Travel and architecture go hand in hand like cup and saucer, coffee and doughnuts or like music and rhythm.
Travel is all about architecture and architectural marvels. The worlds most visited places speak about their people, their culture, and their history through their architecture. From the classical proportions of Greece to the glittering mosaics in the basilicas of Paris, from the spectacular pyramids of Egypt to the splendid byzantine mosques of Istanbul, from the grand Colosseum of Rome to the majestic Taj Mahal in Agra, it is all the magnificence of architecture that draws people to travel to these distant places.
Saint Augustine, the Roman African philosopher once said,
‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page’
I would say Architecture is a tome, a volume of books which teaches a science to think through drawing, read through emotions, learn through cultures and deliver through feelings. A book where every page has a different colour and every colour has its own unique way of spreading happiness or sadness, and the right stroke is learnt through observing and understanding the details, the people, their culture and social beliefs.
Undoubtedly these brushstrokes can be achieved by accomplishing the two ‘Es’ of architectural study – exploring and experiencing. And what could be better than ‘travelling’ to inherit the two coveted vowels of the journey. Travelling to places introduces us to different people, their culture, their needs and their history. It broadens and expands the horizon of life as well as design. When an architect is travelling he is not just moving places, he is turning the pages of his book and gaining a new insight. He views the chapters through a wide angle which gives him clues about the locals and their built spaces. A designer designs spaces for its populace and if the architect understands the people, their culture, their food, their needs, he surely will deliver a building which shapes their society. When buildings and streets are studied from an architecturally flavoured perspective, the journey results in a self-fabricated knowledge which acts as a catalyst in the process of the desire to design.
An Architect’s life is a journey…….
Through ages, architectural form has been a result of an architect’s journey. Notable architects and theorists William Morris and Violet le duc have claimed their lust for travel and adventure which is depicted in their paintings and restoration works. Education through travel has also been acknowledged by the iconic architects Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier who consider it as a powerful learning tool.
An architect’s role is to keep evolving and the book called ‘world’ has so much to offer if you as a student have the lust for wandering. From taking a tranquil breath around Wright’s Usonian houses in the Prairies to the awe inspiring Antonio Gaudi’s art nouveau structures of Barcelona, to the breath-taking Van der Rohe’s skyline of Chicago to Corbusier’s five points of architecture in shaping the city of Chandigarh, from the impressive Deconstructivism of Gehry to the gravity defying designs of Zaha Hadid, all and many more are a feast for an architect’s journey. These structures not only inspire students but also encapsulate and fuel their creative dreams.
India – Land of Diverse Architecture…….
For a student of architecture in India, the homeland itself has such diverse and unique architectural practices that a whole volume can be learnt by just cruising from the Himalayas to the Aravallis and the deserts to the coasts. The Capital itself boasts of the timeless Lutynes’ bungalows as well as Stein, Doshi and Rewal’s post modernism displaying exquisite patterns and details. The Havelis of Gujarat and Rajasthan are no less inspiring than the Tibetan architectural influence in the North east. The contrast of colours, form and design resonates through French and Portuguese colonies of Goa and Tamil Nadu while Kerala blossoms through the cost effective techniques of Laurie Baker. Every mile you travel has a story to narrate which can strike an endless driving force for the passion of architecture.
Travelling and learning is no less than attending a classroom through hands on experience which in turn has a deep reflective impact on the creative cerebrum. For students of architecture, a journey through the local streets, a conversation with the inhabitants and an encounter with their indigenous construction practices can fill their bowl with an imaginative broth.
Learning while travelling……
A new chapter was added to my learning of building practices beyond ‘McKay’ and ‘Rangwala’ when I travelled to the beautiful valley of Ladakh. The mesmerising landscape had much more to offer than just visual admiration, while I looked at it from the architectural lens. The place had a unique climate responsive vernacular architecture which was developed by the people, for the people with the help of locally available materials and indigenous techniques. The use of adobe bricks, traditional roofing system, dry toilets and construction of the traditional kitchen or changspa, left a deep reflective impact which highlighted that it is very essential to understand that we as architects have to embrace the future while valuing our past heritage.
Similarly, presently soaking in the harmonious environment of Sikkim, I learnt that a creative mind can weave endless patterns in abstract ways. The sun dancing on the walls of the Pamyangtse monastery with the mighty Kanchenjunga providing it a backdrop intrigues a wonderful collision of point, line, rhythm and movement. The traditional window of the monastery peeps out and stands in glory, boasting of its conventional lintel detail. The symbols and colourful artwork on every house throughout the state clearly speaks of the religious beliefs, simplicity and temperament of the native people. It leaves a long lasting impression and a reverberating effect on mind as well as soul.
In architectural education, travel opens new doors, gives wings to the thoughts and broadens the horizon for the students to tackle a design with a new approach. Architecture today is a creative process whose success is measured not only by its aesthetic value but its capacity to provide sustainable solutions. When the students learn to interact and understand the local human needs only then can they develop designs which have technical, economic, aesthetic, social as well as cultural relevance. Learning while travelling for an architecture student can cultivate new experimental thoughts and invite new and variable sense of perception. Travelling showcases that architects build spaces that accommodate human activities and in turn showcase human emotions.
A famous American Journalist Liza Ling once quoted
‘the best education I have ever received was through travel’,
Henceforth we the architects and especially the students in this field need to flip the pages of their book and move on to design better spaces , better buildings, better cities and a better world. We have, but one life and one world, let the architectural inspiration take you places and bring back home a piece of creative happiness.
(All photographs courtesy – Author)
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