Architect Jayakrishnan: All in the Line of Work

A.R. Jayakrishnan’s lines bring alive cityscapes from around the world

Architect A.R. Jayakrishnan draws inspiration from cityscapes. So much so that his wife, architect Chitra Nair, cribs that her husband never clicks a snap of hers. “He is an extremely good photographer but he focusses on buildings and landscapes, it is never people. In fact, if there is a person somewhere in the snap, it has probably been added to give a sense of dimension or proportion to the snap,” says Chitra, all smiles while her husband sheepishly pleads guilty. But over the last few years, JK, as he is known as, exchanged his camera for a pen and paper. And the lines are evident on the walls of their office space in Belhaven in Thiruvananthapuram.


Sketches of many landmarks in the city have been framed and put up on the walls alongside several awards for architecture won by the couple. “I always had a good hand and enjoyed sketching but as it happens with many people, once I left college, sketching took a backseat and I became a passionate photographer. I used to sketch but sporadically,” recalls JK.

JK2A chance meeting with South African architect Peter Rich changed his perspective and before he knew it, he was accompanying Rich on his sketching expeditions in different parts of India.

“I consider him as my guru. He had come to Thiruvananthapuram to see Laurie Baker’s buildings and we hit it off. Peter insists that sketching is the best way to understand a building and he is the reason why I took up my pen again to begin sketching seriously,” says JK. Chitra adds: “Photography, Peter feels, does not demand that kind of observation. Many a time, we click a photo and then forget about it. But he says when one draws the lines with your hand, there is a brain-hand connection that imprints the images in the brain. and now, JK disappears with Peter to different parts of India to sketch. Last month they went to Badami and Hampi and in August they are off to Mandu in Madhya Pradesh,” says Chitra.

Peter also encouraged JK to begin sketching walks in the city and on many Saturdays JK would set off with a group of students to sketch and walk. In the meantime, JK happened to meet US-based architect DK Ching, who was visiting Chennai and he introduced JK to Urban Sketcher, a world-wide community of sketchers.

“It is a community of sketchers trying to see the world through sketches. An annual conference is held on July 23 in different parts of the world. This year, we will be meeting in Chicago. Prior to that we met in Singapore and that is when we drew up the blueprint for a sketchers’ group for Asia. Till then, it was Western in spirit but the meet showed clearly the distinctive features of Asian sketches and that is how Asianlink Sketchers came into being,” says JK.

Participants of the first Asianlink Sketchwalk in Singapore had to present a 10-minute presentation on their region and it turned out to be a moment of epiphany for JK. While reminding the participants that since India was too vast and diverse to be covered in a 10-minute presentation, he would draw their attention to the art of Kerala.

“I discovered that Kerala has always had a long and strong tradition of line drawings. Kalamezhuthu, Theyyam, murals… all involve lines and colours are inlaid in between the lines. Even the make-up of Kathakali and Theyyam artistes is about filling in colour in between demarcated areas. Look at the works of Artist Namboothiri, Devan, C.N. Karunakaran and so on… All of them have a strong affinity with lines. I feel it is in our blood,” says JK.

This year, the meet will be in Kuching in Malayasia and JK’s excitement is obvious as he gears up for the trip in October.

A compulsive traveller, JK travels for work and, most importantly, to sketch. He also arranges tours with an accent on architecture. The first such tour was to Sri Lanka and the focus of interest was Geoffrey Bawa. “So we stayed in hotels that were built by Bawa, we visited houses that were built by him, his gardens…. it was a memorable trip,” recalls Chitra.

A few years ago, he set up a company, World Architecture Travels, to arrange trips that were focussed on architecture. Since then, JK has arranged such tours for those interested in architectural marvels and landmarks around the world. Later, this year, they plan to travel to Mexico and also present a paper in the University of Mexico on curating modern architecture in Kerala.

And, of course, JK would be busy capturing Mexico on paper.

“Sketching is meditative. Anyone can sketch. It is only a question of how you observe. Once that is learnt, then it is all about transferring that on paper,” observes JK.

JK’s favourite places

So is there a favourite place in Thiruvananthapuram that he enjoys sketching the most? He admits that if there is one place that keeps drawing him back again and again, it is the Fort area and agraharams. The globetrotter adds that Paris is another place that inspires the sketcher in him, especially the Notre Dame du Haut, a chapel built by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp.

Inputs from “The Hindu”

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