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It is a fact that travelling is an important aspect of human existence, we are born, we grow, we travel, and we flourish. This act is multifaceted and includes, travelling as a tourist, being a migrant, refugee or a nomad, it also includes the want to travel and see the world, the excitement related to the traveller the notions one forms around the journeys and experiences of not just one’s own but ‘the one who has travelled’, travelling in mind, the imagination involved, the moving and the stationary. Travelling as an introduction to places people only hear about and spaces architects dream of being surrounded by results in tourism. It is a thriving industry with many people advertising and others fantasizing it, with technological innovations such destinations have been made easily accessible to people on their screens to imagine around. Migration takes place as a result of factors which make certain locations much more desirable than others. These factors could be social, political, or economical and may have to do with the conditions in the domicile of origin or the destination. We have been witness to mass migrations such as people leaving for refuge to US, India etc. people migrating to discover places and form colonies. Long time ago we were nomads in search of food, less predators and better living conditions, many are still accustomed to such displacements and keenly live up to it. For ages we have held in high regard the travellers the explorers the discoverers for their knowledge of the unknown and the expeditions they have undertaken, all this because of the resulting expanded horizons post the journey.
Since both travel and architecture are integral parts of any individual’s subsistence, they are associated. This association so far is inconspicuous and on a large unfamiliar with.
How does traveller affect architecture and vice versa?
It has always been in human nature to look for facilities and better living conditions, for sustaining ourselves we have been a nomad at one time, travelling from place to place looking for food and better weather conditions so our habitats were designed accordingly be it the hut we stayed in the kind of settlements we ended up making. The temporary nature of architecture then was maintained so as to be on the move. It is entirely associated to the idea of being able to ‘travel’ eventually till of course farming was discovered and we began settling down since then the Architecture has been associated to travel and it goes hand in hand till now.
Even after we started settling down Dominant empires (Roman, Greek, Byzantine) empires invading the periphery regions and with them travelled the culture, food and remnants of their habitat which was an inseparable part of their memory and eventually came about in the kind of spaces they designed for themselves in the place of stay (Their Metropolis or the colonies). To the Colonies they sent their artisans, architects and their master builders So the place that we stay in has certain impression on us and comes out in what we design for ourselves as well as others. Looking at the kind of architecture Mughals built in India (destroying the temples and other structures they considered unnecessary) was majorly the space they were used to being in placing temple pillars on top of the other or other sources they had access to. The Artisans then were only carrying forward a tradition of their own while the scope of being influenced by the design of any space is way more than that, which we shall explore in some time.
With increase in mobility came modernity, with it changed the idea of spaces, political ideas changed, and the way knowledge was imagined and imbibed too changed. Mobility was crucial to rise and expansion of various countries of Europe which soon spread to entire Eurasia, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. Soon ‘mobility was considered progress’ and not just a critical factor contributing to it. In the same narrative Mobility had started being considered as enlighten, “Travel broadens mind” was the notion people had.
With capitalism expansion of mobility began, spatial barriers got faded and the pace of life increased many folds, this was central to the history of modernism and the science of building and designing spaces played a crucial role in it. Architectural innovations depended on the new innovative modes of travel to a great extent. Development of neoclassic Architecture (first international style architecture) can’t be disassociated from the movement’s founder’s decisions to take the movement beyond the borders of Rome and also include Germany into its expanse. At the same time various architects in and around the region developed a new genre which was a mix and match on Neo Classism to the local vernacular architecture.
Towards the end of 18th century and early 19th century it was only the privileged class which could indulge in the luxury of travelling and collecting ‘Italian veduta’ which were small memento restricted only to the elite as a token of the grand tour undertaken. Meanwhile the general public was curious about the places which were beyond their limits, panorama catered to their fundamental inquisitive desire to attain the otherwise unobtainable knowledge of destinations unapproachable. Panoramas brought about an illusion, set in rotundas it surrounded it’s spectator and provided a viewing experience from all 360 degrees they were almost always loaded with detailed information about far off places, landscapes and cities. In 1794 world’s first panorama building was built by Robert Barker at London’s Leicester square where it served as an exhibition hall for 70 years, eventually developments were made to this but the basic idea of the exhibition hall (circular building designed such that viewers aren’t able to come close to the paintings to touch them. Later these were seen at St Petersburg, Moscow and also North America where they called it Cycloramas. It was because of panorama that the way mass audience perceived space in an entirely different manner now one could conceptually traverse the world which was once not theirs.
