Columbia Architect and Artist Myles Zhang Imagines the Buildings Around Him in Watercolor

In one work, ‘Walking in Manhattan,’ Zhang spent weeks walking the city to paint an aspect of every neighborhood in New York.

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In one work, ‘Walking in Manhattan,’ Zhang spent weeks walking the city to paint an aspect of every neighborhood in New York.

Columbia Architect and Artist Myles Zhang Imagines the Buildings Around Him in Watercolor

The Art of Architecture

In one work, ‘Walking in Manhattan,’ Zhang spent weeks walking the city to paint an aspect of every neighborhood in New York.

By Madeleine Ngo, University of Florida


Myles Zhang is a sophomore History and Architecture major at Columbia University who recreates images of New York City through his sketches.

Zhang was recently selected to study abroad next year to participate in Oxford University’s program in History of Art. He was also awarded a $2,250 grant to study urbanism and architecture in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Zhang is currently considering architecture or academia as future professions.

Columbia Architect and Artist Myles Zhang Imagines the Buildings Around Him in Watercolor
Photography by Chioma Nwana, NYU

Madeleine Ngo: Can you describe your art-making process?

Myles Zhang: I don’t really have a set process; I mostly just create. I start with a vision in my head after choosing something to draw, usually something I resonate with emotionally, and then I turn it into reality. It’s difficult to describe the exact process because it’s not like a scientific method where I have to plan everything out. When I draw something, I go with how I feel, and if the piece is lacking in anyway, I fill in the gaps along the way.

MN: What inspired you to take on art?

MZ: It’s difficult to recall any specific event or catalyst because I feel like I’ve been making art for so long. In my case, I didn’t really have an inherent talent for drawing, rather just a passion for it. I was at an age where I was young enough not to be incredibly self-conscious of my work, so I just kept practicing and improving my technique as I grew older.

MN: Was there anything specific you loved to draw when you were younger?

MZ: I’ve always gravitated toward buildings and structures, even as a kid. Drawing living objects has never interested me as much as architecture does.

MN: What are your favorite mediums to use?

MZ: It really depends on what I’m trying to create. I like to use pens when I’m drawing detailed structures and watercolors for quick sketches. A lot of my pieces are a combination of the two mediums; pen ink is sharp and allows for refinement, while watercolors add softness, creating an effective contrast. I’m partially colorblind, so when I use watercolors I use brighter, vibrant colors, but they seem perfectly natural to me. It’s been a slight difficulty since I exaggerate my color palette sometimes, but I still love to utilize watercolors.

Columbia Architect and Artist Myles Zhang Imagines the Buildings Around Him in Watercolor
A sketch by Zhang (Photography by Chioma Nwana, NYU)

MN: Where do you tend to draw inspiration from?

MZ: In a broad sense, definitely my hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Newark is a place that possesses a lot of history, architecture, urban decay and public transportation, so these are often featured in my creations. What I draw tends to be a reflection of what surrounds me. Especially now, a lot of my pieces are inspired by New York City.

I have one post on my website, My Little Planet, titled “Walking in Manhattan.” It’s basically a synopsis of 10 to 20 days of walking around the city recreating its dynamic, urban environment. Day one focused on China Town, while day two focused on SoHo and Little Italy. Each one focuses on a different aspect and the various neighborhoods that constitute the city.

MN: Do you have any interpretation or meaning you like to integrate into your work?

MZ: Art historians usually question what meaning or message is conveyed through different pieces, but at the end of the day, I believe artists primarily just create something. It’s up to the viewers to take away their own interpretations and meaning behind the work. My drawings are more of a work of passion, not really with any specific intention or underlying message.

MN: Who are your favorite architects?

MZ: I’m a fan of Michael Graves’ work primarily for his use of color. His buildings reflect the postmodernist period of architecture. Graves takes traditional Roman and Greek structures and strips down the details, focusing on the pillars, windows and porticos. His work has a different theme of classical architecture mixed with modern styles.

Columbia Architect and Artist Myles Zhang Imagines the Buildings Around Him in Watercolor
Photography by Chioma Nwana, NYU

MN: If you could design anything, what would it be?

MZ: I think most architects aspire to create museums and art galleries, so the more useful, everyday structures, like kitchens and dorm halls, don’t receive as much recognition. In the 1950s, there was a movement in Levittown where architects made a multitude of houses from prefabricated material. I would like to create a functional prefabricated home, because I think it would have a large societal impact and affect more individuals in comparison to a single art gallery.

MN: In general, what stimulates your passion for art and architecture?

MZ: It’s not really a type of passion where you can intricately explain why it’s enriching. True passion and interest is almost impossible to put into clear words. For me, it’s the feeling of peace—when I create something, it brings me a calm state of mind and I could imagine myself doing this forever, even though I can’t exactly explain why.

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