I knew I wanted to travel to Asia and India because I had already been to Rome and Europe and I wanted to see some of the other two-thirds of architectural history. I got a lot of advice on this from one of my instructors, Alexander Purves, who had mentored me on Surrealism. I wanted to spend as much time as my money would allow. In the end I spent three months in India and one month each in Indonesia and Japan. I would have liked to get into Iran.
I was interested in Surrealism and the kind of walks they took in a semi-dreamlike state. I wanted to do something like this in Asia. I was not so much interested in historical accounts, but I read a lot of fiction from Kipling to Naipaul. The biggest impact on me was seeing how architecture was not separate from culture the way it sometimes seems here in the West. Although I saw overwhelming poverty in India, there was still the sense that culture and history, architecture included, still had an integral role in daily life. My struggle was to know whether this was accurate or whether it was just my foreign eyes.
I was gone for over seven months. That was a long time, and I really needed to stretch my dollars. I was traveling alone, and I went as cheaply as I could. Sometimes this didn’t work too well and I had things stolen. By the end of the trip I looked pretty emaciated. It was even worse in Japan than in India because everything was so expensive. I slept outside illegally a number of times because it was just too much money doing anything else.
I know that my travel experience really shaped me. For example, I have a lot of foreign clients, particularly many who are Asian. I think part of my ability to do work that satisfies these clients comes from my being able to approach them in a broader cultural way. I know that there has been a formal influence on my work. In a Thai restaurant I did in Oak Brook, for example, the spaces I saw in Asia were influential and I used a kind of metal canopy that was influenced by the things I saw in markets in Asian cities. My experience has made me a firm believer in travel as an educational experience, for an architect particularly, not to copy what one sees, but to throw a spin on one’s own perspective.
- From an interview 20 July, 1996