K-State architecture professors embrace fine art as influence in own life and classroom
By Joshua Kinder
The line between architecture and fine art at Kansas State University is a little thinner than one might think. In what is normally thought of as a technically driven field of drawing, architecture has started to experience a movement from functionality as the rule to more self-expression.
And at K-State, both Rick Forsyth, landscape architecture professor, and Fayez Husseini, associate professor of interior architecture and product design, try to blend their love of and experience in fine art into the architecture medium in both their personal work and the classroom.
"It's changed a lot over the years, but now it's back to the uniqueness of the work," said Husseini, who works in watercolor and colored pencil. "It used to be the simpler, the better."
Dennis Law, dean of the College of Architecture Planning and Design and professor of landscape architecture, said architects and those who work in fine art are "kindred spirits."
"In both cases, they're designers," he said. "They are both creating something pleasing to the eye, like all artists."
Forsyth said while there are differences between architecture and work in fine art, the two go hand-in-hand in many aspects.
"Those of us in the design disciplines -- architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, have a strong interest in the visual quality of what we create," Forsyth said. "In addition, we have a fascination with light, space and material and how light affects the visual quality of space. Drawing improves our understanding of place, space or object. Drawing demands increased perception."
Law, who teaches a hand-drawing course in the college, said the rise of computers in the field have limited many architects entering the work force because of a lack of freehand skills, but that K-State students can "draw pretty well" because it has been an area of focus.
Students that graduate from the K-State architecture program are very well rounded, including the aesthetic side of architecture, which is very strong, Forsyth said.
"K-State's program in architecture is very strong in really all aspects," Forsyth said. "We're also very strong in respect to preparing students for the practice of architecture and that means you have to have skill in structures, design and in building construction systems. K-State is known to have prepared people solidly."
Combining the two in the classroom is something in which Husseini, who has done several remodeling projects and house designs, said he takes a lot of pride. Perhaps it's because he has degrees in both architecture and fine art, something not all too common. While his first love was always art, Husseini pursued his education in architecture first, but was able to satisfy his original love by going back to school for a master's in fine art.
"I use them both together, in my teaching as well," said Husseini, who designed a seven-building royal palace in Saudi Arabia. "I'm able to give knowledge of both back to my students. I do artwork and I teach my students my technique, and at the same time, I have some ideas related to design. I use art to explain it.
Forsyth too has always had a love for fine art, but started to see a change in his work, both architecturally and artistically, when he made several trips to Tuscany, Italy beginning in 1992.
"As I began to appreciate the special Tuscan light, the colors and the mood of the place, my palette changed, my application changed, and my sensitivity toward the media changed," said Forsyth, who was given the opportunity to visit Italy when he became director of the Italian studies program for the College of Architecture, Planning and Design and in teaching in the program for the spring semesters in 1999 and 2001.
Husseini said everything one does in architecture, design or fine art comes back to human emotions and feelings in the end.
"We design for feelings," Husseini said. "Everything we do needs to be designed for humans and feelings they have about things. It's always about what makes humans happy and what kind of feelings they get from the work.
"Most of my work makes references to the design, geometry, while in nature," he said. "It's an architectural element in an environment or setting."
Though Forsyth's artistic daily inspiration is the prairie of Kansas, he said visiting Italy on several occasions has shown him that "the more one draws, the more one sees to draw.
"Drawing also intensifies one's experience with a place or space," he said. "Drawing opens senses to absorb what is going on in our surroundings. What is gained through drawing is a expanded sense of place, a sense held latent in the sketch or painting.
"As a landscape architect, I have a fondness for and appreciation of the basic features of the land -- the sky, the native grasses and wildflowers, the wind, the trees, the mist at dawn, the sunrise and sunsets, and most importantly, the crisp, clear quality of light which has an ever-changing effect on all that it touches," Forsyth said.
Husseini wishes K-State students could see more to draw, and thinks they could if the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Architecture, Planning and Design worked more closely.
"More fine artists should take architecture classes and more architecture students should take fine art classes," he said. "They need to be in the same college so we can work together more and have more well-rounded students out of both."
Images: (Top right) "Bagnaia Villa Lante," Rick Forsyth.
(Middle) A prisma color, Fayez Husseini.
(Bottom right) "England Bath," Rick Forsyth.
Images courtesy Forsyth and Husseini.