log: key reads

Title: Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture 1750 – 1950

Author: Peter Collins

Niche

The purpose of this book is clearly stated by Collins himself: “from 1750 onwards, architects were motivated by a number of notions which had previously played little or no part in the formation of their ideals…”(15); two previous histories of architecture (by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Sigfried Gideon) which had become standard texts for architecture historians lacked this focus on changing ideals for their focus was on the evolution of forms.

Summary of Main Ideas

Romanticism

1. Revolutionary Architecture – for revolutionary architects born at the end of the 18th century were the pioneers for 20th century modernism: John Soane, E L Boullée, C N Ledoux, J N L Durand.  Collins asserts that these forerunners may have directly influenced seminal figures like Le Corbusier (24).  However, he is quick to point out that modern architects consider space in ways that were not conceived by architects of the past (26).

2. Influence of Historiography – Blondel published the first modern history of architecture in 1752 (28).  The Greeks and Romans were interested in the eternal and unchanging, not the transitory.  The medieval scholars viewed everything in terms of a divine plan but did introduce the idea of historical periods adopted by all subsequent historians (30).  A long discussion of Voltaire hereupon ensues.  Interestingly, Chinese and Gothic were virtually interchangeable terms (hence concepts) at this time.  Romanticism was essentially opposed to Classicism, hence Gothic versus Greco-Roman.

3. Influence of the Picturesque – the roman villa meets literature and landscape painting.  “The notion of the picturesque was probably the most important aesthetic idea exerted by England over European architecture (49).  It can be explained/defined as the English fondness for (paintings of) natural scenery.  In a nutshell, mansions situated on large plots of land were surrounded by a landscape that was intentionally fine-tuned, as though by a painter, to look like it might in a painting when seen from particular viewpoints by visitor/spectators (50).  Added to this interest in the idealised landscape, was the lack of any (20th century) ethical dilemmas caused by first designing an attractive façade and then tacking the remaining building on to it (51).  It is during this time that the discourse on the sublime and the beautiful was de rigueur.

Revivalism

4. Awareness of Styles – unique to 19th century revivalism is that it revived several styles at once: Roman, Greek, Renaissance, Gothic.  Style originally referred to literary features of form and composition (Susan Sontag, anyone?): sublime for public addresses, familiar style for conversation and popular style for the burlesque (62).  In the 18th century ‘architecture’ meant Greek or Roman and everything else were just styles.  It was also held that Greek was inferior to Roman and everything built subsequent to either was inferior to each.  Millin’s Dictiontary of the Fine Arts (1806) listed the following historical styles: Egyptian, Persian, Indian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Arabic, Gothic, Saxon, Chinese (65); and the Graeco-Roman period was broken in to 5 styles from 700 BC to 324 AD.

5. Primitivism and Progress – does architecture evolve progressively or by cycles? by environmental influences or as influenced by key figures such as the designers themselves.  4 key attitudes emerged as answers to that question: architecture evolved naturally out of the need to meet the demands of society; architecture could hearken back (forever) to a classical golden age from which to draw inspiration; national reforms (in Britain?) sought to reject classical forms and identify with gothic architecture; other reformers sought for a new and innovative form of architecture as it was unnatural to shun the principals of evolution and resort to an eternal recurrence to the past, be it medieval or ancient (68-69).

6. The Roman Revival – ruins were admired because they were sublime (not beautiful) meaning they excite us to think.  Collins points out that it became politically correct around this time for English aristocrats to make the Grand Tour because Rome was no longer suspect as the centre of catholic intrigue due to the accession of the House of Hannover (71).  Many books of engravings featuring measured drawings and picturesque views of Rome were produced at this time.  Innovations soon immerged where the spacing and thickness of columns ventured away or rejected outright the proscribed Vitruvian ideals! A lengthy exposition of the principal that images create building ensues at this point, which shall be referenced below.

7. The Greek Revival –  in 1758 Leroy’s Ruins of the most beautiful monuments in Greece kicked off the Greek revival in the US and a widespread interest in Paestum, near Naples (79).  The book was divided into one part covering architectural history, the other being devoted to architectural theory.  He suggested a re-evaluation of the Doric order was in order in light of his discoveries (what an unusual claim for the ambitious author of an academic work to make).  After him came JJ Winkleman who vastly increased the mania for Greek revival (as Kant gave force and depth to the mania for the sublime?) and upset the notion of progress throughout history by daring to suggest that the Romans had not in fact improved on anything done my the Greeks (83).

8. The Renaissance Revival – Collins devotes little space to this revival of revivals, hence I shall follow suit.  Brunelleschi was almost unheard of in the 18th century but came back into fashion during the century to follow.  His attempt to lighten structures may account for this renewed interest, but also because few buildings from the classical world were left by that time, having all been pilfered by the likes of Elgin and his counterparts or destroyed in the many European wars (of course the popes did away with or recycled much of Rome in the century prior).

9. Gothic Nationalism –  this revival was based on the ‘rational’ fact that gothic architecture was far more indigenous to northern Europe than classical.  It was in fact a convenient rubric under which to file 5 ideals: romanticism, nationalism, rationalism, ecclesiology and social reform.  Considering the importance of Gothic revival to English and French architecture, it is curious that Collins spends as little ink on this chapter as in the previous one.  But of course the subject is developed at greater length in the subsequent chapters of this section.  Here he considers it sufficient it would seem to attribute Viollet-le-Duc’s work in the 1850s as the cause for the fashion in England.  After that, Collins mentions Pugin, Scott and Street and moves us quickly on to the next chapter.

10. Gothic Ecclesiology and Social Reform – once again we are shown the importance of literature on an architectural movement: Radcliffe’s best-seller gothic novels had as much to do with the fashion in architecture as any ideology promulgated by members of the profession.  Apart from that the 1818 act – in response to fear of working class atheism (and subsequent revolt due to free thinking?) – resulted in the construction of 174 churches in the gothic style, because it was cheaper than other options (106).  Not that ethical ideas of purity and truth were far from the minds of the Victorian elite, as of course was the case with Ruskin who published his famous Seven Lamps book in 1849 (107).

11. Polychromy – in 1829 Hitorff published findings that the Greeks had not in fact created a sombre white marble world but had in fact coloured their buildings in garish red and yellow hues.  The Victorians ran away with the idea with results that can still be witness in the London Law Courts and the Paris Opera, to name but two examples.