Architecture as a space could surround people the way Panorama did, French architects Etienne Louis Boullee, Claude Nicholas Ledoux, and German architect Friedrich Schinkel made designing around travel evident in their work. In Sir Issac Newton’s cenotaph designed by Boullee panoramic thinking is very pronounced A massive hollow sphere is set on a cylinder, it is designed to circumscribe the spectator with its night sky full of stars and the moon. This was only the first step; Le Corbusier designed an architectural space which opened itself up further. He put down some elements indispensable for defining an architectural enclosure according to him, the horizontal ribbon window. It was this large window which he believed merged the interiors with the exteriors bringing the outer world into the room which for him was symbolic of panorama. The ribbon window faced criticism all based on how it couldn’t bring the exteriors indoors with its entirety because the perception of the spatial depth got spoilt because of the height of the windows. After some time Le Corbusier successfully designed an apartment in Paris it had a living room on the top of the building enclosed by low height walls which were symbolic of ruins from the castles. The sky was the ceiling, one could see the sky meet the wall like it was horizon, and Eiffel tower could be seen cut in half by a parapet wall.
He was confident that as one walks into this space, one would go around observing the space walking back and forth, he would look at the space in countless ways, he would feel architecture: with his two eyes he would see only ahead; he would turn any way he likes.
“Hundreds of successive perceptions go to make up his feeling for architecture. His walking, his movement, are the things that count, and it is here that architectonic emotion has its origin. Consequently, the composition has not been established on a fixed central point, an ideal point that can be rotated for simultaneous circular vision.” (Leuscher, 2009)
Le Corbusier successfully realized the Panorama like architecture, here again architecture could be traced with its roots to travel.
For taking a break people travel and it isn’t just about going out and seeing new places but also as to how we look inside, how we reflect and imagine. The way we perceive the space too plays a major role in the way we carry it forward in our memory. In fact the way we judge any place is biased and depending on whether we’re Nomads or immigrants. For example while comparing Le Corbusier and Sedad Eldem’s travel diaries there is a distinct difference in the way they perceive the same city of Istanbul. Being a settlement which catches fire soon because of the way of construction, the entire settlement would burn down in every four years. According to him when in Istanbul it was sight to cherish the way the city cleared itself of the vernacular houses, houses being engulfed in fire and consumed to nothingness to him was one of the reasons to maintain the city’s the then state. To him it was an exotic dreamland, something which can’t protect itself, being tried and burned down over and over again was what was right for it, helpless and fragile like an primitive oriental woman, penetrable and controllable. To him welcoming modernism to such a place would lead to catastrophic disastrous results that’ll ruin Istanbul for sure. He did not have this idea only while he stayed there but also after many years when he was asked to design a master plan for the city he refused wanting to keep the city the way it was. Leaving Istanbul’s planning with dirt and dust which rightly belong there. Bringing in modernism would result in cleansing of the city the lines aren’t a part of it crisp white walls don’t belong there. While he said all that about the vernacular houses he has a different opinion about the mosques, the mosques were permanent while the entire city would shed skin and renew itself the mosques were always there, undefeated by the fire. The way Sedad viewed these buildings was different to him these vernacular houses bridged the past with the present the way the houses burnt in every four years there was an urgent need for permanence. He had this strong urge to make a place for the vernacular houses somewhere which was seen in his travel diaries. He too was trying to resist the forces of modernization trying to throw the vernacular houses out of favour. What shows in his work is idea of wanting to keep the vernacular houses alive. He participated in the modernization of Turkey and at the same time he would keep designing several hypothetical Turkish houses. He treated them as artefacts and embodied the factors which he wanted to preserve in them.
While Le Corbusier cherished the transient character of the vernacular houses Sedad Eldem wanted to preserve them. Both Architects took modernism as a base, even though they were for different reasons. Le Corbusier interpreted the houses up as non monumental non classical architecture which isn’t in a rush for permanence. He took these houses as memory traces which need to be preserved for the character they have, they already hold what according to him was necessary for modernism (formal and structural principles).
