Architecture embodies a response to place. To see a site with fresh eyes, to gain understanding of the character, rhythm and energy of that place, is a necessity for great architects.

As with most skills, practice helps improve ability. Seeing and responding to new sites helps to distil our observations. I have used a trip to India this summer to practice seeing, to try and capture the feeling and rhythms of place through both photography and sketching. Each medium captures a different quality of a space. A photograph takes an instant in time, the light, energy and colour. Sketching requires you to slow down, stop and become absorbed. A sketch can be a quick impression or a detailed study, both will record the essence of your impression of place.

River: near Rajahmundry

The river was wide and calm. Sandy banks flanked its sides with rugged mountains dictating the curves and bends of its course. This sketch focuses on the soft hazy colours of the landscape and day. The mountains, wide river and sandy banks blend with each other to express the calm balanced atmosphere of the river.

Agra: The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is as impressive as it is hyped up to be. None of my drawings or photos come close to capturing the essence of the truly incredible place. My sketch is from a rooftop outside of the walls. Drawing, I learned, is prohibited inside the grounds. The sketch attempts to contrast the low, crowded and chaotic city with the spacious and majestic Taj beyond.

Varanasi: The holiest Hindu City in India

Varanasi: From the River Ganges

In Varanasi, the two mediums capture different aspects of this holy Hindu City. The sketch contrasts the dense built city with the openness of the wide river. The overwhelming city breathes (and every other aspect of life and death) where it meets the water. The photo takes a moment of the morning rituals of the city. It captures the color and movement always present where the river and city meet.

Rishikesh: The foothills of the Himalayas

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the pace of India slowed. Rishikesh is located where the River Ganges first flows out of the mountains. The mountains and the river dominate the landscape of the town that clings to each side of the steep riverbanks. This sketch picks out the orange color denoting the Hindu temples. The only other hue is of the mountains behind, towering over the temples and mimicking their peaks. The city merges into the rocky banks of the river which flows below, reflecting the stillness of the sky.

The impressions of India that I have taken home with me depict a vast and at times overwhelming country. The places where I sat and sketched allowed me to connect to the places, cultures and people that I was visiting.

When architects connect to the places that they visit, it enables them to design in ways that enrich and highlight the currents existing in that place. The application of this ‘seeing’ of a place for residential architects allows us to observe the rhythms and culture of families, and to design homes that enrich and engage with the life of the family.