12. Eclecticism – a composite system of thought made up of views selected from various other systems, as defined by Victor Cousin, an influential French philosopher of the second half of the 19th century (118).  The central idea was that you could select elements from every historical style and adapt them ad hoc to contemporary needs. This style was also known in England as Queen Anne revival.  This style was particularly popular in the late 19th century as a reaction to the plainness of the century before; of course, the pendulum would later swing once again the other way, leaving room for bold architects to associate ornamentation with crime (and/or having dark skin, a very small penis or a vagina).

13. Demand for New Architecture –  reached it’s height in 1853, lay dormant until the 1890s (resurrected thanks to the advent of new structural systems…steel and ferro-concrete frames).  1835 Thomas Hope writes in the Revue Generale d l’Architecture that a contemporary architecture of the age was wanting.  1842 The Builder declares all historicism defunct.  1847 FW von Horn publishes remarks of a similar vein in System eines Neugermanischen Baustils. 1849 Revue Generale d l’Architecture article demanding new architecture, new style.  1858 editor of The Builder feels this criticism is beginning to backfire.  In pages 135 – 138 Collins discusses William Vose Pickett who had genuinely revolutionary ideas and might have greatly influenced the contemporary architecture of his day, having anticipated much of art nouveau’s use of structural innovations and natural forms, yet “alas, he had one grave deficiency which proved an insuperable barrier to the propogation of his schemes.  He was unable to draw.  In the preface of his book, he made the appeal ‘ to any artist who might find himself promoted by the impulses of genius to produce illustrations of the system’ but…none was forthecoming” (138).

Functionalism

14. The Biological Analogy – starts around 1750 with the publishing of Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum (1753) and Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle (1749). Around this time the debate over form and function and which follows which begins.  Coleridge distinguishes between mechanic and organic form (152); Lamarck claims that the environment modifies animals whereas Darwin claimed changes were random and hereditary (153); von Humboldt claimed plants should be organised according to climate (153).

15. The Mechanical Analogy – assertion coming from Viollet-le-Duc and his disciple that more than a new style, the age needed one which (like the medievals) could take advantage of the technology of the day (164).  Collins takes a tiny chronological leap and spends the rest of the chapter discussing Vers une Architecture.

16. The Gastronomic Analogy – “Taste, as the early dictionaries make clear, meant originally only  ‘the sensation exerted by certain sense organs of the mouth’, and its metaphorical adoption in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the standard term for what we now call ‘aesthetics’ implies a clear recognition of the importance of this faculty as a key to understanding the nature of human discernment” (167).

17. The Linguistic Analogy – Croce rehabilitated the philosophy of Giambattista Vico that all art is a type of language, therefore a form of expression (173).  Closest link between architecture and language is through the notion of the vernacular – the simple, honest language spoken by common people through the desire to communicate not impress (180).

Rationalism

18. Influence of Civil and Military Engineers – Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees established in Paris in 1747 and the school of military engineering in Mezieres in 1748.  At this point, architecture and engineering start to part ways.  Prior to this date, the design of bridges was considered a problem of masonry vaulting (186).  In France architects were not enthusiastic amateurs as in England or painters and sculptors as in Italy; they were masons, with a tradition going back to the middle ages.  Engineers began to regret the rupture because they began to be criticised for producing ugly structures (191).

19. Rationalism – defines architecture as ornamental construction that can only be justified if its forms derived their laws from science.  Form follows function, nothing is beautiful but what is true, etc (198).

20. New Planning Problems – the need for public administrative buildings arose in the mid-eighteenth century with the development of local government and the emergence of hospitals can be dated to this period; in the 19th century there arose a need for hotels, banks, offices, railway stations, etc.  From the 18th century and the Prix de Rome (Paris) comes the idea of the programme: a detailed list of requirements (219).

Influence of the Allied Arts

21. Influence of Literature and Criticism – 3 traditional sources of architectural inspiration: historical (tradition/revivalism), functional analogies (planning), structures selected as based on use (eclectic/rationalist); since none of these provided for innovation, architecture often looked to the other arts: painting sculpture, industrial design and literature.  “[C]ertain fundamental ideas connected with modern literature, such as a feeling for the artistic virtues of ugliness, and a hypersensitivity to the importance of sincerity, were to have a drastic influence on architecture, and indeed affected all of the visual arts” (244).

21. Influence of Literature and Criticism – 3 traditional sources of architectural inspiration: historical (tradition/revivalism), functional analogies (planning), structures selected as based on use (eclectic/rationalist); since none of these provided for innovation, architecture often looked to the other arts: painting sculpture, industrial design and literature.  “[C]ertain fundamental ideas connected with modern literature, such as a feeling for the artistic virtues of ugliness, and a hypersensitivity to the importance of sincerity, were to have a drastic influence on architecture, and indeed affected all of the visual arts” (244).

22. Influence of Industrial Design – the measure of a good architect around the turn of the 20th century was how well he could design a new chair.

23. Influence of Painting and Sculpture –  theirs was the dominant influence of the first half of 20th century architecture (271).  True, this was also the case in the Renaissance, during it’s revival and in the Victorian Era thanks in large part to Ruskin, who claimed: ‘there are only two fine arts possible to the human race, painting and sculpture….What we call architecture is only the association of these in noble masses…all architecture other than this is in fact mere building (272).  With Kadinsky comes the birth of non-representational art to no practical purpose…which allows art to have a new purpose “to lead the observer to the state euphoristic detattchement from the concerns of life” (273) according to which definition, taking mdma at an electronic music concert is the new art.  Many would agree.

24. New Concepts of Space – the concept of space was only introduced into architectural discourse (with scant few references to it) in the 18th century.  Before that structure and proportion were the raison d’être of the profession.  It was the Germans (such as Hegel and Wolflinn) in the 19th century who first developed the idea.  Wright took it seriously and put it famously into practice in the 20th.

Citations to reference for thesis

Wren, being originally untrained as a architect, had been obliged when designing his first building to base his compositions on drawings found in books, and there is no doubt, for example, tht the plan of the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford was derived from Serlio’s reconstructed plan of the theatre of Marcellus, just as the façade was based on Cesariano’s reconstruction of the basilica at Fano, illustrated in the Vitruvius edition of 1521 (76).

