Archive for symbology

i c e l a n d

Posted in architecture, art, beauty, iceland, landscape, light, lighthouse, mountains, scent, senses, symbology, time, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by dacarc

the alchemy of a place


indescribable, dreamy, mystical, stunning, disorienting


the visible elements:

lush green fields rolling under jagged peaks, washed in swaths of violet lupine




stark glaciers falling into the ocean’s horizon







endless lava deserts, blanketed in thick moss




split chasms, cracked earth fissures


photo by tim girvin


milky blue lakes of steaming minerals, thrusting from deep underground





heavy timber structures emerging, of the earth, stone-walled, turf sheltered






rushing waterfalls, slicing over sheer rock mesas downward to the sea







mist-shrouded peaks, veiled mysteries




never-ending light, midnight sun


standing stones, cairns, and rock-circles





ice-shards, crystalline boulders streaming over black sand shores





ancient codes, runes, and magical sigals




bands of wild horses, roaming over lush green valleys




the people, shielded by the powers of their natural island-world








the invisible elements:

the scent of green, wet stone, salt-waters



the desolation of no-where




the absence of night








dark histories, volcanic destructions




the chilled misted, crystalline air




the heat of underground forces




a place of mystery


photo by tim girvin


a magic place






and the enduring strength of the people



i c e l a n d


the hand of fatima in morocco

Posted in architecture, morocco, symbology, travel with tags , , , on December 13, 2008 by dacarc

In Istanbul a few years ago, I was exploring the amazing collection of old artwork and calligraphy in a little shop nearby the grand bazaar, and a small well-worn silver talisman caught my eye.  It looks and feels like someone has stroked it so many times that the silver has started to slowly melt.  The edges of the form of the hand have softened to an organic shape, and the pattern detail is nearly dissolved. 

talisman from istanbul

turkish talisman

I’ve worn the talisman on a silk cord around my neck since then, and kept my eye out for others like that – but I had not seen any.  Today I’m in Marrakech, and there are many of these symbols – everywhere.  Mostly they are mass produced tourist trinkets in thin stamped metal with a fake stone mounted in the center, the eye.  Nothing in the character of these objects is captivating – except for the idea that they have a powerful symbolic meaning. 

the souks of marrakech

the souks of marrakech

There is the captivation of the place – the souks – an endless labyrinth of shops.  At first it’s overwhelming – the chaos of motorcycles, bicycles, hand carts, and people of amazing diversity.  Discoveries emerge as you immerse, and go deeper — patterns, layers under layers of what is sensed, seen, tasted, scented.  The hand talisman are found in every small jewelry collection in hundreds of shops.
marrakech souk - jewelry shop

marrakech souk - jewelry shop

essaouira - souk jewelry collection

essaouira - souk jewelry collection

In this part of the world the symbol is called The Hand of Fatima, and links back beyond ancient Egypt; its meaning represents both power and protection, on the temporal plane as well as the spiritual. The hand works, it creates, it guides, it protects.  The symbol is also known as khamsa and the Eye of Fatima in Islamic tradition. The Hand of Fatima is made in the form of talisman, amulets, jewelry and architectural details. Although predating Islam, the symbol has been widely assimilated into Islamic art and popular culture.  There is also a symbolic link to the number 5, five fingers, the five pillars of Islam.

And when you keep looking you find it in more places.
marrakech - spice shop

marrakech - spice shop

And more places – as a protection…
essaouira port

essaouira port

ourika valley - the shadow of the atlas mountains

ourika valley - the shadow of the atlas mountains

And as a greeting, a way of entering…
marrakech - door

marrakech - door

All individually crafted by hand, sculpted metals with all variations of finish, texture, form, pattern, color, and composition with the door and it’s hardware – carefully displayed works of art, design, identity – punctuating the pink earth and stone walls of the city.  A small detail discovered in the amazing complexity and richness of this place. 
A few of them made their way home with me, along with the collection of images.  There are many meanings I think about as I study these, the hand as an eye – a way of seeing, as a way of connecting to others and to the world, as an opening of the individual spirit to the universal, as a tool of making, of loving, of being, human.
paris boutique window

paris boutique window

trees, architecture + magic

Posted in architecture, dreams, japan, java, landscape, retail design, symbology, time, travel, trees with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by dacarc

This spring, some generous and inspirational colleagues of mine asked me to participate in a creative event – Pecha Kucha – “chit chat” in Japanese – a rolling simultaneous global event happening in cities like tokyo, berlin, paris, sydney, seattle.  Artists, designers, architects, and all creative spirits gather and share their inspiration – in a presentation of 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide – 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  That’s it – everything else is up to you.  I savored the opportunity to talk about my love of trees and architecture, and here is just the beginning – just the 6 minutes and 40 seconds, more, to come..


