“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Poust
Architects are perceptive beings who are wired to learn from their experiences and observations. As patrons of art and design, their thirst for creative insight is quenched by first-hand experiences of what they see, hear, and feel. It is, therefore, no surprise that travelling to architects is a means of exploration and internal inquisition, and a journey to satisfy their ever long curiosity. Being visual creatures, they are trained to look beneath the typical surface and analyze the implication of built environments in both physical and social contexts. Due to these intellectual and creative powers, there are a few things only architects notice while travelling.
1. The Narratives told by Monuments through Details and History
Le Corbusier once said, “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.” Humankind has evolved through its many civilizations and dynasties and has built numerous masterpieces on the way. For architects, these monuments are not just aesthetic building blocks but are sacred scriptures that they have studied to learn their craft. Every monument tells them a story. It is therefore no wonder that during their travels, architects can’t help but appreciate the various intricacies showcased in these structures and try to understand the thought processes involved in their curation.
For example, to an average architect, the ‘Basilica de la Sagrada Família’ by Antonio Gaudi is so much more than a beautiful place of worship or a fancy tourist destination. It is a representation of a daring and unique take on Gothic architecture which eventually made history by becoming a whole new design style. Apart from noticing the obvious skeletal details like slanted columns and window ornamentations, they understand the symbolism behind the designing of these structures, like the colossal height in this case; a church that is rising upwards to kiss the heaven. Architects admire buildings by listening to their stories.
2. Socio-Cultural Context – People’s Activities and Traditions
The Tourism industry thrives on the projection of socio-cultural images of different settlements world-wide, but the reason for the success of these famous tourist destinations can only be understood by peeling off the layer of this first image. The city of New York is essentially famous for its busy and around-the-clock lifestyle but its social and cultural context is deep-rooted in history, whose interpretation requires an understanding of its people’s daily activities. Any famous building has its individual beauty but its true potential can only be realised in the right social placement.
Architects design for the people and therefore, have a unique skillset for understanding and analysing how the locals of a place live, connect and perform. While travelling, architects notice cities not just in terms of its famous locations and monuments but also in terms of its society’s influence. The famous Duomo di Milano is an admirable religious structure; however, a major part of its charm comes from the surrounding Italian Piazza. The place lights up in the evenings with its chic aperitivo bars, trendy pizzerias and high-end designer boutiques, therefore, presenting Milan as a swanky Italian metropolis. An architect realises that a place like Duomo di Milano will never be the same if made in a city like New Delhi where the society’s activities near a religious monument differ completely.
3. Physical Context – Materiality and Local Craftsmanship
Every building is built a certain way because of its site-specific needs. The picturesque houses in Myanmar are made of wood and bamboo whereas the intricate palaces of Rajasthan are built in stone. If the site is an architect’s canvas, the materials used are the splashes of colour. Only the right colour combinations, when laid out with appropriate shadows and highlights, can bring out the original intent of an artwork. After all on-site experiences, architects almost automatically start noticing the various building materials, construction systems and space planning techniques used in the making of the built environment in front of them. They can’t help but compare the structure of Swiss castles to that of Rajasthan’s forts. A vacation for an architect eventually ends becoming research in building materials and construction techniques.
4. Urban and Rural fabric
The Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the first examples of an efficient urban fabric, is still known for its town planning, adequate land use, and resource management. It proved that a city’s relationship with its surroundings is crucial for its functionality. Trained to think from the outside in, architects never look at a building individually, but as part of a much bigger dwelling system. They don’t just travel but interpret spaces by understanding their transition and buffer zones. Be it Chicago’s dense city cover or Interlaken’s scattered built system’s amalgamation with nature, every place has a unique fabric that binds it together. Since it is an architect’s unspoken job to shape the lives of people through their designs, understanding the role of urban and rural settlements in this process comes naturally to them.
“The Art of Seeing. It is essential to an architect to know how to see: I mean, to see in such a way that the vision is not overpowered by rational analysis.”
-Luis Barragan, acceptance speech for Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1980
Experiencing a new place is an act of all the five senses coming together. The whole world is beautiful during the first glance but to truly understand its makings, an analytical vision has always been of great essence. Designers have always looked at things through the microscope of reasoning and admired those results from a creative mindset. Especially in built-environments, their appreciation for different sorts of spaces is unmatched. It won’t be wrong to say that only an architect can travel to an art museum and end up taking pictures of the building.