Hawksmoor…used the mausoleum at Halicarnassus for a church steeple, the Roman clock tower at Athens for the details of another church, an in general delighted in the incongruous and heterogeneous courses from which his compositions were concocted (76).

“Jefferson, a fervent admirer of Maison Carrée at Nímes (which he knew only from drawings) had used a replica of that building as a receptacle for the Virginia State Capitol in 1785” (77).

“[T]here were still many theorists who specifically condemned direct imitations, and who continued to subscribe to the Classical doctrine enunciated by JF Blondel to the effect that ‘the ancients can teach us to think, but we must not think as they did’” (77).

As regards their attitudes towards proportions and orders, they either adopted a completely rigid and pedantic system, based on the teaching of Vitruvius, or, in complete contrast to this, adopted a the proportions authorized by Pompeiian wall paintings, which were so slender and widely spaced they led the way to the proportions later associated with metal construction” (78).

Today, taste is no longer synonymous with aesthetics, because the modern theoretical approach to art takes no account of the public at all.  The eighteenth century philosophers, though fully aware of the distinction between what they called ‘active taste’ and ‘passive taste’, were essentially concerned with the latter, ie with an art from the point of view of an observer’s reactions.  Today, however, as a result of the influence of Benedetto Croce, aesthetic theories are usually only concerned with the act of artistic creativity itself.  Art is considered to be essentially a form of expression, and it is now irrelevant to enquire whether or not it gives pleasure, as that is not its aim.  It is as if an omelette were judged simply by the genuiness of the chef’s passionate urge to go around breaking eggs (169).

The more an architect strives to make his buildings sincere, the less are they likely to harmonize with their environments….’A modern building,’ wrote Walter Gropius, ‘should derive its architectural significance solely from the vigour and consequence of its own organic proportions; it must be true to itself’ ” (251).

Relevancy to my research question

This book is an invaluable reference tool, both as an historical survey of styles and the social conventions that produced the ideas and ideals behind them, and as a well in which to dip for examples of the extensive historical relationship of imagery to architecture.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths I have just mentioned; the only weakness that comes to mind is that there is much that is irrelevant to my topic and I wondered whether or not to skip those sections whilst writing the summary.  However, as these book reviews are essentially a quick reference tool for the text that will eventually evolve into a dissertation, it seemed most sensible to at least make a passing comment on each and every section.

Questions/Doubts

As with 3d renders, I wonder if pre-photographic draughts should find their way into my thesis.  They are certainly images.  Or should I rather address that fact an then narrow my focus specifically to photographs?


Title:   The Key Concepts   PHOTOGRAPHY           

Author: David Bate

Thesis

The purpose of this book is summed up rather well in the title.  Yet it bears mentioning that while it is about photography, there are almost no images.  Clearly it is written for readers familiar with the photographers mentioned and chooses to focus on theory, using writing as the sole medium of explanation.  For this reason, whilst I think this book should be required reading for anyone serious about photography, it would be unsuitable on it’s own for undergraduates.  Charlotte Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art, would probably better fit the bill.

The thesis of the book is stated by Bates’ rather modest assertion at the end of the introduction that it only useful when read together with other about photography.  However, I disagree, for were that the case there would be no point in reading it, as several other books already fulfill that function.  What Bates manages to do is provide evidence to support rather bold assertions about photographic practice and communication through clear writing that cuts right to the chase and is as transparent as you could ask for.  As such, it is a rare gem both as a photography and cultural history reader.  Its purpose, as I see it, is as either a primer or reminder to be read either before or after the standard books.

Main Ideas per chapter

1. History

Leaning heavily on Freud, Bates argues that photography is a prosthetic device that extends memory more than vision.  It is our way of keeping something.  Interestingly, he points out that this technology has transformed our social memory, as it is really an historical series of pointers towards certain forms of appreciation.  In the end, the rest is filtered out so what we are left with is a partial vision of what the world once was according to the people that record it and the people who select, archive and distribute that information (a subject discussed at length in the final chapter).  Barthes figures heavily throughout this and other sections as one might expect and we are presented with the standard denotation/connotation distinction as well as the idea that photographic meanings are polysemic.  Eric Hobsbawm was about the only name I was surprised to see in this chapter, but then Bates is English.

2. Photographic Theory

The history of theory is broken down into 3 periods: Victorian Aesthetics, 20s-30s, 60s-70s.  Debatable though this division is, his discussion of the various isms is a real tour-de-force.  Bates uses the notion of an unfamiliar language as a means of understanding the potential gap between signifier and signified.  In this discussion he mentions Umberto Eco’s discourse on perceptive codes which sounds like it could be a good read for my thesis work[1].  In it, Eco compiles a list of 10 rhetorical codes, such as tonal, iconic, taste and rhetorical.  Additionally, Bates writes, Eco points out that human vision is already coded by the very act of perception:  “There is no message without a code” (38).

3. Documentary and Story-telling

Three parts of this chapter were highly relevant to my research, and the first of these deals with editorial control.  Bates points out that creative control of a reportage is rarely in the hands of the photographer – therefore editorial control determines what the public eventually sees (46).

The second and third point of interest for me intersect in a way as they cover perceived neutrality (51) and the notion of reality and representation (61).  I find it worth mentioning that the received correct style of architectural photography (objective, neutral documentation) was determined during the same moment in time as the architectural avant-garde which still informs the early dreams of architectural students.  Documentary is described as a “desire for reality” (61) and reality is in turn defined as “what we believe exists” (61).  The ramifications of this issue in the realm of architectural photography where realism and objectivity are everything to the client should be plain to see.

4. Looking at Portraits – this section was extremely interesting but not relevant to my research question.

5. In the Landscape

Essentially, this chapter is a discussion of the separation of landscape into the sublime and the picturesque/beautiful.  It is interesting how this curious phenomenon of the late 18th early 19th century brought to light by Burke and elevated to serious philosophical point by Kant has found its way into discourse through photography, just as pictorialism has found its way back into art through photography.  His discussion of the coding of spaces and the notion that paintings became models for landscape architects (91-92) is one I shall return to for my thesis.

