Native Places

Drawing as a Way to See

Non-Fiction - General
168 Pages
Reviewed on 10/15/2019
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Author Biography


Frank Harmon, FAIA, has designed sustainable modern buildings across the Southeast for 30 years. He discovered architecture as a child playing in the streams and woods of his native Greensboro, North Carolina. His work engages pressing contemporary issues such as “placelessness,” sustainability, and the restoration of cities and nature. His buildings are specific to their region and use materials such as hurricane-felled cypress and rock from local quarries to connect the structure to its landscape. Airy breezeways, outdoor living spaces, deep overhangs, and wide lawns embody the vernacular legacy of the South while maintaining a distinguished modernism.

Frank is a graduate of the Architectural Association in London and a professor at the North Carolina State University College of Design. A recipient of the F. Carter Williams Gold Medal, he has taught at the Architectural Association and has served as a visiting critic at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and Auburn University’s renowned Rural Studio.

A noted writer and illustrator, Frank uses hand-drawn sketches and mini-essays to examine the relationship between nature and built structures in his online project Nativeplaces.org and in his new critically acclaimed book, NATIVE PLACES: DRAWING AS A WAY TO SEE.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite

Native Places: Drawing as a Way to See by Frank Harmon is a fascinating book that will give a new perspective on the places we come from and the lives we lead. The author helps us realize that home is just not the place we come from but it is the place where our hearts reside. The 64 watercolor sketches and the descriptions of the usual places looked at through the author's eyes are aesthetic and will make us enjoy and appreciate the world outside our windows that we usually tend to ignore. 'There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.' Gustave Flaubert's quote aptly captures the beauty in our surroundings, be these normal or unusual. This book is a good tool to transform the way we look at everything that exists and teach us to look for the beauty that is inherent around us.

We often ignore the simplicity and beauty that is in abundance everywhere, and reading this book is a good way to remind us to make time to soak up the beauty of nature and buildings around us. The sketches and descriptions are simple, artistic, and creative. Divided into seven chapters (Places, Nature, Shape and Color, Behind the Façade, Time, Friendly Objects, and Unclaimed Luggage), each chapter reveals the author's artistic vision when it comes to looking at the natural world around him. It an excellent book with a fabulous collection of sketches, and descriptions that are inspiring and uplifting when it comes to looking at everything that exists.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Sketching is a fine art of suggestibility and essence, and it is not properly relegated only to the physical artist. In writing, sketching is done with quick vignettes, following the same imperatives: Suggesting briefly, catching the essence, engaging the imagination. In Native Places, a most wonderful compilation and combination of physical and written sketches about life and place, Frank Harmon adds this personal observation: “But if I sketched it, I remembered that place forever.” Harmon is an architect. As such, he has a keen eye for the manner in which human beings reveal themselves in their buildings, including as equally important the manner in which they “context” these structures within gardens, trees, and other unique local environments. “I learned to trust the particular over the general, in many ways like writers who are more attuned to the particular.”

Frank Harmon’s observational eye is equal to his conceptual one and in Native Places he makes profoundly relevant observations about life and place. “Historians usually ignore what we’ve come to know as the vernacular. Yet the motives of the makers of vernacular buildings and places are practical, and the result is often aesthetic.” Chew on that one for a while, and appreciate the power of what Harmon refers to as “ordinariness”. Spending quality time with the lovely sketches in this book – both physical and conceptual, painted and written – is like attending to daily meditations about spiritual matters, but without the guilt or sense of obligation. What remains is the pure, essential pleasure, if brief, of human celebration.