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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 by Frank Harmon

NEWS&OBSERVER: “Architect’s signature drawings go beyond art. They tell stories of the world around us.”

Native Places by Frank Harmon

BY J. MICHAEL WELTON

Raleigh architect Frank Harmon sketches at least once a day, in a style that’s best described as economical. His lines are spare, a squiggle inserted here or there for punctuation and a splash of color added for emphasis.

“There are as few gestures as possible to capture a multi-layered spirit,” says New York Tod Williams in an interview about Harmon’s work. “There’s almost always an element of landscape and something out of the ordinary and something extraordinary. A world emerges.”

A selection of 64 of his drawings, with equally thoughtful essays to accompany them, are in a new book called “Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See.” They’re taken from Harmon’s online collection of sketches and words in his “Native Places” blog. He makes at least one sketch a day, publishing many of them online for the past four years. READ MORE