In the primary years of the twentieth century development of the sophisticated modern movement which was a major landmark in the history of art and architecture would have been unimaginable had the artists, architects, designers, not met and exchanged their ideas during the phase which was prominent for wars, revolution and destabilizing and then slow dissolution of empires. This is when people had started getting involved in education and exploration related travel.
The claims of how the designs that Geoffrey Bawa makes is critical regionalism or vernacular do not take into consideration the fact that he hasn’t always been in Sri Lanka he was a dedicated globe trotter who learnt a lot from the travels he had undertaken in united kingdom, Italy and united states, also he took him architectural diploma from Architectural association and his familiarity to modernism and knowledge of south Asian architecture. So to say that his designs were primarily vernacular architecture and not modern, Italian baroque or something else would deprive the credit Geoffrey Bawa deserves for his work.
Bawa’s diverse background comprising of the roots he had and the routes he had taken give him a distinct quality of being able to adjust to almost any environment, where he would fit well enough be it European or Asian whenever necessary. He could negotiate with different cultures with ease. In his works he has appreciated many sites: Mexican, Greek, and Roman ruins, English estates, Buddhist ruins, Ronchamp, Padbanabapuram in Kerela and forts in Rajasthan.
He was about to settle on a farm near Lake Garda in Italy, but his brother convinced him to get back to Sri Lanka, it was then that he came over. After returning Bawa made many trips to Italy upon his return to the AA and was exposed to tropical school and the works of Architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew that inspired Some other Sri Lankan Architects. At this time, Bawa was also familiarized with these. Even then, he preferred European classical over modernism.
The use of the travel paradigm also demystifies the stories around Bawa as somebody who was very uniquely qualified to act as a chain between Western Modernism and local ways of thinking and acting upon it. He operated with a network of talented architects and his associations and interpretations between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ were not unique or rare. The links and associations formed in architecture or any other design field benefits the Architect and the architecture. It is so because the design which is the resultant of unique mindset the architect has attained after being a globetrotter helps in faster and more effective resolution of problems.
Like many other architect who are avid travellers, the architecture and design of Luis Barragán cannot be internalized when separated from his travels. He wants to internalize them in his senses, creating in his imagination a beautiful universal memory for his local experiences. His travels bring to us a new feeling and reflecting considering existing truth that improves the value of perception. Barragán elucidates the art of seeing and appreciating as recovering the primacy of perception as a source of learning and knowledge.
Since he was a child, Barragán travelled whenever and wherever he could the long, calming journeys, removed from haste, provided the necessary breath of air, allowing him to continue his ongoing search for beauty. The first trips effect of which was seen on his architecture were his summer trips as a teenager to family estate in the area of Sierra
Del Tigre Jalisco. When he was 22 he had a trip to Europe, Chicago, New York and then Europe again and many such journeys. He evolved and that was assimilated as a result of his travels and the experience gained in doing so.
He had committed himself to the truths that arose from intuition, familiarity, and recollection. Barragán´s work appeared simple and was a result of memories stored and reflected upon. He thought of spaces and situations over and over again to internalize them.
If the inner journey was marked by doubt, travel was also a source of pleasure for Barragán. Since his first journey to Europe the architect he understood that travel was a path to fruitful learning—a path he decided to prolong, even provoking the concern of his family, who wrote The pleasure of feeling well in a place led him to cultivate the feeling of well-being architecturally, so present at a later stage in his work. One of the keys to understanding Barragán´s proposals is a consequence of this perception of place. He used to feel at home in the south of Spain, in Algeria, in Morocco and also, in the north of Africa. All this architecture, according to him was somebody’s perception converted to emotions to create a source of architectural knowledge.
Various aspects of motion can change individual as well as group experiences of places, various modern individuals believe that. Modernism considered ‘being in the moment’ ‘fleeting’ transient’ as fundamental aspects characterising it. The important viewer here was not just the pedestrian, the cyclist or the car driver but also the person flying in the plane or the jet. The vision wasn’t limited the perspective modernism wanted to cover was broad and eventually led to futurism which was fact, dynamic and appeared to be kinetic all the time. Number of multinational firms mushroomed to increase the pace of decolonization of various regions and to facilitate growth and development. This ties the field of architecture to many others hence broadening the horizons even further.
Leuscher, A., 2009. Great travel machines of sight. In: M. M. Jilly Traganou, ed. Travel, Space, Architecture. s.l.:Ashgate, p. 60.