Photo & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
I live in a box. Most people do. Some live in tents, and many are homeless but the box model holds for I think the majority of people on Earth. Box’s are practical. They keep rain and snow off my head, which I really appreciate, My appreciation of architecture is quite different.
Just as Disneyland got me interested in photography as a young child by instructing me to take pictures of certain vistas. I think my first contact with unusual architecture was at Disneyland. This was expanded and re-enforced when my family began going to World’s Fairs. I attended the Seattle Fair in 62 and the New York World’s Fair in 64 with my parents. I attended Expo 67 in Montreal with my uncle Gilbert (Gib) Beatson, who designed the Western Canada Pavilion at that fair. That was the fair that really opened my eyes to what was architecturally possible. Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome for the US Pavilion and the tent-like German pavilion were as far from boxes as buildings can get. Uncle Gib’s pavilion started out flat, like the prairies, and then rose mountainously, evoking the Rockies. Symbolic architecture.
Churches and religious sites, in general, are symbolic architecture. I saw lots of good ones in Europe but got tired of them after a while. I was highly impressed by Notre Dame on my first two trips to Paris (the stained glass windows in particular) but didn’t bother to visit it on my most recent trip, though it was a few meters from my hotel. Cathedrals were built to inspire faith, and maybe they still do in some people. The most I’ve ever been affected by a religious institution was on Mt. Hiei. As my family walked up the mountain on a visit to Kyoto in 1979, I would see parts of a temple as we walked around the Mt. First one part from one vista, then another part as we walked further. Like the temple was playing Peek-a-boo with us. I like architecture that plays with my senses.
I recently read an article called “Don’t Judge a Building by its Walls, architecture is about space and how it feels,” by Noah Charney at Salon.com. In the article, Noah argues that we can feel great architecture when we are within it. This may well be true. Ideally, a building is inspiring both within and without, and human brains are attuned to such things, just as humans are attuned to music: we know when it’s out of tune. I found this to be true in my favorite building in Vancouver, Arthur Erickson’s UBC Museum of Anthropology. Looks great from the outside too. But in my experience, this is rarely the case. Although Vancouver is blessed with numerous examples of Erickson’s architecture, I’m told by students of the Erickson-designed Simon Fraser University that it’s rather oppressive to actually attend classes in the building, however great it looks from the outside. The court buildings also look great, but it’s the place where people are convicted of serious crime. Do we want to feel good about that?
On the basis of the two of his buildings I’ve visited, Frank Gehry is my favorite living architect, and the favorite of many other architecture fans as well. His Experience Music Project in Seattle and his newer Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris are stunning from without and at least full of interesting exhibits. Someday I hope to see his most famous building, The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. I’ve had the good fortune to visit the original Guggenheim in NYC by Gehry’s predecessor in architectural fame, Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as Wright’s Robie House in Chicago, Great architecture is the gift that never stops giving, at least to me. Architecture is the main motivating factor in my travels, although due to the cost of such travel, I’ll probably have to settle for just seeing pictures of buildings I’d most love to see. However, North Vancouver seems to have discovered the interesting architecture of late. I now have to only walk a few blocks to see inspiring buildings, almost as if I were in Europe. I hope this trend continues.