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Frank Harmon

‘Native Places’ is more than a book; it’s a devotional

Review by Eleanor Spicer Rice, Ph.D.

Frank Harmon

Carolina Wren by Frank Harmon

When marveling over Columbus, Indiana’s city structure, Frank Harmon points to the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s view that “architecture belongs to culture, not civilization.” In Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See, architecture belongs to Frank Harmon, and he gives it to us like a gift.

Each page of Native Places pairs one of Harmon’s charming illustrations with a vignette of his perspective, which magnifies the small (a Carolina wren perched on an excavator, for example), shrinks the large (Kansas and Georgia landscapes seen from an airplane window), and reveals the astonishing, functional beauty of each.

Like a child picking up fistfuls of seemingly commonplace stones, Harmon gathers places in all their forms and meanings and thoughtfully lays them in his book, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and everyday life takes on a new texture and meaning.

In Native Places, architectural marvels can be obvious, like Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn at the University of Virginia, but they also can be the often-unnoticed quotidian, like window boxes along London’s streets. After all, great architects draw lasting monoliths, or they hammer planks on sensible barns. The resulting effect is an enrichment of the reader’s everyday experience, a wonderment over the human hand-sized bricks that stack up to form our homes or the bats roosting beneath the soffits.

Frank Harmon

Window boxes in London by Frank Harmon

Native Places is more than a book; it’s a devotional. The reader can pick it up and open to any page to find a complete and renewing story. It can be read in chunks or a page at a time. It can wait beautifully and patiently for casual readers on their coffee tables, or it can be an important bedside staple.

One last, but important feature of Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See is its author. As shorebirds and dustpans have made impressions on him, people across the world have experienced Harmon’s influence as an architect. Harmon’s architectural contributions include the AIANC building, his award-winning residences, and years as a sought-after professor at NC State University. The opportunity to explore a legendary influencer’s perception is a brilliant delight, one guaranteed to leave the reader feeling gratified and with a revitalized sense of awe, if we take the time to look.

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Eleanor Spicer Rice, Ph.D., is Senior Science Editor for Verdant Word, specializing in communicating scientific ideas to a popular audience. 

 

Native Places

Review: How the Quick Daily Drawing Puts Humanity Back into Architecture

Native Places

(“Back to the Future in London” by Frank Harmon)

From COMMON \ EDGE by Michael J. Crosbie

First published Oct. 23, 2018

Architect Frank Harmon has a discipline: he tries to do a freehand drawing every day. He doesn’t spend much time on them. About five minutes. These short spurts of depiction have the effect of catching lightning in a bottle or, as Virginia Woolf once said about the importance of writing every day, “to clap the net over the butterfly of moment.” To capture these moments you must be fast. The minute moves. Harmon’s drawings feel loose, fuzzy at the edges. You sense their five-minute duration.

Architecture students often are terrified of the quick sketch because of this very looseness, a sense of relaxed attentiveness. They strive to make a “pretty” drawing instead of netting the butterfly. The pretty drawing is evidence of detailed observation, perhaps one’s skill in constructing perspective, the control of the instrument in your hand. But that’s not the point of Harmon’s drawings. Their freeness communicates a different value and goal: to be in the moment, sketching swiftly to seize the scene as it unfolds before you. Harmon’s flickering hand imparts great energy to his drawings, which are less documentary and more like a visual embrace—the kiss of his ink pen and watercolor brush.

Harmon has collected scores of his drawings in a new book, Native Places (ORO Editions, 2018)… READ THE FULL REVIEW