Junipers in June – 2

JUNIPERS IN JUNE – 2

Mad scars o’ Madagascar

For Junipers in June – 1 click  here.

This blog has mostly been my escape from work, but since last month, I’ve decided to place certain stories from times related to travels due to it. Through my years both as an architect and landscape architect & planner in the last decade, I have been lucky to work in over 80 projects spread across over a dozen countries in five continents. I thank my lucky stars for the exposure it provided me to so many different countries and cultures, landscapes and urban realities, the textures of myriad earths, the scents of many-splendoured forests and the colours and chaos and calm of lands distant and warm, as well as close-by and pristine. There are so many stories, too many tales, so many tears and smiles…..life, despite its ups and downs, has been full, for various reasons and in myriad ways.

As I mentioned earlier, June is my birthday month, so I get to write more as an indulgence. No-holds bar ricocheting pen-prose for pleasure. So – yet another.

One of the most educative and adventurous projects I worked on (albeit the one in Kabul, Afghanistan takes the cake) was building a school for children in the African island of Madagascar, in 2002, in its capital city of Antananarivo, funded by the Aga Khan Development Network. Madagascar has a very unique one-of-a-kind flora and fauna system. An excerpt of its unique disposition in the natural world (from wiki):

The prehistoric breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot in which over 80% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on Earth. These are dispersed across a variety of ecoregions, broadly divided into eastern and south-central rain forest, western dry forests, southern desert and spiny forest. The island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are severely threatened by human settlement and traditional slash-and-burn practices (tavy) which have denuded Madagascar of 95% of its original forest cover. Under the administration of former President Marc Ravalomanana, the government of Madagascar partnered with the international community to implement large-scale conservation measures tied to ecotourism as part of the national development strategy. However, under Rajoelina’s caretaker government there has been a dramatic increase in illegal logging of precious woods and the poaching and sale of threatened species such as lemurs in Madagascar’s many national parks, several of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Below a few images from the conceptual design stage of the school….

For projects like these, I like to take inspiration from the land itself, its colors, smells, history, stories, unique constraints and opportunities, the dreams of the local people, their reality. And the contours, the climate and the specificities of the site itself. While I worked on both the architecture and landscape architecture, the following images are from the latter. The panels on the colors and patterns were made from images of the island’s unique endemic and often endangered species. The intention behind finding connections between shapes and patterns placed in the entry courts was to make the school into a literal ‘learning ground’ for the island’s future generation so they could appreciate the ecologic heritage they had inherited and stop the present slash-and-burn techniques of destruction. Each courtyard and school subset had its own theme – inspired by the island’s flora and fauna and its local handicrafts, woodwork and art, as well as the sentiments expressed in local folk poems. The connections seen in the various natural and man-made motifs of the island were incorporated into the design.

Click to enlarge, to read the text, and soak in the colors of this unique endangered island.   .

Colors and Patterns of Madagascar

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Landscape plan for the school, plant species selected and the reasons behind the selections. (Click to enlarge and read.)

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Sketches depicting the internal larger courtyards of the school (click to enlarge) In tropical / equatorial climates courtyards act not only as thermal insulators but as convenient linkages of connected safe open spaces between buildings.

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Entry court concept for the Nursery School (click to enlarge)

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Entry court concept for the Primary School (click to enlarge)

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Entry court concept for the Secondary School (click to enlarge)

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Principal court concept between the Administrative block, recreational facilities and the High School (click to enlarge)

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Thinking in Pictures

Various Places – 2009.

[Travels from last year. Not quite as off-the-beaten-path as some other places I have been to. Last year was safer. No photos have been retouched, only three have been cropped and one has been desaturated. Click for zooms, should you fancy.]

The world's second longest town name. In Wales. (The longest name is in the Maori language, in New Zealand.) I took this photo while on a train and ferry ride from England to Ireland via Wales. For the pronunciation,go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cy-Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch_(Welsh_pronunciation,_recorded_17-05-2012).ogg

On a train and ferry ride from England to Ireland via Wales. The world’s second longest town name. (The longest name is in the Maori language, in New Zealand.) For the original Welsh pronunciation,go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cy-Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch_(Welsh_pronunciation,_recorded_17-05-2012).ogg

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The rugged 700 ft. high Cliffs of Moher (Irish: Aillte an Mhothair, lit. Cliffs of the Ruin) more than 300 million years old, on a rainy foggy day. Western seacoast of Ireland.

