Lately, I have started associating architecture with travel, feeling as if they are synonymous with each other. Architecture is something that we are surrounded by, at all times consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously. When I look at people’s must-visit destinations, I often wonder what made them decide to go to a particular place without being in that place ever before. Well, many might contradict that, saying they have a particular fascination towards a place developed through reading about it, watching or learning about it from other people, thus, having preconceived notions about a certain place that eventually leads one to visit it. But when it comes to an architect, what is it that fascinates us to travel, to explore, to bid adieu to our beloved projects and sites for some time and just soak into different experiences and emerge differently out of it? So, coming to think about the intentions with which an architect makes her/his travel plans, let’s jot down a few reasons and make a list!
Reason number 1: Sit and Observe!
Most of the journeys begin with the hours-long wait at the public transportation hubs and give us architects a chance to just sit and observe. Being stranded innumerable times at the airport while waiting for flights, I have realized that we are wired to such observations more when we travel alone… We tend to observe the smallest of things, become aware of several energy spheres that surround us and it’s this exchange of energy that is exciting… This is prevalent in all the hubs where we get to see the frequency of people zooming in and out, talking, killing time, hurrying, laughing, anxious, busy tugging along kids with them, taking up business calls, talking loudly with friends, relatives, window-shopping, browsing through magazines, deeply engrossed in novels, busy eating over hearty conversations… We have everything going on at the same time in the same place. The pause points when we just sit and observe can teach us a lot about people, their behaviors, their activities and the anthropometry of course! All in one place! That’s the Reason number 1. A quirky way to keep an eye on people and detach from our phones a bit. Which makes us realize that there are millions of worlds within this big one.
Reason number 2: Connecting with people having varied interests
The moment we bank on journeys, we brush across people, may it be from our own group or unknown people, headed to the same destination, yet, having a plethora of stories and experiences to share, in an environment that’s away from the routine and daily hustle-bustle. That detachment from the comfort zone builds on to a complete riot of unforgettable incidents, fascinating experiences and innumerable moments which are spent together in a different place, in a different time zone, amidst different people eating varieties of food, sharing number of talks and laughing our hearts out with each other… We tend to get to know the other side of people, away from work, and develop a sense of sensitivity towards everyone around us and ultimately towards the environment and the architecture that surrounds us.
Reason number 3: History, Culture, and Folklore
The world, billions of years old, has always been a pot full of intriguing stories, folklore, kingdoms, battles, changing borders, lands, water bodies, as well as housing an insane number of fascinating creatures, flora, and fauna. To be able to visit and behold these marvels at the locations of their origins is itself an amazing experience. To top it all, hearing from the experts and guides during tours about the historical references to the timeline, drawing parallels with the Indian history, the geographical context, the cultural stimuli, the constantly changing reigns of kings imposing distinctly different authoritative powers, politics and the evolution of human lifestyle through all this sway is indeed very captivating. Such narrations do end up telling us, architects, about the city planning, policies, overall architectural development and the uniformity that exists in its diversity. These sessions actually become very vital, thus equipping us to explore the cities even more thoroughly and give us a perspective of how the countries and cities have been shaped up for ages. On various tours, for example, in Spain, there were architects who guided us in different parts of the city telling us its stories, its importance, years, significant dates, changes in history, architectural interventions, style of living, evolution, right up to specifying the construction methods and materials used.
Along with the mesmerizing past, we do come to know how the past has shaped up the local enigmatic cults, sects, their cultural beliefs, traditions, their spiritual theories, and customs. The religious nuances, the climatic conditions, the locations, their remoteness to the cities and development put in a flavor to the dresses, foods, cuisines, materials used in construction and in general, the way of life. Traveling and soaking into the local, authentic atmosphere makes us aware of the varied ways in which human civilization has evolved and does surely, render us speechless!
Reason number 4: Similarities and Differences
Traveling to different countries enables us to draw parallels between different places and thus, compare the different ways of life, different responses to the environment and ultimately different perspectives of living. Within a country too, we can start comparing the landscapes, cityscapes, the similarities and dissimilarities among various cities. For example, what was surprising throughout my journey in Bhutan was that the entire country is bound by a strong harmony and homogeneous texture all over. The powerful character of the lifestyle of people, their daily rituals, their dresses, their mannerisms, architectural style, and the food stayed somewhat the same throughout. Yet, every time I came across a different structure or a city, it had its own peculiar flavor to it, thus standing out yet blending in simultaneously.
Whereas on my tour in Spain, when I was on a bus journey from northern to southern Spanish hinterlands, the changing landscapes from mountains to flat expanses of fields, the typical sandy soil and lesser tree-cover, the cowboy style of atmosphere, almost everything directed me towards a different lifestyle, different culture, different people, different landscape and of course different architecture. In a way, I knew I was making my way towards the Andalusian Spanish expedition. Thus, these subtle clues do tell us a lot about how nature is and how people have developed their lifestyles according to it!
Our initial architectural studies help us to register these dramatic changes in nature and eventually guide us towards connecting it with the architectural typology of the places as well. Thus, drawing equivalents, congruence and associating with the relative evolution of architectural theories can be the reason that makes us want to travel and explore more!
Reason 5: Architecture of Simplicity!
