Travel and Architecture

Rajasthan, India

It is said that one can reap the benefits of vacation till at least five weeks after returning. If you are taking time off, travel. Travel is one of the most rewarding experiences and an investment well worth it. I see the value in and often take vacations to scenic locations or family vacations visiting relatives. But many of my vacations are about visiting new cities, seeing architecture, visiting museums, and exploring urban communities. There are numerous reasons for why the latter are favored by me, the obvious one being I enjoy architecture.

In the virtual world, we are continuously exposed to projects being completed in far off nations. If you are a blogger like me, you are getting exposed to projects before they get published in magazines like Architectural Record or Architect. Some of the noteworthy work I see online never comes out in print. In many regards the printed magazines are turning into “old news” by the time you receive the paper copy. Yet, you will never experience the true essence of any of those buildings unless you visit them in person. The Editorial of Architectural Record of May 2011 addresses the value of visiting buildings to get a true sense of the architecture, and that magazines are but a supplement to the lack thereof.

As I spoke to Kevin Kemner Associate AIA, an Assistant Professor at the UNLV School of Architecture who started the travelling program as part of his design studio a few years ago, he talked of the phenomenal and contextual qualities of places that pictures cannot capture. In his words, “pictures look AT buildings, you need to look OUT of buildings” to titillate the senses of smell, sound, and how your body reacts to temperature and humidity. Kevin believes that an artist sees the world with tools of visioning that get applied without a medium thereby making the understanding very flexible. An architect on the other hand sees the world with the medium of buildings. Architects are attuned to look at the world architecturally, always thinking of “inhabitation”.

Travelling makes a better architect. That has been my motto for the longest time, and has only been strengthened with the passing years. I am very forgetful of the names of buildings and architects when I read about them. But I always remember buildings visually. The benefit I find in traveling is that not only do I learn a lot more about the buildings, but I don’t forget their names, architects’ names, the contexts, the feelings, and the experiences. The weather conditions add to the experiential quality of a certain place and I sub-consciously associate the memory of the place with the weather. Our minds may work differently, we may seek varied qualities of architecture when we visit projects, our interests may be in separate aspects of the composition, but we are all deeply impacted by it as we walk through it.

Next time you are in a different city visiting family, taking kids to amusement parks, travelling for business, or attending a conference, stay an extra day and make it all about visiting the city architecturally. You might be surprised by what you’ve been missing.