Friday, February 25, 2011

The Wat Dhammabucha

Down a narrow road that winds behind suburban San Antonio, past old houses and the last remains of land once called "the boondocks," lay one of San Antonio's more hidden gems of cultural diversity: the Wat Dhammabucha Buddhist mission. The bright-red and golden sign hangs amidst a hill-country style neighborhood of mostly Thai immigrants, a hill-top view of the Leon Valley water tower as traffic moves along Bandera Road.

I had only a faint idea of golden Buddha statues and ornate temples that could form a backdrop to my portrait-feature assignment of a student who chose life as a monk over a career in music after coming to the United States from Thailand in 2004.

Accounting sophomore Surasit Mankongsakulkit sits in the temple Sunday before a statue of Buddha, who isn't worshiped but simply followed for his philosophy of attaining self-enlightenment.

A Buddhist monk enters the meal hall Sunday at the Wat Dhammabucha Buddhist mission. Shoes are removed before entering buildings as a Buddhist practice of “keeping what is unclean outside,” Mankongsakulkit said.

Wan Wallace prays Sunday in the meal hall before the monks begin eating. The mission began more than 20 years ago based on Theravada Buddhism, strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Theravada means “the doctrine of the elders” and emphasizes attaining self-liberation through meditation and concentration.

Mankongsakulkit passes food down the line Sunday in the meal hall. Buddhist practice holds that the monks eat only one meal daily, which is provided by local restaurants and other Buddhists.

Mankongsakulkit talks with fellow monk, Phra Pong. “We work a few hours a day,” he said, noting that 10 monks help keep up the 15-acre mission grounds.

Mankongsakulkit talks with Elby Flinn Sunday with his dog, Sassy. "You guys have been great to the neighborhood," Flinn said of the Buddhists. For over 20 years, the mission has strived to protect the wildlife and natural landscape amidst an increasingly urban San Antonio.

Surasit Mankongsakulkit uses a leaf blower near the temple while working Sunday. Mankongsakulkit wakes up at 6 a.m. to chant with the other monks before his 9 a.m. class here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Architecture, Society and Culture

I watch trees sway through a tiny window as a warm breeze throws itself against the buildings, structures of concrete walls and cold steel that leave much to be desired by the senses. We are slaves to the architecture that should be serving us. Yet we have a choice; the cultural decisions we make can also have a functional purpose in society and our architecture.

Here are a few shots I took while covering a presentation by my architecture professor's Design 4 students on a theory in architecture that is being enforced, thankfully, by the professionals of our age: space surrounding a structure or object- the available resources of the natural landscape, the cultural purpose of those creating it - is what influences creation of the object. This theory contrasts with the centuries-old, hierarchical practice of a city created by powerful figures and institutions that deplete the surrounding environment.

The "illuminated creations" shaped by the student represent the cavity-minded view that instead of experiencing just the thing, the object itself - a common mindset of Western culture and architecture - structures are formed by the space surrounding it, a bottom-up process of influence, history and correlation.

Don't we just want to break the windows and let the breeze flow through?

Professor Dwayne Bohuslav gives feedback to his Design 4 students while they model "illuminated wearable creations" Feb. 15. Bohuslav received $1,000 from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and lighting from Del Lighting to fund the project. Four teams will compete with their costumes at the private AIA San Antonio Beaux Arts Ball Feb. 26 at the Grand Hyatt, followed by an exhibition at AIA's Pearl Studio, 200 E. Grayson, and at Luminaria downtown March 12.

Architecture sophomore Judith Fernandez models her costume Feb. 15 while team members Marcela Resendez and James Stopher watch. The design represents themes of stereometry, the process of determining the volume and dimensions of a solid, or the kind of space we live in.

Lucas Cornelius, Ivonne Perea, Oscar Rincon, and Judith Fernandez.