Jenny Carless is filling in for Supriya this week. Jenny is a nonfiction writer, amateur wildlife photographer, and novelist-in-training who blogged with us in January about her passion for safaris in Kenya.
I hadn’t really noticed, until I sat down to write this post, how much I associate the places I love—and those on my list to visit—with their architecture.
When I think of Paris, for example, I picture Sacré Coeur, perched atop Montmartre. I first saw the basilica from somewhere far across the city, through misty skies as day evaporated into night. The pale monolith seemed to glow, and from then on, I’ve always thought of Sacré Coeur as a sort of ethereal guardian, keeping watch over the city.
Photo by Tonchino
For many people, I suspect, mention London’s architecture, and the Big Ben clock tower or St. Paul’s Cathedral comes to mind. Of course, today, people’s first association might be “the Gherkin” (formally, 30 St. Mary Axe) or the London Eye—two more recent iconic additions to the cityscape.
Photo by Aurelien Guichard
I tend to think of several less well known structures around the city. When I lived in Notting Hill (West London) and worked in the World Trade Center (East London), I had one of the best commutes ever: My route included Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch, and Tower Bridge, not to mention Hyde Park and Green Park. This wonderful drive across is still etched in my mind as a very fond memory.
When we think Egypt, our most common images are the pyramids and the Great Sphinx. San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid. Thoughts of Sydney, Australia bring to mind the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney OperaHouse.
The chicken or the egg?
Am I drawn to a place because its architecture appeals to me, or does the architecture appeal to me because it somehow reflects a culture I’m already drawn to?
Certainly we recognize that architecture is often symbolic of a culture or a particular time. For example, would the Eiffel Tower, with its giant lattice girders representing the age of modern engineering and science, have been built at any other time? Likewise, the fantastical creations of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona (and elsewhere) are icons of a particular time, place, and political movement.
|Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batllo|
Photo by Massimo Catarinella
The Centre Georges Pompidou represents, according to its website, “a constraint-free architecture in the spirit of the 1960s.” In the late 1970s, when the building had been open just a year or two, its ultra-modern appearance, smack in the heart of one of Paris’s oldest areas, the Marais, caused something of a scandal. Today, it hardly seems shocking.
So what will people centuries or millennia from now think about some of our modern buildings (assuming some still stand)? What will their impressions be of Burj Al Arab (the famous “sailboat building”) in Dubai, for example?
|Burj al Arab|
Photo by Tintoni Thomas
What about the Kansas City Public Library’s nifty “hardcover” façades? Although, with the proliferation of ebooks, future observers may not even understand what those book spines are!
I can’t sign off without mentioning the forms we see in nature—nature’s architecture, I suppose you could say. Natural forms are equally enticing to me, and I think we all associate places with their natural architecture as much, if not more, than their human-made counterparts. Just think of some of the best-known natural wonders: Mount Everest, Victoria Falls, or the Grand Canyon.
In addition to its beauty or grandeur, the natural architecture of a place is an essential element to its character. I visited Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya for the first time last October. There, Mount Kenya (the country’s tallest mountain and Africa’s second tallest, after Kilimanjaro) is an inescapable presence. All Kenyans are immensely proud of Mount Kenya, and many Kenyans believe that it is God’s throne, or resting place, on earth. We turned to the mountain first thing every morning, to see what colors the sunrise would paint it, and we watched it fade into the dusk every evening.
Photo by Jenny Carless
Which touches you more—human-made architecture or nature’s architecture? What are some of your favorite examples?