What Architectural Images Do
Recently I was at a large London architectural office for a meeting to discuss whether spandrels on a residential tower in the city’s south east should be expressed in glass, metal or stone. The end of the discussion took a different tack and became an opportunity to discuss how the building was to be represented to the public in an exhibition of the design in its respective borough. It was quickly established that the question of the height of the building (then pencilled in at 198 metres) was the first problem the residents would have with the scheme. Thereafter much of the discussion was geared towards how the height could be downplayed in the imagery so the prospect of its construction would simultaneously excite the public yet subdue its true height. The office demanded that a cabal be formed immediately to confront their fear that local residents of myriad enthusiasms and political leanings could turn, and stem their architectural desires from becoming real. It was decided that the images were to suppress the height of the building by choosing a strategic point at which to illustrate it with the right angle of perspective.
The architectural image is not just tailored to censor or accentuate aspects of a design, they also contain an intrinsic duality that is used by the architectural press to exploit the disconnection between viewing and inhabiting, namely that a temporal empirical reality which governs inhabitation is lost and replaced by the frozen eternal Idea. The image as a limning of material form negates architecture’s own ability to harbour ‘the external conditions of political and social struggle’ that ‘scatters us around in a maelstrom of controversies: namely passions, subjectivities, cultures, religions, tastes.’ Architectural images are so beguiling because they are political vacuums. This loss of the political dimension of space in the image masks everyday life and serves only to suggest a utopian clause of architecture: its triumph over mediocre design.
The images of the residential tower in question was also to be framed in such a way to coax audiences into falling for what Robin Boyd called the feature eye-trap set by the architect, when we ignore what is around the gestalt, or dominating thing. A double-team of: a system of Hegelian negations that are describing what the architecture is not, and traps that focus our attention, both haggle our deepest desires to inhabit the image itself. The image creates a division of lived-space between the Real spaces we normally inhabit and what it offers us as an antidote to our space-poor experience. This becomes particularly challenging as the pervasiveness of the architectural image in contemporary culture contends with the inhabitation of our Real space because images are equipped with political and emotional instruments that don’t come with us when we visit Real space.
This reality loss is many things: the press’ cash cow, slippage, it just happens, the audience doesn’t notice or they don’t care, or comment ironically, or a part of a large ironic commentary on the way we live now, artistic in nature, postmodern paraphernalia. Whatever it is, it is endemic.
WYW - Only Look Here, and Here.
Boyd, Robin, 1963. The Australian Ugliness. Sydney: Penguin Books Australia.
Latour, Bruno, 2001. “Which protocol for the new collective experiments?” in Ciudades para un Futuro más Sostenible [Online]. Available at: http://habitat.aq.upm.es/boletin/n32/ablat.en.html [Accessed 25 August 2011].
Vidler, Anthony, 1993. “Spatial Violence” in Assemblage, no. 20 (April), pp. 84-85.
Žižek, Slavoj, 2007. “Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses” in Lacan dot com [Online]. Available at: http://www.lacan.com/zizecology1.htm [Accessed 25 August 2011].
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