Vantage Points

Above, the Lenin statue in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle is seen from behind to reveal its placement on the edge of a triangular open space. Below it, a close-up view focuses on the statue itself, devoid of context. These sketches illustrate how, once a subject has been chosen, selecting a vantage point from which to view the subject influences the final outcome.

At times, it may be convenient, and more comfortable, to pick out a shady place to sit or stand. Other times, certain aspects of the subject might determine the desired angle of view.

One may prefer a close-up, or to include more context, moving further back for a broader view. To focus on the symmetry of a space, we might position ourselves for a straight-on view, or to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the subject, we might select an oblique view

It usually time well spent to walk around a subject to select the best vantage point before touching pen or pencil to paper.

Analog Dials & Digital Tuning

I remember a time when radios had an analog dial for tuning. To tune to a certain station, we had to turn a knob to align a moving hand with the desired frequency on a linear or circular dial. We had to rotate the knob back and forth and listen as the signal would get louder the closer we got to the desired station’s frequency, then get softer as we went past that point, and then back again to when the signal was loudest. The goal was to hone in gradually on that sweet spot where the signal was clearest and strongest.

Today, of course, with digital tuners, we simply have to scan and look at digital readouts. If a station has a frequency of 98.1, you merely dial that number in. Boom. Done.

I think of this comparison of analog dials and digital tuners as a way of contrasting the precision of digital vector graphics with the suggestive power of a hand drawing, which requires a tactile feel along with a lot of judgment about how what we draw matches up with what we actually see. if you look closely at the drawing of the Seattle Central Library above, you will see the multiple attempts I made to get the proportions of the Rem Koolhaas/OMA-designed building right. Each attempt was a turn of the virtual tuning knob until I reached the desired frequency.

Hagia Sophia is a Mosque (Again)

It was reported last week that Turkey’s Council of State had granted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan permission to open the Hagia Sophia museum to Muslim prayer. It is sad to see the venerable structure, long a symbol of peaceful religious coexistence, being converted into a working mosque for what appears to be political reasons.

Built in the year 537 as an Orthodox Christian cathedral by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was converted to an imperial mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. But in 1934, the cabinet of Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decreed that it be turned into a museum. It subsequently became a Unesco World Heritage site much beloved by both local and foreign tourists for the awe-inspiring scale and beauty of its domed structure, along with its religious iconography and historical significance.

Because Hagia Sophia already has a remarkable record for enduring natural and artificially imposed disasters, there is hope. Hagia Sofia’s future is yet to be written.

In Appreciation of Tunney Lee

Nine years ago, I posted on FB my appreciation of my mentor Forrest Wilson, who offered me my first teaching position at Ohio University and was instrumental in facilitating the publication of my first book, Architectural Graphics.

Today, I want to express my appreciation of Tunney Lee, Professor Emeritus at MIT, who passed away last week in Cambridge, MA. After serving as head of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Tunney founded the Department of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1991. In 1993, Tunney offered me the opportunity to visit CUHK and work with his students and faculty. During my brief stay, I became impressed with the enthusiasm of the students and faculty as they worked hard at developing their creative and critical thinking skills as well as building the foundation for a new program. It was also an exciting and rewarding time for me personally when Dr. Ho Puay Peng was kind enough to accompany me to my ancestral village of Nam Bin in Guangzhou prefecture.

I will always remember Tunney as being a wise, inspirational leader as well as a caring friend and colleague.

Seeing is Subjective

What do we see when we look out upon a scene we are about to draw? This has often been a question on my mind during workshops that I have taught. I suspect that when two of us stand side-by-side and gaze outward in the same direction, we might not see the same things. And even it we did, we might not be seeing those things in the same way.

This is not an argument for getting everyone to see the same things in the same way, and therefore, producing identical drawings of a scene. Seeing is subjective, influenced by our individual interests, experiences, and what each of us expect or believe to be “out there.” And in some sense, what you actually see is always going to seem to be unknowable to me, except through your drawings.

Good Bones

I am reposting something from six years ago: To begin a drawing done on location, we must first select an advantageous viewpoint that conveys a sense of place and frame the composition to fit on the page. Then, a crucial step is establishing the “bones” of the drawing—its basic structure—with the first lines we draw. For some views only a few lines may be necessary while for others, more might be required. 

It is essential to understand that once this structure is established, changes can still be made to calibrate scale, improve proportional relationships, and adjust the positioning of elements. Drawing these first few lines is simply a way to block out the essential relationships on a page quickly, before expending too much time on a drawing only to find out that a portion might be misplaced or is out of proportion to the rest of the composition.

Here is an example—a very quick outline of a view of the Campo in Siena. With more time and better weather, I might have finished it but I think it is possible to see and visualize the space even in this incomplete state.

South Park

This is the intersection of South Cloverdale Street and 14th Avenue South, at the heart of South Park, a working class neighborhood on the western shore of the Duwamish River. Even though South Park is surrounded by an industrial landscape, it has a pleasant small town feel. There is nothing spectacular here and that’s not a bad thing.

Boeing Red Barn

In 1910, William E. Boeing bought a failing wooden boat shipyard situated on the Duwamish River for $10. The purchase included this building, the Red Barn, which first housed the operations of Pacific Aero Products and later the Boeing Aircraft Company. The Red Barn subsequently served as Boeing’s world headquarters from 1917 to 1929.

In 1975, the Red Barn was barged up river two miles and trucked to its present location, around which the current Museum of Flight was constructed.

View from Pier 70

Here is a view of another Seattle skyline, this time from Pier 70 looking back at and across the Olympic Sculpture Park, with the Space Needle in the background, Alexander Calder’s The Eagle (1971) and Mark di Suvero’s Schubert Sonata (1992) in the middle left, and Jaume Plensa’s Echo (2011) in the foreground to the right.

Below is a panoramic view from the Olympic Sculpture Park, looking out toward Puget Sound, drawn in 2014.