Ryoan-ji is an ancient Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan. Its central garden is one of the finest surviving examples of Japanese dry landscape (kare-sansui) in existence. It features larger rock formations clustered within a large area of smaller graded pebbles and stones raked into parallel patterns intended to facilitate contemplation and meditation.
Kyoto is well known for its incredible beauty during the spring cherry blossom bloom, and Ryoan-ji is especially beautiful at that time each year. The temple itself is thought to have been built in the mid-1400's, while the garden was created in the mid to late 15th century.
Situated at the base of Clark Mountain, just across the Nevada/California border from Primm, Nevada, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility glimmers in the desert. The plant consists of 347,000 mirrors in three arrays of heliostats, each focusing solar energy on a boiler that sits atop a 450 foot high tower. The boilers generate steam that produces power by driving a turbine. The heat collectors shimmer and glow even in bright sunlight, and the glare of boiler towers is blinding.
The plant has been criticized for everything from bird kills to displacement of the desert tortoise, and its first few years of operation were plagued by inefficiency and the inability to meet its output goal of 392 megawatts. That has recently turned around and the plant now produces much closer to its design output. Ivanpah was commissioned in 2014 at a project cost of approximately $2.5 billion, making it the largest and most expensive power plant in the world at the time.
Kukup is a small fishing village in the Johor state of southern Malaysia. It's known for its seafood restaurants and other structures built on stilts over the muddy mangrove swamp in the Malaccan Strait. It is a thriving community supported mainly by tourism. Approximately 1,400 people, mostly of Chinese descent, live in and around Kukup, which has been in existence for over one hundred years.
Sir John Soane (September 10, 1753 - January 20, 1837) was one of England's greatest architects. He is primarily known for his work at the Bank of England, but he built and lived in a home that was an exhibit place for his architectural artifacts and a laboratory for his design ideas. The house was established as a museum at the time of Soane's death and it has been kept as it was since that time. Located in Lincoln's Inns Fields in the borough of Holborn, London, it displays his vast collection of antiquities, furniture, sculptures, architectural models and paintings.
In the early 1930's, at the age of 65, Frank Lloyd Wright found himself at a career crossroads. With masterpieces such as Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum and the S.C. Johnson & Son Company Administration Building still in his future, the Great Depression was taking its toll on American development in general and Wright's architectural practice in particular. A dearth of commissions forced him to spend more time concentrating on research and teaching. The harsh winter climate in Wisconsin pushed him to relocate his architectural school first to rented space in Arizona, but eventually to consider acquisition of land there and establish a more permanent presence. In 1937, in conjunction with the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright founded Taliesin West, a school of architecture which continues in operation to the present day.
Taliesin West was literally a laboratory for studying architectural means and methods in Wright's work, and the Taliesin Fellowship maintains an extensive archive of Wright's drawings and letters. The stunning desert setting permitted Wright and his students to experiment "hands-on" with different construction and detailing techniques. The design of the school illustrates many of Wright's architectural principles, notably the compact spaces with low horizontal lines, clean detailing, a close relationship with nature, artwork integrated with the architecture, and the extensive use of built-in furnishings and sculptural ornamentation.
Jantar Mantar, literally "calculationinstrument," is a series of masonry devices intended to be used with the naked eye to accomplish various astronomical measurements and predict the movement of celestial bodies. There are five Jantar Mantar sites in India, all built in the early 18th century by Maharajah Jai Singh II, who had a lifelong interest in astronomy. Those in Jaipur and Delhi are the largest and most well known, but there are also sites in Varanesi, Ujjain and Mathura. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur contains over twenty instruments, including the largest sundial in the world.
Siena is a medieval hill town in the Tuscany region of Italy. It was settled during the Etruscan era between 900-400 BC. The Piazza del Campo, a fan-shell shaped plaza in the center of the old city, is the site of a popular biannual race called the Palio de Sienna, which features horses sponsored by the political wards in the city.
The majestic Siena Cathedral is an excellent example of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Construction commenced in the 12th century, and the façade was completed in 1380. Also notable is the Palazzo Publico, with its clock tower-the Torre del Mangia, located at the edge of the Pizza del Campo.
Fallingwater is a vacation home designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was commissioned for the project by Edgar Kaufmann, owner of Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh. It was completed in 1939.
The house is an excellent example of several architectural principles embodied in the work of Wright, including dominant horizontal lines, low- ceiling interior space and strong integration with the landscape. It is perhaps best known for its concrete cantilevered construction which allows it to sit directly above a waterfall on Bear Run, a creek in the Laurel Highlands area of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Qutab Minar is a minaret in the Qtub Complex in the southern area of New Delhi, India. The complex itself is part of Delhi's oldest fortified city, Lal Kot. The minaret was constructed in the early 13th century, after the adjacent Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which was started in 1192. The mosque complex is one of the oldest surviving in India, and one of New Delhi's most visited tourist attractions.
The architecture of Qutab Minar represents a fusion of Southwest Asian and Islamic architectural styles. It is constructed entirely of brick, and at almost 238 feet high is the tallest brick minaret in the world.
Sydney is the capital of the Australian state of New South Wales, and the largest city in the country of Australia. It is a beautiful, coastal, cosmopolitan area; and home to two of Australias most famous landmarks - the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The Opera House was designed by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon as the result of an international competition that started in 1955. It was not completed until 1973. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge in the world with a span of 1,650 feet and a total length of over 3,700 feet.
The Thebian Necropolis is in upper Egypt across the Nile River from the city of Luxor, which was built on the site of Thebes, the capital of the ancient pharaohs. It contains dozens of mortuary temple ruins and tombs of the ancient Egyptian ruling class. It includes the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the village of Deir el-Medina, two large well-preserved remains of the Temples of Luxor and Karnak, and scores of other smaller ruins.
