Sunday, March 15, 2009

Architecture without starchitects

The sense of rythm and the playfulness of Jantar Mantar set in the midst of something looking like a park in Delhi (the gardener- too busy imagining all play opportunities the place offers- didn't even notice there was a park). One of the five astronomical observatories built by Jai Singh II between 1724 and 1727, the gigantic astronomical instruments are unsurpassed. The abstract- and now functionless- architecture reflects a passion for mathematics...numbers in space that have passed the test of time. Black stains and white crack, marks of time and weather, scar the red wash on the masonry. Successful structures as they fit in their surrounding and resist the challenge of climate (and topography?). No line drawn between sculpture, architecture and landscaping...same feeling when I sneaked in the Isamu Noguchi's Japanese Garden in Unesco HQ, Paris or makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater where these three elements are inseparable. As opposed to the obsolete and pointless feud between some landscape professionals and architects, which sounds like a cacophony of the ego... I much prefer the symphony of anonymous architecture like stalactite caves or communal architecture. My cousin Felix, when looking at my pictures, recommended me the excellent book Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky (ISBN 978-0-8263-1004-0), une invitation au voyage...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas IV

Letting my mind drift as I passed from one scenery to another was the best part of sitting on the back of a bike. Being an easily distracted driver it surely was a wise solution to stay alive. Man made landscapes...aren't they all? Better like that. I can't agree with some purist ecologists idealising an untouched natural world and leaving humans outside the equation...what do they mean, anyway? Don't they realise that man has had an impact on nature for thousands of years? Maybe they'd rather be eaten alive by some giant spider while raving on the beauty of nature left to its own device... Jurassic Park, tres peu pour moi, I much prefer a tamed the Dutch. When Philip II of Spain suppressed all political and religious freedom in the Seventeen Provinces, the protestants- led by William of Orange- revolted and declared the independence of the Seven United Provinces, also called the Netherlands. The period between 1550 and 1560, when the Dutch political identity was established, coincided with an alteration of the landscape made watertight for survival of the people. This tradition of creating land explains why Dutch landscape architects are good at landscape design but poor garden designers while the opposite holds true for their British probably also explains why landscape is the only English word that takes its origin in the Dutch word landschap. By the way, the best place to visit Holland is Holland Village, in the outskirts of Nagasaki, Japan...

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas III

Set beside the river Jata Ganga and amidst a forest of Deodar Cedars (Cedrus deodara), Jageshwar houses over 100 temples devoted to Shiva, with the oldest dating back to the 8th century. The smell and noises, so different to anything in the west, contribute to the timeless feeling of the place. The moss and lichens growing on the stone took me back in time, and as I stepped bare feet on the wet and cold paving my imagination differently examined the landscape...this place felt like a mirror, a journey through time, a way of going beyond the concrete moment...time watching the flow of everyday human activities set in parallel with the physical and topological as both nature and architecture are so perfectly merging into each other. And I can't help thinking of some projects where architects have designed something very similar to a spaceship that has landed on the wrong planet...Ah! my mind's running deep today. Anyway if stopping through this place, make sure to first get the key/authorisation at the Forestry Commission in Almora for their lodge in looked quieter and better than any hotels there.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas II

The only picture I took of a plant during this trip... The Chir or Imodi Pine, which is named, in Latin (Pinus roxburghii), after William Roxburgh (1751-1815) who served as a surgeon in the East India Company and is considered as the father of botanical studies in India. He later (1793-1814) was superintendent of Calcutta Botanic Garden (the oldest and largest in South Asia), which holds a 400 years old Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) covering 1.5 ha. This pine is known as "Salli" in the local dialect of the Jhaunsar region of Uttrakhand. And the locals use the red bark plates to carve lids for vessels or to fuel the blacksmith's furnaces. The fallen dried needles serve as bedding for the cattle and the hand brooms seen in the dhabas are made of the green needles. Locals use the cones as domestic fuel. I saw it everywhere in the hills flanking the Himalayas. If you are interested in more Indian trees, get Kothari, A.S. A Celebration of Indian Trees. (ISBN 81-85026-83-1)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A ride in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas

I wish the purpose of the exercise wouldn't have been arriving somewhere...but keep on riding. Travelled on a bike with Arnoud and Tenzin, sometimes giving them a hard time, forcing them to look at trees...but also telling them stories about the same trees... I wish I could go back now to see more. And here are just a few stories without pictures about the ones I saw...nothing scientific or botanic as it put me to sleep...just their stories or histories. The Blue, Chir and Chilgoza Pines, Deodar Cedar, Himalayan Poplar, Grey and Brown Oaks, Indian Horse Chestnut, Pipal and maybe some others if I can remember them but for now I am feeling rather lazy...