Sometimes when I see new architectural CGI’s online my thinking can veer towards: ‘seen this before’. Of course there are always fantastic, original pieces of work being created, but too often I see the same old floor plates, perfectly sunlit exteriors, and generic interiors where the same furniture design classics appear again and again. It’s hard not to become disengaged by images that are technically great, but lacking in imagination. But what if we try to pretend it’s the first time we have seen an image like that? Could we see it in a different light?
The proliferation of generic imagery can be damaging to people’s perception of architecture. Think about Frank Gehry for example; like all architects he has both fans and detractors. I personally had begun to find his style a little boring and difficult to believe in. Like Zaha Hadid’s designs, it seemed to be too much of the same thing regurgitated over and over again. But I had only seen his designs in images online, so would I have a different opinion of the buildings in ‘real life’? Well, I had chance to find out…
I recently embarked on a road trip along the West Coast of America and was able to visit and photograph a couple of Frank Gehry buildings along the way. The first was The Walt Disney Philharmonic Orchestra Hall in LA – type ‘Famous Architecture’ into Google images and it’s guaranteed to be on the first page.
The second was the EMP Museum in Seattle, a non profit museum dedicated to contemporary pop culture.
After seeing two of his buildings in the flesh I changed my tune a little. Although in the pictures we all see online they may not be appealing to the eye, they really are quite mesmerising when you’re standing in front of them. I found myself just wandering around constantly taking photos of every angle, facade, sweeping curve and reflective surface. The experience of being there and taking in the individual aspects of the buildings, rather than consuming them as a whole, meant that I really was blown away.
I can now look at an aerial photo of the EMP museum and appreciate it, even if I don’t like that type of view (it’s not meant to be seen from the air).
Maybe we are sometimes too quick to rubbish a design or a visual because we have seen it, or something similar, done before. But I do still feel that as designers and artists we have a responsibility to show people something a little more interesting than the ‘norm’. To capture the experience of a building, and not just tick the visualisation boxes. Vignettes, for example, give us the opportunity to explore the building in more depth and often lead to a better quality of image. As Jon points out in Less Is More, vignette imagery can often say much more about a building than one big, all encompassing view. I always use this mode of thinking when taking my camera out too. I find it far more interesting to capture those details that make a building or interior stand out from the rest. Again, I think it often leads to a much nicer photo.
So next time you turn your nose up at an image of a Gehry, or a Hadid, perhaps try to find a new way of looking. One thing I can guarantee is that if you, like me, love architectural photography, you would enjoy a visit to any of his buildings!