Additionally, I thought the following a noteworthy concept:  “we could generalize the definition of landscape as the geometry of a space, the organization of a point of view towards a town/garden/city/country/suburb/park” (89).

6. The Rhetoric of Still Life

I initially glossed over this section until the words neue sacklichkeit caught my eye.  I have for some time felt that architectural photography is a form of still life, which is surprising and strange since in purports to depict the (public) built space.  A series of quotes from this section should illustrate my point.

“Essentially based on objects, still life photography lends itself to well to the picturing of products” (112).

“Even at the banal level, it is the work of the advertising photographer to organize the still-life objects into the ‘right’ meaning” (113).

“The…photographer uses their technical skills to produce these meanings, which are usually given to them in the “brief” (114).

“On the one hand it is seen as a ‘creative’ industry, likened to the famous Renaissance schools…on the other it is even seen by critics as a waste of space, time and money.”

“Raymond Williams described advertising as the ‘official art’ of modern capitalist society” (115).

“Visually, these photographs show food against a ‘clean’ background and usually isolated from any specific cultural context.  The viewer sees only the object, to product” (117).

“Different objects are shown from different angels but there is hardly much range between products and they are almost always systematically photographed in the same ways” (117).

7. Art Photography

Qua Benjamin we are told how photography changed the very notion of art – what it is and what it does.  It was a pivotal technology that invented new markets for images and a new paradigm for realism.  The different architectural paradigms are described as subdivisions of modernity (134).  Via photography, Lyotard tells us, pictorial realism has returned to art (139).  Via street photography, conceptual photography and fine art photography (initially a sort of American artisanal tradition) photography found its way into galleries and hence the old market it didn’t invent.

8. Global Photography

Once again a key section of this chapter is divided into a triumvirate: a local accumulation whose aim is global (image banks), a global network whose aim and use is local (Flickr, Facebook, etc) and an aim neither local nor global, but one defined as distraction (surfing the net, drifting, daydreaming, fantasizing).  These categories introduced by Bates could be translated into the following questions:

What are the consequences of a handful of companies owning vast quantities of the images we see and turning the visual capture of the human tradition into a short series of stereotypes?

Conversely, what does it mean when people all around the world have access to a technology (internet) that puts them in touch with data from around the world?

Lastly, what does it mean if this tool is used in a state of uncritical distraction?

Relevancy to my research question

A suggestion on the first page of the book gripped my attention.  Bates writes: a study of photography could be conducted through investigating the key institutions that use it….  The sociological anatomy of these institutions might reveal the systems by which photographs are produced, the arteries of power and decision making, or even the creative space that photographers are supposed to occupy.  Such a  project is probably urgently needed (1)….

My research is one such a project, isn’t it?

Moreover, a central concern of the history of photography, Bates suggests, ought to be the conventions of different practices.  These conventions, determined ultimately by the clients that commission images, are as I see it, one of the focal points of my research.  I want to interview architects about what they commission and why to specifically articulate those points and use that data to in turn articulate the role of photography within the practice of architecture and the role of architecture in shaping photographic practice.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Perhaps the greatest weakness, if you agree that this book should be directed at more advanced students of photography, is the limited range of authorial voices.  Technical and vastly more tedious books such as James Elkins Art Seminar do have the advantage of supplying the reader with provocative voices, an array of opinions and eminently quotable discussions.  As such, it is perhaps more suitable for doctoral students such as myself.  However, as a reference tool for the key concepts, I can think of no other I’d rather use.


Title: Beyond Culture

Author: Edward T Hall

Thesis 

In this book, Beyond Culture, Hall introduces the concept of “extension” as the key factor to the acceleration of social evolution achieved through material objects and specific processes (technology, language, etc) together with extension transference (ET) where “the extension” he explains, “ is confused with or takes place of the process extended” (28).  The idea will be expanded upon below.

Main Ideas/Findings

His task is, in a nutshell, to begin to analyse the world we have created and the ways in which the shape of that world shapes us, as Churchill once suggested in his famous quote on architecture.  Using his life experience as a sort of participant observation of particular cultural mores, he proposes an analytic method (from which he draws certain conclusions that are of little direct consequence to my research question but useful as models for the sub-questions within that question) that might be likened to a hermeneutics for the text of culture.  Semiotics is the more obvious choice for media theory, but I must say I prefer this path less travelled.

Relevancy to my research question

You can see in Hall’s background the appeal he has for me:  cross-cultural research that influenced both media theorists (McLuhan) and urban spatial theorists (Fuller).  His intersection overlaps with mine.  His topic, methods and clear writing have made him an unexpected but invaluable part of the background to my own research (at this still-early stage).  I find him to be a prime example of the significance of interdisciplinary, cross-cultural thinking and research.  Despite coming from a different academic background (anthropology and psychology) I guess in a way he is a hero of mine.

The chapters most relevant to my research question are “Man as Extension”, and “Image and Memory”.

Man as Extension

Extension is Hall’s term for the way man alters his environment, which in turn alters society and accelerates the evolution of man the social animal to a speed that far outstrips any biological evolution of man the animal.  Our cities and everything in them demonstrate this principal.  This acceleration takes place in externalised and internalised forms.  Hall gives the example of locks and doors for the former, the conscience for the latter.

Extension transference is a common mistake, identified by Hall, where the extension is confused with the (process or thing) extended (28): “mistaking the symbol for the thing symbolized” (29).  This error is problematic because it causes blind spots in research and alienation in society.  He looks at the misapplication of scientific paradigms to other areas of scholarship (33) and the mistakes caused in cross-cultural relations due to ET.  Extensions are useful in practical ways:  the car speeds up travel, the camera records the visual; but more interestingly, they act as models for the human mind.  Literature, art and science teach us things about the brain for the model in into forms we can interpret and interface with (37).