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A structural detail from the Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, Wisconsin, USA.

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Two separate art installations at the MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in the Berkshire Mountains, North Adams, USA

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Dublin, Ireland, an evening in July 2009, before a U2 concert (which I did not attend). Photo uploaded here exactly as I clicked it – no retouching. Really.

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Now THAT’s a first! A memorial in a prime location (under the London Eye) for its Technical Director & Senior Site Engineer Peter Koorevar. London, England. (Did you know that Clifford Milburn Holland died of overwork just days before the opening of the project for which he was the Chief Engineer – hence named the ‘Holland Tunnel’?)

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A billboard for the decades old annual Jazz Festival, Bombay (Mumbai), India. The recession in America has increased the number of western musicians and actors working in the Bombay music/film industry.

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Three time runaway bride Maria finally gets married. At a church in little Italy to the reception in a lake Ontario pavilion. August 2009,Toronto, Canada.  This is the youngest guest at the event – who knows that the best part of a big Italian wedding is the food, and not the protocols. The un-inhibition of innocence.

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I still like sitting on the upper deck right up front in London’s local buses. The best way to view the street. A used book store I long liked. No – it’s not the movie one. At Notting Hill, England. After a rain shower.

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The front view works for canoeing too. Calm waters in the everglades of the Florida keys, USA

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Kanchenjunga range of the Himalayas in Northern Sikkim, India. My favourite for mountaineering, apart from the Kumaon range. Its highest peak has a 28,169 ft elevation. The 2.75 sq. mile state of Sikkim has 11 official languages and is home to the red panda.

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Yep! THE original Starry Night of Van Gogh. Close up taken at MoMA, New York City

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Sculpture in front of the Salvador Dali Museum along the Thames river-walk. London, England.

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My father playing his Stradivarius. My first memories of him, perhaps even from the womb, are of him playing his violin. The Dad with the Strad. When I saw my parents in 2009 I made them tell me their entire story of love, courtship, elopement, marriage, trials, tribulations, togetherness. And it was beautiful how happy and excited they got as they narrated their tale full of plot twists and turns. He had wooed my mother by fiddling music for her when he first met her some fifty years ago. It was love at first sight, he said.

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After years of unnecessary bureaucratic squabbling, politics and red tape, the McGill Law Library (designed by architect Dan Hanganu) finally gets all its new renovations and design & structural revisions taken care of. 6 years of backlog politics solved in one year. It remains the only contemporary building in Montreal with red sandstone cladding. May 2009. Montreal, Canada.

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Marley the dog. Age 10 years; looking up from the floor of a cafe in Brooklyn, New York. Marley doesn’t do politics. She just eats, plays, sleeps. and loves. unconditionally.

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The Indo-Gothic spires on the building of the Baroda School of Architecture (the second oldest architecture school of that country), western India. November 2009.

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Elaborately decorated hand-crafted kiln-baked clay pots made on a potter’s wheel sold by a street vendor in a traditional art market in Gujarat, India. Pottery is the oldest export of the state, after textiles, for centuries. The pots are used for decorations in weddings and festivities. Each costs around 50 cents. In an upscale NYC boutique each would be priced anywhere from 50- 100$ upwards.

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Christmas decorations in front of the Apple Store on 5th Avenue, New York City.

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Sugar maple tree in early autumn, 2009, outside the MASS MoCA building, North Adams, Massachusetts, USA. The museum is the largest center for contemporary visual art and performing arts in the country and has 100,000 sq.ft of exhibition space.

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“The Magic Theatre. For madmen only.” A corner in my former apartment at the edge of the forest on the summit of Mount Royal, Montreal, Canada, early 2009.

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“To love. To be loved.   To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.  To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair.  To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.  To respect strength, never power.  Above all, to watch.  To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

More pictures: Thinking in Pictures – part deux : 1.1.11