15 March 2019

Changing The Way We See

Award-winning modernist architect Frank Harmon shares his delight in ordinary places and everyday objects in his new book.
ORO Editions, publisher

Four months ago, ORO Editions, Publishers of Architecture, Art and Design, released Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See, a new book by celebrated North Carolina architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, that has been called “a masterful legacy on all levels,” and ”a delightful book, destined to charge the way we see the world,”  among other statements of praise. 
Now in its second printing,
Native Places is a collection of 64 watercolor sketches with which Harmon has been filling small sketchbooks for decades, paired with brief essays about architecture, landscape, everyday objects, and nature. The sketches convey the delight he finds in ordinary places and objects. The 200-word essays, inspired by the sketches, offer his fresh interpretations of what his readers probably take for granted. His mission, he says, is to “change the way we see.”

Frank Harmon alone with his sketchbook.
Architect, author, professor, lecturer, mentor, and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Frank Harmon is well known for the sustainable modern buildings he has designed across the Southeast for 30 years. His work engages pressing contemporary issues, including “placelessness,” sustainability, and the restoration of cities and nature.

Harmon’s buildings are specific to their region and sites and use materials such as hurricane-felled cypress and rock from local quarries to connect his buildings to their landscapes. Airy breezeways, outdoor living spaces, deep overhangs, and wide lawns embody the vernacular legacy of the South while maintaining Harmon’s distinguished modernism.

When his wife, landscape architect Judy Harmon, succumbed to cancer five years ago, Harmon began searching for something to focus on besides his grief. The idea for using an existing watercolor sketch from one of his sketchbooks to inspire a 200-250-word essay soon emerged. That idea became his now-popular online journal NativePlaces.org, a online assemblage of thoughts and hand-drawn sketches that illustrate the value of looking closely at buildings and places.

Along with publishing the sketch-essay pairings online, he emails them every two weeks or so to his thousands of subscribers across the U.S. and beyond “to give people something quiet in their morning inboxes amongst the deluge of emails, he says.

On the book’s back cover is a supporting comment by nationally renowned architect Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, of Fayetteville, Arkansas: “Native Places provides a reflective pause in my busy day to consider the humanity in buildings and places I find my sense of hope and possibility renewed in these simple, evocative drawings and the wisdom that accompanies them.”

A vase, a vine, a sketch by Frank Harmon
When asked why he decided to create a book out of the sketches and essays, Harmon smiled. Because so many people kept asking me, When are you going to make Native Places into a book?’ ”

Native Places also promotes Harmon’s belief that hand drawing is not an obsolete skill that sketching offers an opportunity to develop “a natural grace in the way we view the world and take part in it.”

During his presentation at book-signing events, Harmon relates how he discovered “a long time ago that if I took a photograph of a place I would forget it. “But if I sketched it, I remembered that place forever.”

Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See is available on Amazon and in many independent bookstores. For more information on the book and its author, visit the website – nativeplacesthebook.com – and Facebook page.  

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