On my tour to Brussels, near the Grande Market Place, juxtaposed to the extravagant and splendid Baroque and Gothic structures, architecture was also in the simplest of things. The narrow streets snaking their way with 3 storey buildings stacked tightly on both sides, yet, offered a diverse palette of views with every turn that I took. Hidden arcades, passageways below the structures, potted plants hanging from the balconies, colorful flowers and streaks of sunlight here and there, window reflections. Everything my eyes fell upon, spelled simplicity, modesty, and ingenuity. That’s reason number 5 for architects to travel! To discover everyday life in the most ordinary places and latch onto those moments. Being anywhere in the world, doing any kind of work doesn’t let us escape the most basic essence of life which lies in the daily routine of the people’s lives and that’s where architecture begins to blend with humans! The scale and proportion, the intimacy of spaces, the relationship of these spaces with the humans, how spaces interact with people at ground zero become evident when we get down on the streets and start walking, not as tourists but as citizens!
Reason 6: Rural and Urban Fabric Study
And as we start walking on the streets, we start experiencing the place in the most authentic way and blend in with the crowd, follow the rules while walking, notice the small subtleties in design, converse with the local vendors and people around us and eventually begin adapting to the surroundings there.
The transitions between the outer and inner environment, buildings and nature, the general streetscape comprising of built and unbuilt masses does present itself with a perfect symphony of architecture and nature. This urban fabric leads us to observe the design of typologies of buildings, the density of structures in certain areas, the street network, the public and private transportation modes and systems, the way people respond to them, timings at which – parts of the city would be quiet or busy, the work timings of people and what not! The various green pockets, gardens, landscaped areas, riverfronts and boardwalks that blend beautifully with the surrounding buildings, again gives us an idea of what the social lifestyle of the people could be and would culminate in front of us in every single place we went.
Thus, the reason number 6 for architects to travel can be to observe and percolate the blend of urban and rural fabrics of a place with each other over time, the changing landscape, how the architecture is built in response to the surrounding nature and the way that it absorbs the constant ripples in the societal patterns.
Reason 7: Architects and their works
We cannot ignore this! One of the most important things to look up when we decide to go to a certain place or while deciding is to search the prominent architects of that place and list down the number of famous buildings built by him/her there. Reading about the architect, the year his/her buildings were built, the ideologies and the breakthroughs set in those times, the mindsets of people, the policies are enough to give us an idea about the place we are visiting. The use of materials in the buildings, the thought processes, the period in which the architect made his/her mark and similar techniques used in different structures adds a bit more to our knowledge.
Well, the excitement in witnessing the Master Architects works with our own eyes cannot be spelled! The manifestation of studying their works and philosophies, drawing their sketches during our school in front of us in reality, does make the travel worth it! Thus, reason number 7 is pretty evident! Clicking pictures of our favorite architect’s work and if possible with the architect herself/himself!
Reason 8: Say hi to Mother Nature
We tend to get a chance to look into ourselves and retrospect while traveling! What I realized was that, here, we are running around completing so many things, thinking so many thoughts and brushing across so many significant things without even a second glace, whereas while traveling we just slow down and breathe. The simple fact that we are not in a hurry to reach anywhere every day but keeping up the pace by experiencing little joys like walking in the fog, getting down in the waterfalls, playing by the colorful strings, driving through the winding smooth roads, hearing the birds chirping in the morning, waking up to blankets of colorful flowers, hearing the wind rustle through our clothes caressing our breath, witnessing the crystal clear streams and rivers flowing in the gorgeous mountain gorges below, walking along the shores and getting our feet washed by the waves, clouds floating within our reach, sun rays lighting the tips of mountains and dancing on the sea waves, making us witness the simplicity and magic of our Mother Nature.
Being with nature just builds onto the beautiful relationship with her which we do forget in our hustle. The magical silence that develops because of this oneness has always compelled me to travel more! Amidst all this beauty, nature, colors, people, architecture, travel does help me to discover some unknown recesses of our own being, letting us think a little bit differently each time we witness a different place, a different taste, and a different perspective. That’s reason number 8, travel to get detached from the daily life and getting engulfed by the source of our creation!
Thus, when we travel, we brush across innumerable intangible aspects that otherwise simply exist but do tend to have a deeper impact when we go back and think about them later. Thus, we can say that while traveling, the unconscious mind prompts us with various relatable theories that tap into these unknown aspects and bring about a conscious change in how we respond to our present immediate surroundings. The training given to us during our 5 years makes it possible to realize these nuances and uplift the experiences even further. And makes it easier to pick references while designing and building concepts and talking to clients.
And more than often, traveling to various places that aren’t similar to ours often leads us to beautiful destinations that we never anticipated about and something totally unexpected that we have never calculated in our detailed itinerary! Which, in turn, help us to broaden our minds, be tolerant to myriad aspects, be acceptable about changing circumstances, be open to flexibilities about human dynamics and striking a variety of conversations with different and unknown people, eventually leading to consolidate into thoughts that light a spark in our minds. So, next time when we, architects, pack our bags and embark on a voyage, we definitely would bring back lots of magical memories, reminiscences that would make us smile and shed a few tears in having experienced something beautiful. While writing though, I realized 8 reasons aren’t enough after all!