There has been, and always will be, much discussion about what is and what is not Architecture. Even when built, and the project occupied, this argument often continues. Even more so is the argument about what it good Architecture.
The interesting thing about this second argument is that the merits of any built project are often judged by those that never actually visit the physical site. Entire opinions, and critiques leveled, based on a set of images taken of the project. These images have been the eye candy of Architectural periodicals and coffee table books since around the turn of the 20th century. Before this time, Architecture was represented through extremely technical drawings, usually either two point perspectives (known as per angelo) or frontal elevations. In the early days of architectural photography (1840-1880) most images of buildings followed these conventions. By the 1920′s photography took on a new role as photographers started to build a new Architectural photography vocabulary.
Photographers like Roger Sturtevant, Bill and Ken Hedrich, and Julius Shulman defined the field much as we know it today. Each building was photographed from angles that expressed form in flattering ways and expressed the use of light in spaces.
At this point something very interesting happened, which continues to this day. Buildings often began to be defined in the public eye completely by the vanguard images of them. Think Fallingwater. Bill Hedrich’s image from standing in the water is what most people think of when the name is mentioned. Even though no one ever goes to the spot where the picture is taken from. The building is never experienced from that spot.
Then, in my opinion*, something even more interesting started to happen. Buildings began to be designed as if they were photographic compositions, just as buildings of the 18th and 19th century were designed with the facade (front elevation) in mind. Buildings were now designed with a great deal of emphasis placed on perspective, lighting effects, and over all shape in mind, to name a few considerations. This shift obviously can not be completely the fault of photography, but to think that it did not play a major role would be short sighted. This can be seen in the change of how unbuilt project were represented. Speculative projects throughout the 20th century until today are almost always shown in photographic style renderings. If the rendering is not photorealistic, but rather watercolor or pencil, it is still represented at a photographic angle. There are interesting exceptions to this in the early post-modern technique of the axon representation. These exceptions are even more proof of the strength of the photograph as it was specifically photographic style representation that the po-mos were often trying to move away from as a tool of design. They had realized photography’s effect on Architecture.
This brings us to Today. Photography is still the predominant means of representing built projects. In the academia and increasingly in the professional field, something of a “false” photography has become one of the most important design tools of the Architect. This “false” photography, is the 3D world of computer modeling programs. Not simply in the photorealistic renderings they produce, 3D programs allow us to work at ALL times as if we are looking at ‘photographs.’ Every piece modeled, even if originally working in parallel projection mode, will be checked in perspective mode throughout the design process. Angles are chosen and cameras set in place for quick reference as the project develops. If something does not look good from every possible angle that a photo could be taken from it is changed, regardless of whether it works or not. For speculative projects or student projects, spaces that will not appear in the final renderings can often be ignored.
Whether this paradigm of design technique is a positive thing or a negative thing, this post is not going to judge. More importantly, while designing, pay attention to why you are making particular decisions. It is my belief that you will be surprised how often it is related to how you would imagine your design photographed. In any case, this cognition of technique can only be helpful.
It is also interesting to think about what outside medium might next have such a great affect on Architecture. My money is on animation, or possibly immersive virtual worlds, both of which have started to be used extensively in the design process and representation.
What do you think?
*My opinions on this matter have been heavily shaped by the last 5 years I have spent studying the art of Architectural Photography in practice, and more recently, extensive research I conducted here at UIC on early Architectural Photography and its rise as a field. Alas, it is still just an opinion.
Tags: image culture, representation