Travel Notebooks: Tokyo, Iran, India


On our minds » Our love of cities and the visual allure of their ornamentations and spirit. From our travel notebooks, the second of a two-part Design Brief of creative inspirations from Tokyo, Iran, and India.

Kuan Lo



This past July Tokyo came calling once again. To me, it is the premier 24/7/365 nonstop sleepless city to which other cities like New York can only be considered a distant second. Name it and you can find it; from its variety of eating, drinking and shopping establishments to active entertainment venues, Tokyo has a way of providing every kind of experience to both locals as well as tourists.

Travel Notebooks

ABOVE » Festivities under pink paper lanterns.

Travel Notebooks

TOP LEFT » In a serene ally, a canteen lights the way at midnight.  BOTTOM LEFT » Shopping streets lined with colorful displays.  RIGHT » Ubiquitous vertical and horizontal compositions in signage.

My favorite way of experiencing Tokyo is to walk its streets at night. No matter where you are – Ginza, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Daikanyama, Shimbashi, it all comes alive at night. The dazzling neon lights illuminate your path. At first, the experience is overwhelming but gradually you learn to take in the sights and appreciate the visual diversity yet orderliness of it all. The overall atmosphere is vivid, pulsating with energy and dynamic, quite unlike, what to me registers as the deafening silence of a typical night in Downtown DC. Contrastingly, at midnight, Tokyo is still awake. The neon lights call out to me like a moth to a flame. I find it obsessive to look at and countless pictures later, my Architect brain wonders what it’s like to read Tokyo’s signage regulations. Sharp verticals and horizontals, Japanese and Latin characters, they all merge together into a breathtaking tapestry produced by red, blue and green illumination. Sometimes, Tokyo at night reminds me of the opening scene of the 1982 cult sci-fi film – Blade Runner, minus the dystopia.

Travel Notebooks

TOP LEFT » Sipping coffee, the only thing on the menu, at Café de L’ambre, one of the oldest coffee shops in Ginza.  BOTTOM LEFT » Traditional inspired white calligraphic characters contrasting against the deep black fabric background.  RIGHT » Metro signage at Shinagawa station.

This latest visit to Tokyo in summer allowed me to witness for the first time, Matsuri – the traditional Japanese summer festival. Nighttime brings scenes of Japanese men and women wearing Yukata, a casual summer kimono. Waving folding paper fans, the people gather in front of temples or town plazas and indulge in singing, drinking and dancing. My wanderings led me to one such plaza – Yebisu plaza, featuring brightly lit paper lanterns with bold Japanese characters strung across it. Collectively, the lanterns imbue a pink glow upon those partaking in the street festivities. Heat and humidity do not distract the happy revelers dancing around each other. This cheery night scene is one I truly remember enjoying – a true Tokyo night for the books!

ABOVE » Matsuri revellers at Yebisu plaza.

Ameneh Amirhakimi



Travel Notebooks

LEFT » Looking through the view panel of the gate at Bagh-Jahan-Nama, Shiraz.  RIGHT » The mansion’s South façade and porch, overlooking the garden.

Shiraz, in south-central Iran, has been my home for the greater part of my life prior to emigrating to the US. Now having experienced a bit more of the world, I find myself faced with the realization that Shiraz is still my favorite city. Why would it not be? Precious memories notwithstanding, it has the perfect blend of history, natural beauty, great public spaces, and the hustle and bustle of life not often found in other parts of the world. Early this spring, I visited my family in Shiraz for the Nowruz holidays and decided to pay a visit to the nearby Eram Gardens – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with this idea. The pleasant spring weather had locals and tourists swarming the gardens like bees in a meadow. At peak season, it is practically impossible to reach the gardens via the parallelly aligned Eram Boulevard and still retain a shred of sanity upon arriving. Lucky for me then, my family home is within five minutes walking distance. Walking through the tree lined boulevard is a much nicer way of approaching the gardens.

Travel Notebooks

ABOVE » Intricate tile work on the vaulted ceiling of the cellar.

