James Beyer Photography

The Grand Tour Travelogue (Later Posts at Top - Scroll to Bottom for Introduction)

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.

Ryoan-ji Water Garden - May, 1984
Ryona-ji Water Garden - May, 1984
Ryoan-ji Temple, May, 1984
Cherry Blossoms at Ryoan-ji - May, 1984
Rock Garden at Ryoan-ji - May, 1984
Ryoan-ji Temple - May, 1984

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.

Shimmering In The Desert - December, 2016
Boiler Tower - December, 2016
Boiler Tower Heat Collector - December, 2016
Heliostats - December, 2016
Inferno - December, 2016
Machine In The Garden - December, 2016

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.

Fishing Village - June, 1986
Village on Stilts - June, 1986
Fishing Weirs - June, 1986
Ramshackle Huts - June, 1986
Walkway Planking - June, 1986
Houses on Stilts - June, 1986
Frontage - June, 1986

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.

Plan (by Walter L. Spiers)
Elevation - April, 1983
Dining Room - April, 1983
Library - April, 1983
Library - April, 1983
Sculpture Studio - April, 1983
Sculpture Studio & Dome - April, 1983
Grotto - April, 1983
Artifacts - April, 1983
Drawing Room - April, 1983

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.

Frank Lloyd Wright Portrait at Taliesin West - February, 2016
View From Courtyard - February, 2016
Architecture Integral With Nature - February, 2016
Studio Wing - February, 2016
Butt Glass Detail - February, 2016
Sculptural Ornamentation - February, 2016
Ornamentation Detail - February, 2016
Bell Tower - February, 2016
Use of Natural Materials - February, 2016
Detail of Material Intersection - February, 2016
Residence - February, 2016
Auditorium - February, 2016
Dragon Gas Lamp - February, 2016
Dining Area - February, 2016

Jantar Mantar, literally "calculation instrument," 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.

Description Plaque, Jaipur Jantar Mantar - November, 1986
Rasivalayas Yantra, Jaipur - November, 1986
Jaya Prakash Yantra, Jaipur - November, 1986
Digamsa, Jaipur - November, 1986
Nadivalaya, Jaipur - November, 1986
Mishra Yanta, New Delhi - November, 1986
From Sketchbook - November, 1986
Ram Yantra, New Delhi - November, 1986

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.

Siena Cathedral - February, 1988
From Sketchbook - February, 1988
Facade of Siena Cathedral - February, 1988
Cathedral Interior - February, 1988
Cathedral Interior - February, 1988
From Sketchbook - February, 1988
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Palazzo Publico at Night - February, 1988
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Campo del Fiore & Palazzo Publico - February, 1988
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Campo del Fiore - February, 1988
Old Town Street - February, 1988

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.

Approach to Fallingwater - May, 1972
Entry to Fallingwater - May, 1972
Main Cantilever - May, 1972
Central Support - May, 1972
Overhangs - May, 1972
Bridge - May, 1972
Living Room - Circa August, 1983
Integrated Art - Circa August, 1983
Cantilever - May, 1972
Overview - Circa August, 1983
Undercroft - Circa August, 1983

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.

Qutab Minar, New Delhi - November, 1986
Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, New Delhi, India - November, 1986
Minaret & Adjacent Mosque - November, 1986
From Sketchbook - November, 1986


Minaret Detail - November, 1986

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.

Plan Diagram From Sketchbook - November, 1986
Sydney Opera House & Bridge - November, 1986
Sydney Opera House - November, 1986
From Sketchbook - November, 1986
Sydney Opera House - November, 1986
Sydney Harbor Bridge - November, 1986
From Sketchbook - November, 1986

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.

Temple of Hatsupshet - October, 1986
Temple of Luxor - October, 1986
From Sketchbook - October, 1986
Temple of Luxor - October, 1986
Temple of Luxor From Sketchbook - October, 1986
Ramses 2 - October, 1986
From Sketchbook - October, 1986
Temple of Karnak - October, 1986
Temple of Karnac From Sketchbook - October, 1986
Hypostyle Hall, Temple of Karnac - October, 1986
Detail of Temple of Karnac From Sketchbook - October, 1986

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.

Plan Diagram From Sketchbook - November, 1986
Battlement at Red Fort - November, 1986
View of Taj Mahal From The Red Fort - November, 1986
Taj Mahal From A Distance - November, 1986
Taj Straight-On - November, 1986
Taj Mahal Close-Up - November, 1986
Detail of Mosaic Inlay, Taj Mahal - November, 1986
Sunset View, Taj Mahal - November, 1986

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.

Pisa Cathedral - January, 1988
The Leaning Tower of Pisa - January, 1988
Pisa Baptistry - January, 1988
Side View of Cathedral - January, 1988

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.

The Great Wall of China - August, 1986
The Great Wall of China - August, 1986
The Great Wall of China - August, 1986
Great Wall of China - August, 1986
Great Wall of China - August, 1986

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.

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From Sketchbook - November, 1986
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High Court for Punjab & Haryana / Chandigarh, India - November, 1986
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Chandigarh National Assembly Building - November, 1986
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Assembly Building Roof Detail - November, 1986
Chandigarh Secretariat - November, 1986

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.

The Pantheon in Piazza Della Rotunda - February, 1985
The Dome of the Pantheon - February, 1985
Sunspot - February, 198
Sketch of Pantheon Dome - February, 1985

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.

Great Pyramid of Giza - October, 1986
From Sketchbook - October, 1986
Great Sphinx of Giza - October, 1986
Giza Evening Silhouette - November, 1986
From Sketchbook - October, 1986

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.

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Plan of Assembly Complex (from Sketchbook) - November, 1982
Exterior View from South - November, 1982
Grotto Beneath Main Entry - November, 1982
I Asked The Brick What It Wanted To Be. The Brick Said, "I Like An Arch." - November, 1982
Marble Slabs Mark Concrete Form Joints - November, 1982

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.

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Approach View - June, 1980
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View of Courtyard with Pilotis - June, 1980
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Interior View, Main Chapel - June, 1980

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. 

Mt. Fuji, Japan - November, 2013
First Light / Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska - August, 2021
View from Toroweep Point, Grand Canyon - April, 2009
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View From Palisades Creek, Grand Canyon - May, 1985
Sunset at 20,000 Feet Over Malaysia - June, 2012

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.

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Exterior View / South Side - June, 1980
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Exterior View / North Side - June, 1980
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Interior View - June, 1980

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.

Angel Falls - February, 1984
Canaima Camp and Canaima Lagoon - February, 1984

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.

Exterior View - October, 1978
Interior View - October, 1978

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 ….

All images © James E. Beyer