Image and Memory

Here again, Hall points out the importance of language and tool-making to the evolution of human society; these “extensions” have become detached from their sources and have taken on a life of their own.  The human mind, thinking, is closely associated to language but, he argues, they are not one and the same.  No new information here: this is essential the argument that runs the length of the book.  But what is interesting about this section is the way it acts as a precursor to current arguments for visual literacy and the tangentially related discourse on the use of models in human endeavours.  Education is too centred on language and mathematics where it should teach problem solving through real-life situations and the use of models and images to understand them.  You might think he’d like to make architects out of all of us.  Yet he says quite clearly on page 174 that he would never have been able to write these books or do his research were he brainwashed by an architectural education!  Interestingly, he points out that people really adept at mathematics, like Einstein, or at the use of language, like Mark Twain, were also visually adept and able to picture things with remarkable clarity and – more important still—use those abilities to communicate their ideas to those not blessed with similar gifts.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I am sure much has been written about these subjects since 1977, so I am not certain how valid his work would be considered as part of the literature on which my eventual thesis will be based.  More over, since sociology, psychology and anthropology were his main topics, I can imagine his name raising a few eyebrows at the time of my thesis’ defence.  Or at least that would be true, were it not for another work of his:  The Hidden Dimension, the subject of the next book review.

Title:    The Hidden Dimension

Author: Edward T Hall

Thesis 

In an ever-increasingly specialized and data-filled world, Edward T Hall recognizes the need for a book that places key concepts into an “organizing frame” in order to look at space as a system of communication – a central topic for studying the city and architecture.

Main Ideas/Findings

Perception of Space

This is the standard scientific section of the book, through which, I presume, Hall establishes credibility with the reader before moving on to the “softer” observations he offers about differing cultures and their effects not only on behaviour but also perception.  Topics include the following: distance regulation in animals, crowding and social behaviour in animals, the perception of space through distance receptors, and the same again through the skin and muscles.

Proxemics

Hall defines this term, which he invented, as the theory of man’s socialized use of space.  As he puts it, “space [is] a specialized elaboration of culture” (1).  In this book, he offers the reader examples of how different cultures interpret space.  Germans are shown to have particular uses of the private sphere and orderliness; the English are compared to the Americans for their use of voice, the telephone, rooms in the house and their relationships with their neighbours;  the Japanese concept of Ma is discussed; Arab notions of public and private behaviour are also looked at.  None of this seems like ground-breaking stuff these days, but the value for me is the intended audience (architects and city planners) and the unconventional way he has of researching the issues that concern them.

Relevancy to my research question

This book was influential in architects and I would like to incorporate it into any architectural photography course I might teach.  His chapter on visual space is particularly relevant to my research as was the chapter on cities and culture.  In the former, Hall discusses the physiological and social constructs of vision, leaning heavily on James Gibson, Berkely and Piaget.  In the latter, he addresses issues such as crowding, proxemics, town planning and the car.  Lastly, his appendix, in which he summarises the 13 varieties of perspective according to Gibson, should be standard issue for any photography student interested in depicting space.  Clear, concise and complete it is an invaluable reference tool to check your assumptions about what you are seeing and what you communicate.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As with all of his books, the strength is the clarity with which it is written, allowing him to communicate a wealth of information in a straight-forward, easy to understand manner all in the span of some two-hundred pages.

Title: Camouflage 

Author: Neil Leach

Much like Pallasmaa, Mr Leach has recently published a book where he completes years of study only to rethink his original position on imagery and architecture.  On the very first page of the preface, he writes that the new publication is “both a foil and a supplement to The Anaesthetics of Architecture, a former publication in which he “criticizes contemporary architectural design for offering an escapist, aestheticized outlook on the world”(IX).  In order to present his argument in it’s entirety, I shall attempt to provide a brief summary of all of the topics covered in Camouflage, using the chapter headings provided by Leach; however, I should point out that he overlaps many of the concepts from one chapter to the next and circles back on each repeatedly.  At the end of this paper, I will then question some of the methods used as well as arguments put forth, and address gaps and oversights I consider important to consider when reading this publication.

1 Mimesis

This topic is derived largely from that famous essay by Walter Benjamin, though he does also touch lightly on Adorno in this section.  In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Benjamin discusses the need of humans to “recognise something of themselves in their environment” (Leach 19) in order to feel at home.  He contrasts the 19th century “shell” that people created around themselves in order to live comfortably with the alienated porous and transparent buildings of the 20th century (Leach18).  Mimesis is taken to be the manner in which we adapt to our environment and indeed, according to Adorno, how we become human beings in the world (Leach19).  We use mimeses as form of adaptation, projecting ourselves into things in order to understand them.  This form of engagement takes place in reading, dance and when we look at art.  In order to effectively do the last of these, we are told that one must revert to a childlike state so as to fully appreciate a work of art through a child’s imaginative gaze (30).  There appears to be something of an internal contraction here, as Leach seems to suggest that we develop as people (when we are children) by using an adaptive processes of mimeses, but must contrarily apply techniques of mimesis to undo that development in order to properly engage with an art work.

2 Sensuous Correspondence

This chapter focuses far more on Adorno’s application of mimesis to aesthetic theory (34).  Art is taken as a “mute” form of communication whose meaning cannot be explicitly taken, as with language.  Artworks serve as a vehicle for mimesis and as viewers we must actively project ourselves into work.  Lastly, mimesis is physical, sensual, and in no way conceptual (35).  Leach likens Adorno’s reading of mimesis to love, where you mirror another in order to get close to and on some level negotiate a relationship with them (37).  He hastens to add that mimeses differs from empathy in that it involves a critical element (39).  Mimesis is important for architecture as it allows us to read into our surroundings (45).  Adorno applies this concept in order to criticise the undialecticality of functionalist architecture, which is impoverished for overlooking the need for purpose-free aspects of creation.  Mimesis and the imagination it requires could make for better architecture, argues Leach (46).

3 Sympathetic Magic

This chapter starts off looking at magic, principally through the investigations of James Frazer.  Magic is found to operate via “similarity” or “contact” and is described as “sympathetic” where it synthesises the two (52).  Magic is further divided into the two categories of benevolent and malignant and the operational principals of each are discussed (53-55).  Leach’s next move is to explore the parallels between mimesis and magic, He writes: “[b]oth appear to operate within the same conceptual orbit, both establish an ideational relationship between subject and object, and both rely on the imagination (56).  From there, he goes on to discuss the ways in which Adorno and Benjamin viewed art as different and distant from magic.  In the case of Benjamin, it is technology which provides a new, more scientific way of seeing; whereas, for Adorno, art is viewed as rationality that criticizes rationality without withdrawing from it (Leach 60).  Interestingly, Leach brings the chapter to a close by challenging these notions, arguing that our faith in science and technology is similar to the faith placed on religion and magic (65).

