Best known for his infectious enthusiasm, Dan Cruickshank is a TV presenter, art and architectural historian, intrepid traveller and his popular series Around the World in 80 Treasures and Adventures in Architecture. Rohantime interrupted his research at the British Library to find a little bit more about his adventures and travel tips.
You spent some childhood years in Poland, is that where your passion for architecture developed?
Since childhood I loved buildings; my earliest memories I recall are from Krakow in Poland. It’s a great city and I was overwhelmed by the space and forms of the buildings.
Visiting so many incredible places during Adventures in Architecture must have been a dream come true, what inspired such an eclectic journey?
Filming Adventures in Architecture was very intense and utterly transforming. The idea of exploring architecture on television is quite challenging…things like paintings, music, etc are things that we indulge in by choice, but buildings are part of the broad spectrum of art. They are important to us, they form and define our lives. The real purpose of ‘Adventures in Architecture’ was to get people to look at architecture in a different way and to understand and appreciate buildings, they can enjoy architecture more if they are understanding what they are seeing.
Was there a favourite country from your adventures?
I loved Ethiopia. It is a wonderful place coupling sensational landscapes and sights with ancient mystery.
The Middle Eastern places I went to too; I can’t go back now because of it becoming so dangerous, the world becomes more dangerous and intense, particularly the more ancient hearts of civilisation in Afghanistan and Iraq. But I want to find out more; I’d like to go back to Northern Afghanistan which is possible.
Are you ever afraid when you visit the war-torn countries?
Well I ought to be because it’s very dangerous; but human beings, being what we are, we never really appreciate danger until it’s too late. In hindsight I perhaps ought to have been more scared.
Travelling to so many places in such a short space of time, must be logistically very challenging.
Oh my god! So much to see in a 5 month journey…and of course, we wanted to make it as spontaneous as possible so we did a lot of research. We chose the objects beforehand so we could plan in advance but we didn’t want it to be too scripted. China was tough, trying to film the Terracotta Army, the officials were mind numbingly controlling…I never really understood what was going on but the figures were compelling. Generally speaking red tape was more predictable when travelling to the Middle East from Israel….time consuming to resolve…the security at the station was incredible…worse now than then.
Having travelled to 36 countries in four and a half months, you must have some great travel tips?
I always try to imagine if I suddenly found myself isolated somewhere and think ‘what would I really need’…obviously guide books, a medical kit, compass, watch, jumper, sleeping bag, water purification tablets…all of the basic things you can imagine you could need. Be prepared.
If you could only take one item with you on your travels what would that be?
A journal, writing for me is fundamental. Communication is very important too so I have to have my loyal telephone.
Do you enjoy the journey itself?
I enjoy the journey very much; the process is great…I can deal with quite a bit of physical discomfort…I can sleep or sit for a long periods of time. The hardest bit is coming back to reality after such a long trip and having to think about bills and banks!
Do you have an ideal travel companion?
I’m pretty happy by myself. I’ve travelled with lots of people and enjoy it…but…you know…I’m quite happy on my own.
Is there anywhere in the world that you’d still like to visit?
I long to go to Lebanon. I want to visit the ancient city of Baalbek to see the colossal structures.
I’d also like to travel to parts of the Middle East and back to Northern Afghanistan. And I haven’t been to Georgia.
Do you have a favourite city?
London; I do love home itself; it’s never tiring is it?
What UK buildings of the last 20 years will be looked back on as landmark buildings?
Norman Foster buildings, the Gherkin, I love the public’s infatuation with it.
Do you think today’s builders/architects are coming to grips with sustainability in their material choices and design?
Mud built buildings in Yemen are very practical! Perhaps there will be a big revival in mud and traditional building materials.
Where do you get your scarves from?
I find them on my travels, I bought a lot in Bali, China and Sri Lanka. I wear them to keep the heat off my neck.
Do you wear Rohan?
Yes, I bought a Rohan suit in the Covent Garden Shop for my trips – I had a notion that I should keep up a smart appearance so I bought lightweight linen suits that are non-crease. I got a stone coloured and a dark blue one.
Catch Dan Cruickshank’s latest show, documenting people’s history through home movies on BBC ‘The Great British Home Movie Roadshow’, and it’s going to be broadcast at the beginning of August on the BBC.