My earliest and deepest childhood memories are entwined with trees.  I remember wandering through the forest for hours, tumbling down ravines and inhaling the fragrance of deep forest earth.  I remember climbing to the tops of young birch saplings to see how flexible and resilient they could be, before they might snap.  This is where I spent my first 6 years, in the richly layered forest of our 20 acres.


aspen dew - sun valley
aspen dew – sun valley

I spent hours observing the world from our tree-house in the backyard garden, watching spiders weave their web-nets between the branches.  And there was gazing at the sky through tree-canopies and their endless patterns and interactions with light.  By the time I was 5 years old, after my first attraction to the color red (as in red shiny shoes and ribbons and dresses), green was imbued into the color of my spirit – the green of a broad newly sprung leaf backlit by sunlight. 


bird catcher - bali
bird catcher – bali

The woods were full of wonder, but there was a darkness there, too – an element of danger – there was an old man living in a log cabin (a tree structure), in one of the patches of forest in “the murmuring pines” suburb of Portland where we moved to when I was 6 years old. There were so many things I learned and explored within the canopy of those murmurings.  There were mysterious rustlings, unseen creatures, and spiders, too. 


fir forest - decatur
fir forest – decatur

There was also the story of why my grandfather was missing 2 fingers from his right hand – from the falling of a widow-maker branch on his hand while he was carrying an axe on his shoulder, having finished a day of logging trees in Ryderwood, Washington – the logging town where my father was born, and only a few miles from my own birthplace of Castle Rock, Washington.


cascade fir-spirits
cascade fir-spirits

I had spent hours being coerced to sit in church every Sunday, but I was daydreaming about the forest while the sermon droned on endlessly, about why anyone who wasn’t in church that day was going to burn in hell – I was magnetized by the graceful arches of bent beam timbers overhead, and framed the stained glass windows – like that sunlight through tree canopies. 


tree heart - decatur gloaming
tree heart – decatur gloaming

I never really felt closer to god in church, but I was always drawn to that magical meeting of the highest reach of the tree to the sky. There was a book I read about the life story of a 1000 year old tree, written in the tree’s voice, and that fed my imagination that trees were old, enlightened beings, that I would eventually become a tree.


ents! lord of the rings
ents! lord of the rings

Then I studied more, and played more, with trees.  I climbed them, jumped out of them, swung off of them, inhaled them, kissed under them, listened to them, and created fantasy worlds within them.  Stories like the Lord of the Rings, where the Ents (ancient tree spirits) could be aroused and become mobilized armies


fig trunk - delhi, india

fig trunk - delhi, india

and the wizard of oz where they could be evil and attack you, but trees only seem to go to war in retaliation for your abuse and assumption that they were yours to pick from. And then there was heartbreaking story “the giving tree” by shel silverstein, the story of a boy whose life consumes the tree, slowly, until he is an old man sitting on the stump that is left, all of the giving from the tree of it’s life for his happiness, with joy.


enchantment lakes - north cascades
enchantment lakes – north cascades

As I made that awkward transition from girl to woman, I sought refuge under their canopies, inhaling the deep scents of cedar, pine, earth, roots.  We spent summers backpacking in the north cascades wilderness areas, dazled by the stunning beauty of larch trees and granite cathedrals.


mevlevi gravestone tree - istanbul
mevlevi gravestone tree – istanbul

I felt the very same pull, the force of attraction to architecture – but at first, the connection to my love of the forest, and architecture was obscure.  Maybe my career has been built on the sacrifice of trees – creating buildings from them, clearing forests for those buildings, too.  And in earlier days, there was only an underlying consciousness to the idea of sustainability. 