4 Mimicry

Here, where Leach analyses how different animals use mimicry, Roger Caillois’ essay on the behaviour of mimetic insects is the initial topic, and he views their mimicry as three dimensional “teleplasty” or “sculpture-photography” in that they genetically reproduce structures that mimic their environment (69).  From there, Leach moves on to discuss what appears to be an animal that plays a crucial role in his discourse:  the chameleon.  This animal is described as using colour to stand out and blend in (77) and privilege the visual for both its contact with the world and its negotiation therein (79).  For that reason, Leach concludes this chapter by referring to human beings as homo chamaeleanus.

5 Becoming

Becoming is about going beyond mere imitation.  Leach introduces the idea of the fly orchid which has evolved to resemble a digger wasp to such an extent that the wasp mates with it.  More that imitation, this is seen as an act of becoming, described by Derrida as actatative, “a process between two producing subjects” (87).  This is an important point because these two subjects are each said to enter into the logic of the other (84).  Humans are then described as “desiring machines” (88) that operate through the non-hierarchical logic of the rhizome.  Applied to the realm of architecture, this process of becoming inherent to the human condition suggests that inhabitants go through a process of becoming the building in which they dwell, and vice versa (97).

6 Death

In this brief chapter, Leach focuses mainly on the death principal as understood by Freud and Lacan.  The latter showed how are drives go beyond the pleasure-principle and are often masochistic (107).  The latter picked up this idea and stated that ultimately we pursue jouissance:  pleasure in excess, which arrives at suffering (109).  These two interconnected ideas are then linked to art via the need for sublimation.  In short, we make things such as art objects to channel our drives into socially acceptable artefacts (112).  Finally, the spectrum of human behaviour is said to exist between Eros and Thanatos where the former represents discord with the environment and the latter harmony (114).  Applied to architecture, they would produce one of excitement or repose, respectively (115).

7 Narcissism

Upon arriving at this chapter I breathed a sigh of relief for some of the statements therein actually applied to the question of aesthetics, via the stories of Narcissus and Orpheus.  The former is described as the “emblem of aesthetic contemplation” because he identifies with an image and sacrifices himself to it (121).  The link to creativity comes in where Leach states that it is a gesture enacted through repetition that is essentially narcissistic in character and enacts as a sublimation of erotic drives (126).  This raises the question of wherein lies the narcissistic component, which is answered by Leach via Marcuse in the following quotation: “[e]very work of art reveals itself to us a as person harmoniously feeling himself into a kindred object, or as humanity objectifying itself in harmonious forms (127). This idea is fused with the argument put forth by Christopher Lasch in his book The Culture of Narcissism, that “cameras and recording machines not only transcribe experience but alter its quality, giving much of modern life the character of an enormous echo chamber, a hall of mirrors” (Leach 129).

8 Identity

The subject of identity is introduced by linking narcissism with self-destruction and an “erotic attraction to the spectacular image” (134); this image is used by a child to recognize herself eventually as distinct from her mother (136); this process however is said to consist of a series of failed attempts to become an autonomous being (139).  From here we are taken to a discussion of cinema and how the viewer identifies primarily with the movements of the camera and secondarily with the characters (140-141).  Next Leach brings architecture back into the fold claiming that buildings are appropriated through repeated acts of touch and sight (142). Empathy then enters centre stage, and we are told that it exists qua the ability to project one’s personality on to someone or something else, such as a building (143).  Using arguments structured by Zizek, Leach discusses national identity as a form of belief and way of life that requires symbols empathy and habit to create meaning (145) and he tells us that buildings are an example of the type of object that helps to construct national identity via symbolism, attachment, destruction, habit (147-150).

9 Paranoia

Leach asserts that paranoia is the root of all knowledge because knowledge is derived from and based on “an illusion” by which he seems to mean self-delusion based on Cartesian dualism and the tendency to animate inanimate surroundings (159) presumably in order to create meaning where there would otherwise be none. Again, we are told that empathy is used to create meaning, but he adds that “the act of making the self is equivalent to making the self like the world” (160) and the world is (quoting Lacan) “a statue in which man projects himself” (163).  The gaze plays greatly in the role of projecting identity, thus it is no surprise that Judith Butler’s discourse the gaze as crucial to (gender) identity is invoked (164).  Artworks and people alike are given identities via the gaze of the person (or technology?) that observes them (164).

10 Belonging

Butler is mentioned repeatedly throughout this chapter, specifically to discuss the performative aspects of identity.  Gender is a form of drag that is authorised, normalised and asserted through repetition both on an individual and societal level (173).  Leach links this idea to architecture by asserting that identity is like a film script and architecture is the set in which it is enacted (180).  Spaces are ascribed meanings and ritual acts are performed there; in doing so, imagined communities are constructed (181).  The sense of belonging is created by this ongoing process (184).

11 Sacrifice

A ballad, told in several Eastern-European countries, introduces the main idea of this chapter; in it, we are told that a young woman is bricked up inside a building (188-190).  Aztec sacrifices of young men and maidens are later discussed (195) and from there we are led to Georges Bataille’s (Marxist) interest in the question of sacrifice.  We are told that this hinges on the notion of productive vs. non-productive expenditure (197).  This is crucial because Western economies are based on the productive kind but a host of activities from sex to war to sports to arts disguise the importance of the unproductive sort which satisfy the needs of the pleasure principle(197).  Sacrifice is important because it is a key move from utility to “intelligible caprice” (198).   Sacrifice is a form of communion because it is said to distinguish the distinction between I and thou (200-201) and allows one to ascribe oneself in a building.  For architecture to exist, sacrifice must take place (201).  Sacrifice occurs via the “ecstatic moment of…aesthetic contemplation” (a phrase Leach is fond of and uses repeatedly) because the viewer surrenders themselves to an “other” which is likened to a religious form of transcendence (202).