Eram Gardens is a historic Persian garden built sometime around the12th century AD in the typical Chahar Bagh (four sectors) paradigm meant to represent and recreate Paradise on Earth. The highlight of several of my visits to the gardens has been the axially sited mansion built at around the same time and embellished by several dynasties through the centuries. From the basement columns to the top of the elaborate curved pediments, not a single surface can be found without embellishment or pattern. Staring at the magnificence of the mansion, you can’t help but realize that what you are seeing is a manifestation of centuries of evolution in patterning and craftsmanship unique to Persian culture dating back more than 5000 years. If you can manage to shut out the tourists swarming around and let your mind wander, you can almost imagine yourself part of a retinue when the gardens were used as a royal retreat on the outskirts of the old city.

Travel Notebooks

LEFT» Detailed brick work on the south gate of the Eram Garden.  RIGHT » Garden passage along the glorious, centuries-old cypress trees.

But it’s not just the architecture or the planning of the gardens stretching back centuries that scintillate the senses. The myrtle and cypress trees, including one cypress that is believed to be 3000 years old, embellish the gardens with their aromatic fragrance. Together with countless flowering shrubs adding a riot of color to the scene, they help create a setting for the architecture that I can only describe as Paradise. Paradise then is what I am lucky to enjoy – the geometric patterns and the varied scale of the landscape have a unique refreshing, calming and almost zen-like feeling that gets more powerful and enjoyable every time I visit.

Atlas Obscura
Eram Garden

Colleen Korp



Travel Notebooks

ABOVE » Seemingly endless arches and vaults.

Late this summer, I took my first trip to Southern India. While I’ve always wanted to visit India, this trip was extra special because I was meeting my boyfriend’s extended family for the first time. I was admittedly nervous, but excited to meet everyone and see as much as possible. I spent several days in Irinjalakuda, Kerala meeting relatives (and elephants!!!), experiencing monsoon rains, and falling in love with the lush greenery and colorful architecture. I then flew to Bangalore, Karnataka to finish out the trip. While I saw some incredible sights, it was really the Mysore Palace that left me awe-struck.

Living and working in the DC metro area, I thought I was experienced when it came to traffic jams, but Bangalore was on another level. We slowly made our way through the city and on towards Mysore. As we stretched our legs and approached the public entrance to the complex, I knew the trip was well worth the drive. The yellow and white stone gate was a beautiful preamble to the temples and gardens of the palace complex beyond. Designed by British architect Henry Irwin, the palace was completed in 1912, and later expanded in 1940. The design blends elements of Indian, Indo-Islamic, Neo-Classical, and Gothic styles of architecture. Domed towers punctuate the massing, and various types of arched openings create rhythm. The largely white and pale-yellow exterior belie the explosion of color to be found inside.

Travel Notebooks

LEFT » Interior courtyard. RIGHT » Carved window screens filtering light.

After walking through the garden, we began our tour of the palace’s ceremonial spaces. An exterior portico lined with displays of royal treasures transitions the visitor from the splendor outside to the one within. Each room we walked through proved more splendid than the last – from colorful frescoes to stained glass domes to intricate tilework, it seemed no surface was lacking in decoration. I was blown away by the richness of color, and even more so by the intricate textures. The carving in every wood door, ceiling, and column created beautiful patterns that defined the rhythm of each space. Large-scale patterns, like the columns that formed a dramatically open hall, gave way to the smallest wood screen in an individual window. Even light was treated as a decorative opportunity, dramatically spilling through skylights after passing through darker corridors. The most dramatic light transition of all? Stepping back out into the afternoon Indian sun. Good thing I brought my hat!

Travel Notebooks

LEFT » Probably my favorite day ever.  RIGHT TOP » View of the Palace museum entrance from the south.

NEWS    |    DECEMBER 4, 2017


Atherton is an exciting mixed-use development located in Charlotte, North Carolina. The project, located less than 2 miles from downtown and adjacent to the historic Atherton Mill building, is dubbed The Soul of South End. It will be the area’s retail and dining heart located along the highly trafficked South Boulevard and with direct access to the LYNX Light Rail and recreational Charlotte Trolley Trail.