blue mosque minaret - istanbul
blue mosque minaret – istanbul

It seems that if you look for a pattern, a number, a symbol, it then appears everywhere you look.  In my studies of architectural history there were certainly obvious links to trees, forests, and architecture.  One book that makes the striking parallels is “architecture, nature and magic”, by William Lethaby -a beautiful concise book on the history and symbology of architecture.


aya sofia - istanbul
aya sofia – istanbul

Beginning with the concept of the world fabric, lethaby opens with our modern challenge “at the inner heart of ancient building were wonder worship magic and symbolism: the motive of ours must be human service, intelligible structure, and verifiable science.”


gangtey gonpa monastery - bhutan
gangtey gonpa monastery – bhutan

“agreed by competent scholars that a common early explanation of the earth and the heavens was that there was a central stem and that the revolving sky was sustained by its branches”.  The most ancient dwellings in Europe and Egypt were round structures with a central post toward which the roof would rise – cut from a tree or sometimes built around a living tree.  The idea of a column was inseparable from that of a tree.  Thus it was that columns came to have capitals of foliage and reeded stems.


leaf city
leaf city

And there is Paolo Portoghesi’s book “nature and architecture” there are too many references to review in 20 second — here is one example of the structural model that trees give to us in city planning – a great leap of scale from the microscopic structure of a leaf to the aerial view of this Italian city.  This book is densely packed with wonderful examples of architecture modeled from nature.


cherry blossoms - tokyo
cherry blossoms – tokyo

Working in Japan a few years ago, my resonance with trees and architecture became powerfully entwined.  My client was enlisted by the Japanese government and leading banks to restructure and re-birth a failing retail brand, SOGO.  One night I was whisked away from the never-ending meetings over to a long serpentine section of the ancient imperial palace grounds moat, at the peak of the cherry tree bloom – a national event celebrated by thousands.  I became partly japanese as I joined the collective sighs of thousands as a slight breeze showered blossoms over us in the up lit night sky.


sogo shinsaibashi - osaka
sogo shinsaibashi – osaka

I ran miles across town the next morning to wander again among the hundreds of ancient trees, and they then became a symbol of rebirth in both the project and my life, and in my connection to the people of Japan.  We splayed branches and blossoms over the façade, in the stone floors, the railings, layering in ginkgo leaves for the added connection to the tree-lined boulevard of Shinsaibashi, and in tying the people of the community with the symbology of rebirth, prosperity and longevity. 


seibu jakarta
seibu jakarta

The completion of that work led me to Jakarta, where the Indonesian owner of Seibu asked us to create a new flagship as this Japanese brand entered the market.  Surprising that an American designer is enlisted to create a Japanese store in Indonesia..

We came closer to creating the depth and layering of a forest – creating a true envelope of branches, leaves, blossoms – the effusive nature of the Indonesian culture infused this work with an energy unique to it’s people, their incredible craftsmen and willingness to make anything you could imagine. 


bamboo forest - kyoto
bamboo forest – kyoto

And in exploring the idea of enveloping, the forest has become a powerful symbol of the difference in form and object making, but rather creating architecture – space – environments for the human theatre of activity.  In this profound little book, “the eyes of the skin” by juhani pallasmaa, we architects are accused of creating places with frontal/object driven perception – not understanding the power of peripheral vision – and sound – like the mystical sounds of the bamboo forest in Kyoto.


prayer flag veil - chele la pass, bhutan
prayer flag veil – chele la pass, bhutan

I’ve spent hours fascinated with this amazing book, “the meaning of trees” by fred hagenede – the archetypes and symbology of trees are universally linked to spiritual meanings across cultures and religions all over the world.  Where would we be without eve and that apple tree?  Would we care that H.H. the Dalai Lama is coming to seattle today if the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama hadn’t achieved enlightenment while sheltering under the bodhi tree?


tree and me shadow
tree and me shadow

grateful, to all who have walked along this path, who share this connection of beauty, wonder, and deep inspiration – and the love of trees.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a
green thing that stands in the way.  Some see Nature all ridicule and
deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all.  But to the eyes of the
man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.
–  William Blake, 1799, The Letters