12 Melancholia

Human behaviour, which is competitive and violent is determined by “mimesis” we are told, which is described as an inquisitive form of copying; only sacrifice, such as that of Christ on the cross, can allay such a virulent mass and allow for society to exist, and for individuals to congeal into a larger mass (206).  Various types of sacrifice are expounded on, especially that of the mother until on page 210 we are regaled with the presumed subject of the chapter: melancholia, “a form of living death”.  Art is the fruit of this emotional state but also transcends it (211) and love is it’s polar opposite because it affirms life (211).  Sadly, there is too little love in the world and we are told that we live in a symbolically impoverished culture of melancholia (214).  Thankfully, there is art, which articulates the symbolic and acts as a sacrifice (in lieu of the human sort previously discussed, one must presume) and has the potential to save humanity (215).  At this point, Julia Kristeva is quoted heavily and an abstruse discussion of the geno and phenotexts ensues, together with an invocation of the chora (216-218).  As must needs be the case in each chapter, Leach finds a way to bridge the gap between the subject at hand and architecture, and he closes by saying that architecture is essentially always tomblike (because, linked to our anxiety of death, it seeks to produce the eternal) whereas it must avail to become womblike (nurturing and propagating life) (219-220).

13 Ecstasy

The subject of Santa Teresa de Avila’s erotic writings about ecstasy which employ descriptions of rhythmic penetration and ensuing ecstasy lead leach into an interesting comparison between aesthetic contemplation and religious/erotic experiences.  Much as love fills the void between two people, art is said by Kristeva to breach the “thetic divide” (235).  We form relationships with objects, converting a house and its contents into a home, for example, in order to exist in a world of meaning (234).  In doing so, we act like a worshipper who believes, and our belief in turn creates meaning on an individual level (234) and on the macro scale belief in belief creates a community, as discussed earlier in the book.

14 Camouflage

The last seven pages of the book are spent in an engaging, and for my part, convincing explication of Leach’s choice of title in light of the arguments put forth in the book.  So many ideas fill this chapter that it would seem to make sense to quote and list them, page by page.  Camouflage is: “always at work within a culture…a form of masquerade…the relating of the self to the world through the medium of representation…a mechanism for inscribing an individual within a… setting…a medium through which to relate to the other…a mode of symbolization…[and] is visual and…strategic [in] its nature” (240). “Camouflage is not restricted to the visual domain…yet is primarily visual…human beings are creatures that tend to privilege vision…human beings are mutant creatures…constantly evolving…camouflage …is an effective response to contemporary conditions” (241).  “Camouflage is not as Guy Debord maintains…nor is it as Jean Baudrillard claims [but rather]…if we follow psychoanalytic thinking, what we take for the real is in fact imaginary” (242).  “The operations of camouflage may be enacted through creative processes…of assimilation based on representation…as a mechanism for inserting the individual within society” (243).  “Aesthetic production should maintain the capacity to operate as a medium between the self and the world, but only aesthetic production whose design has been carefully controlled can achieve this” (244). “Camouflage is ultimately a question of foreground and background” (245).  “Camouflage than therefore be read as an interface with the world” (247).

A few words in response.

Considering his constant references to Baudrillard in The Anaesthetics of Architecture, I was surprised to find no mention of him in this publication, save to distance himself from his former source of insight and inspiration towards the end of the book on page 242.  This drastic change from reading and relying almost exclusively on Post-Structuralists to Psychoanalysts is intriguing in itself?  Did Leach perhaps go into therapy and undergo as a result a rethink of his life in general, as well as his work? I’d not be surprised to learn this was the case but it goes beyond the remit of the current task to properly entertain the point.  However, it is surprising that someone so well-read in Baudrillard chooses to completely overlook a book published by him which deals with many of Leach’s topics, not least of which: camouflage, mimesis, ecstasy, empathy.  Can this really be an oversight on his part, or does it perhaps reflect a deliberate and slightly dishonest move to distance himself from Baudrillard whilst still making use of his ideas where convenient?  If we give him the benefit of the doubt, his substantial change of heart needs still to be reckoned with.

What about this about face? After his startling statements in the introduction, Leach’s use of photography to introduce chapters and the idea he articulates that since we are primarily visual animals, the visible is not inherently equivalent to evil are perhaps the clearest indicators of this change of heart.  Five years past between one publication and the next and clearly Leach entertained arguments against what he had written, deciding at some point to write a book of greater length and depth.  And the effort put forth and the motivation behind it is genuinely admirable.  That said, there is one thing that still bothers me about his argument and the book in general:  he discusses images and the visual world but says very, very little about photography.  What on earth could be the cause of such reticence even after such a lengthy, thorough, well-research and heavily referenced rethink about the worold of images?

I believe Leach, together with many of his colleagues, is still uncomfortable with photography.

Why do architects show so little interest in this medium they have been married to since its invention?  It’s almost as though it were a taboo subject in the industry and they needed to find polite subjects to speak about in order to keep the party from ending abruptly.  Is photography that embarrassing uncle that drank to much and danced badly, almost ruining the evening for everyone?  I believe the answer is articulated clearly by Roger Connah in a book entitled How Architecture Got its Hump, published the same year as Anaesthetics.  In it he writes: “Those—mostly architects—who suspect the magic (a professional hazard) find that the photograph falls short of “capturing” their vision of the building, their vision of the architecture” (Connah 52).  He argues that perhaps this unhappy marriage between photography and architecture stems from the fact that “publishing, commissioning bodies, and educational careerism have limited the use of photography to the acceptable market reality…supporting the status quo” (Connah 57).  He then goes on to list the four standard tropes of representation in architectural publications and suggests six missing elements (from an architect’s perspective) for an expanded field therein.

I put the book down speechless.  Surely, this was the issue at hand. Surely, Leach, with all of his talk about Freud vs Lacan qua Kristeva to the power of Adorno divided by Benjamin was using the standard tricks employed by the charlatan playing at Three Card Monty for a few coins from an amused and unsuspecting public.  In short, a lot of work has clearly gone into researching and writing Camouflage, but I can’t help wondering if, more than an idea planted in the back of his mind during his days as a disciple of the guru of Similacra, leach didn’t choose the name of his book because somewhere in the recesses of his unconscious (if I may be permitted a bit of amateur psychology of my own) he new that he was covering something up.
Literature

Baudrillard, Jean.  Le système des objets. Gallimard, 1968,

Connah, Roger. How Architecture Got its Hump. The MIT Press, 2006.

Leach, Neil. The Anaesthetics of Architecture. MIT Press, Cambridge, MS, 1999.

Leach, Neil.   Camouflage.  The MIT Press, 2006.

