes of things and how we perceive this comparison—which is relevant to both drawing and design.
The historic core of the Médina of Fès, Fes el Bali, was founded in the late 9th century as the capital of the Idrisid Dynasty. The médina is full of souks and artisans working in leather, copper, brass, wood, textiles, and ceramics, and is home to historic mosques, mausoleums, and madrasas, as well as Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 and considered to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Markets line its car-free streets and sell all manner of herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, the Médina of Fès remains to this day a medieval town in layout and scale, with a dense, low-rise building fabric, and narrow streets.
Returning home to Seattle from Fès, I find it difficult to convey the differences in scale and density of the two urban environments. Above, I overlaid (I hope accurately) the plan of the Médina of Fès atop a map of a portion of Seattle to indicate their relative sizes. What cannot be seen, however, are the relative population densities of the two urban areas. That of Seattle is around 6,800/square mile while that of the Médina is roughy 70,000/square mile. Even if my calculations are off by a little, that is a significant difference in scale that is difficult to understand without actually experiencing it.
Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals… whatever one chooses to call these bound collections of pages, they all provide a physical sense of permanence and chronology and, in use, they become a repository of images and writings capable of reminding us of where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have experienced. But even as we acknowledge the pleasure of perusing these collections, we should also appreciate the process by which they are made. No single page in a journal is precious; not all pages must be perfect. In the act of making visible our experiences, reflections, and discoveries, we become more sensitive to and connected with our surroundings, expand our visual memories, and stimulate our imagination.
Happened to watch an episode of the new NBC game show, The Wall, which reminded me of this pachinko parlor in Tokyo. The Wall features an oversized version of the pachinko board, which operates like a vertical pinball machine. In pachinko, one or more steel balls are launched to the top of the playing field, which is filled with brass pins. Entering the field at the top, the steel balls fall freely, bouncing and careening from one pin to another, and finally entering one of several cups at the bottom. Upon entering a pachinko parlor, one is greeted with the chime-like sounds of the falling steel balls from hundreds of pachinko machines.
While the recent cold snap is easing a bit here in Seattle with temperatures returning to the upper 30s, I still miss the warmth and fragrance of Hawaii. During our recent trip there, I did this quick 20-minute sketch while waiting for the weekly Friday performance by the Royal Hawaiian Band on the grounds of Iolani Palace. King Kamehameha III founded the brass band in 1836, which is now considered to be the oldest, full-time municipal band in the U.S. I still remember as a child growing up in Honolulu attending their Sunday afternoon concerts at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand in Waikiki.
When Joseph Fern became mayor of the City & County of Honolulu in 1907, he began a campaign to build a permanent city hall. Unfortunately, it was not until 1928, eight years after Fern’s death, that the idea came to fruition. Several local architects—C.W. Dickey, Hart Wood, Robert Miller, and Rothwell Kangeter & Lester—contributed to the design of the Spanish Colonial Revival style structure, which has an interior courtyard, staircase, and open ceiling modeled after the Bargello in Florence.
Originally called the Honolulu Municipal Building, today it is known as Honolulu Hale (Honolulu House) and is the official seat of government of the city and county, including the Mayor’s office and the City Council chambers. In 1978, Honolulu Hale was listed as a contributing property to the Hawaii Capital Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes Iolani Palace, Kawaiahaʻo Church, and the Territorial Building.