The city of Agra, India, is home to two of India's greatest tourist attractions - the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. The Red Fort, also known as Agra Fort, was constructed in the middle 16th century for the Mughal emperor Akbar. It gets its name from the red sandstone which is the principle construction material. The Taj Mahal was famously constructed as a mausoleum for his favorite wife by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (grandson of Akbar), but it also holds his own body. Built of white marble inlaid with multi-colored mosaics, the Taj Mahal is beautifully preserved and widely considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
The Piazza del Miracoli in Pisa, Italy, is home to the Pisa Cathedral, its campanile - the Leaning Tower of Pisa - and the Pisa Baptistry. The cathedral was consecrated in the early 11th century followed by the Baptistry in 1363. The campanile was completed in 1372, but its faulty foundations have caused it to lean since construction was started. The tilt has been as much as five degrees, but it has been stabilized and now leans by approximately four degrees.
The Great Wall of China is actually a series of defensive fortifications along the northern border of China that total to a length of over thirteen thousand miles. Some parts of the wall were erected as early as 200 BC, but the most well- known portions were built by the Ming Dynasty starting in the 14th century. The Great Wall served not only as a barrier to the Mongol hordes from the north, but also as a transportation path across the northern Chinese frontier.
Chandigarh is a planned city located in the Punjab area of northern India. The Capital Complex contains the government buildings for the States of Punjab and Haryana, including the High Court, Secretariat and National Assembly Buildings along with four monuments. The French architect Le Corbusier led the design team for the structures, which were completed in 1964.
The Pantheon is the centerpiece of Piazza Della Rotunda in Rome, Italy. Its origins are clouded, but there is general agreement that the building in its present form dates from between 100 - 200 AD. Originally constructed as a Roman temple, the Pantheon has been used as a Catholic church since 609 AD. For an ancient structure it is remarkably well-preserved, probably owing to continuous use throughout its history.
Most of the stone cladding that used to adorn the exterior of the building has been removed, leaving a rather crude façade exposed to the piazza. It is the interior of the building, however, that truly delights. A large, open oculus is situated at the apex of the domed ceiling. It admits the exterior elements to the interior space, rendering it as a sort of threshold experience - neither inside or outside - both sacred and profane.
Located in the desert southwest of Cairo, the pyramids and sphinx are an enduring mystery. Estimated to be nearly five thousand years old they were constructed between 2600 and 2500 BC as tombs and a funerary complex for the ruling class of the ancient Egyptian empire.
The Giza pyramid complex includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Great Sphinx of Giza, several smaller pyramids, the remnants of a worker village and various cemeteries. The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the seven ancient wonders of the world, and the only one still in existence.
The National Parliament House in Dacca, Bangladesh, was designed by American architect Louis Kahn. It was opened in 1982 after over twenty-years of construction. Kahn did not live to see its completion. The building is made of concrete and brick - materials that were available locally, and it features assembly means and methods (marble slabs between the concrete lifts, arched openings in the masonry walls etc.) that were suitable to the available construction talent.
Sainte Marie de La Tourette is a priory of the Dominican order, situated on a hillside near Lyon, France. It was designed by the architect Le Corbusier and completed in 1961 - his final work. Experientially, the building compares to Ronchamp Chapel, in that the initial approach is apparently barred by an opaque wall that turns out to conceal light sources that mark the completion of a progression to the main chapel. However, this structure is set above the landscape, rather than welded into it, which makes it all the more remarkable that it seems perfectly comfortable in its situation.
Gerhard Kallman, my thesis advisor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, once told me, 'To experience great architecture is profound, but to listen to great music while experiencing great architecture is sublime.'
Maybe, but there are wonders of the natural world that can also be transcendent, elevating the spirit majestically. These can be discovered haphazardly on, a camping trip in the Grand Canyon or during sunset in an airliner over Malaysia. They can be shrines attracting millions of visitors or isolated incidences in the fiords of southeastern Alaska. Either way, one never walks away from them unchanged.
Notre-dame du haut, better known as Ronchamp Chapel, is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage church located in Ronchamp, France. It was designed by the architect Le Corbusier and built in 1955. The chapel is situated at the top of a hill enjoying panoramic views of the distant Jura Mountains. The approach to the site winds up the hill from the south, but does not permit a view of the building until the end of the progression, when it is presented as a closed wall-like form resembling a French nun's hat. Only upon circumnavigating and entering the chapel from the north is the wall revealed as a light admitting element that defines the sacred space within.
Angel Falls, named after American aviator Jimmy Angel who first flew over it in 1933, is the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the world. It plunges more than three thousand feet over Auyán-tepui mountain in Canaima National Park in central eastern Venezuela. Visitors access it from Canaima camp, a settlement located on the Carrao River which runs through the park.
Gordon Bunshaft, of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, designed the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library to serve as the rare book and literary archive of the Yale University Library in New Haven, Connecticut. It opened in 1963. Marble panels protect the volumes within, taking advantage of the translucent quality of the stone to allow a subdued light to penetrate the interior space.
It has long been part of an architect's education to embark at some point during or after formal training on a tour of the notable architectural structures of the time. I never had the opportunity to travel internationally prior to my twenty-eighth year, but I took seriously the idea of a Grand Tour, and I have endeavored over the past forty years to make up for my early shortcoming. It quickly became clear that the joys of travel are not limited to the structures of humanity, but also include natural wonders, delightful places whether artificial or man-made, wildlife either domestic or tame and, of course, people. All of these marvels have revealed themselves during my personal version of the Grand Tour, and I intend to share them through photographs and sketches.
The images above were all captured or created by the author during more than one hundred trips across six continents, three oceans, fifty countries, hundreds of cities and countless parks and preserves. So far ….