Title: The Embodied Image

Author: Juhani Pallasmaa

At the very outset of his recent publication, Pallasmaa acknowledges that fifteen years of investigation, writing and lecturing on the topic of architecture and the senses have come to a close (5).  But is that really the case or does this book not perhaps represent a volta face?  At the very least, has he not shifted the goal posts, no longer trying to work against the “hegemony of vision” (5) but with it? The Embodied Image is written as a collection of five essays, and I will look at each separately in the order presented in the book. In his characteristic style, Pallasmaa subdivides each topic under a series of provocative headings which are, in effect, assertions he supports with citations from extensive reading.  His ability to stitch together fragments from myriad sources is like a builder taking stones of roughly the same size and shape and laying them top of each other to form a wall—it is appropriately tectonic, labour intensive and slightly Luddite (particularly when you consider the fact that he writes his essays out “in longhand” (5).  I shall avail to summarise the main points of each paper and respond to them subjectively with reference to my work as a photographer and my research into the intersection of architecture and photography; in addition, I shall address the central concern and core argument of this publication: the notion of an embodied image, which reminds me of the incompatible terms “wooden iron” ridiculed by Schopenhauer and later picked up by Nietzsche with the similar scorn.

1 Image in contemporary culture

The first essay covers the following topics: hegemony of the image (15-16), the demise of imagination (16-17), image production and the feasibility of architecture (17-19), architecture and the spectacle (19-20), images of control and emancipation (21-22) and the sense of the real (22-24).  In the first, he argues that “the image industry” has replaced our physical world with images that threaten a loss of literacy and the fragmentation of our attention span (15).  This synthetic, virtual, crafted reality is often more real than the one it replaces, and he cites Second life as an example of this phenomenon (15).  In closure, he recognises the weakness of the very notion of one reality being more real than another, but argues that reality (whatever it is taken to mean) “has never been as ambiguous and groundless as today” (15).  This argument is part of a much larger one touched upon by himself in former publications and countless other theorists (Baudrillard, et al) so does not bare comment here.  However, he goes on to argue that the most alarming effect of a life awash in images is that an individual’s imagination is becoming atrophied (16-17).  The point is interesting and bares scrutiny, but it fails to take into account the impoverished notion of being it puts forth: human beings are apparently all alike and thus collectively undergoing a uniform rewriting of their software.  It may well be true that the number of images people are exposed to alters their imaginative capacity, but surely it does so differently to each person depending on factures such as education, profession, age, gender, economic status, etc.  Even if we all dance in time to the same song, surely we each do so differently?  The argument becomes still more aggressive in the next section where he argues that we are being manipulated by images in order to perpetuate the global economy.  Again, I don’t doubt there is some truth to the assertion, but it is offered in such a facile manner as to have no intrinsic value.  Here as in many other instances throughout the book, Pallasmaa raises a question only to provide the reader with (presumably) the (only correct) answer: “Are we today being manipulated by images of our own making? Yes, we are…(19). In the next section, he articulates the basis of the central argument he will go on to argue throughout the book: that there are two types of images, one bad and the other good.  The first is used by politicians and industry to control us and the second is used to channel our humanity and enrich our lives (22).  The latter is the poetic image which is the good guy in the film and represents what I believe is a significant adjustment to Mr Pallasmaa’s former line of thought.

2 Language, thought and image

This paper uses the same layout as the last, and the headings of each section are: [i]mage and Language (27), [t]he philosophical image (31), [t]he meanings of image and imagination (32), [t]he nature of imagination (36).  The purpose of the first section is to establish the idea that image comes before language which is later articulated into sounds and finally written language (31).  In the next part he goes on to argue that philosophers have for centuries overlooked images as central to our thought processes (32).  He then points out that images are often ill-defined and that we need to pay attention to the difference between sensory percepts and creations of the imagination (32-34).  He also points out, in a move that suggests he is in favour of art based research, that it is regrettable that academic institutions are still biased towards scientific research which ignore artistic or emotional content (34).  In the last section of this chapter, he points out rather nicely that the world is both given to us and of our own making (36).

3 The many faces of the image

This chapter is the longest of the book (some 50 pages) and seeks to define and categorise types of images, arguing in favour of poetic images which are the ones he considers “embodied” because they are “an evocative and meaningful sensory experience that is layered” and “gives rise to an imaginative reality” (41).  Here we have the rub of his argument: commercial images stifle the imagination whereas poetic ones enrich and enhance it. So just what are poetic images?  The answer comes in the next chapter, but not before he discusses the following types of images: lived and embodied (41-46), of matter (46-50), multi-sensory (50-55), as a condensation (55-58), archetypal in architecture (58-61), architecture as mandala (61-63), real and unreal (63-64), unconscious (64-65), metaphoric (66-69), image, affect and empathy (69-71), collage (71-74), of incompleteness and destruction (74-78), of time (78-79), illusionary (79-83), iconic (83-84), epic (84-86), poetic images as worlds (87-88).

4 The anatomy of the poetic image

We would be hard pressed to look at all of the ideas presented in this chapter and it would easily double the length of the present essay, so I shall concentrate on just three: dual nature, embodiment and beauty.  Of the first, there are said to be two realities for any form of artistic creation: physical and imaginary.  The former is obviously that which exists in a physical sense whereas the latter is the idea it contains (93).  According to Pallasmaa, a successful artwork (including architecture) “always maintains a tension between the two realities (95).  Another form of duality is ascribed specifically to architecture: its role as the creator of habitations and role as glorifier (97).  Here he quotes Tadao Andao who famously said that architecture lies somewhere between function and it’s detachment from function (99), whatever that means.  From there we arrive at the idea of thinking through the arts, which leads to “embodied existential metaphors” (106).  The idea, much discussed by Pallasmaa elsewhere, is that all of our thinking is not done in our heads (even if most neurologists, a many of whom Pallasmaa uses to support his arguments at the beginning of the book, tend to claim otherwise).  Lastly, we come to aesthetics, which interest Pallasmaa biologically though not as a formal analysis of art (113).  The production of what often passes as beauty is considered cynical (114) and he closes with something of a warning: “The task of architecture is not to beautify life, but to reinforce and reveal its existential essence, beauty and enigma” (115).  The sentence certainly reinforced the enigma of Pallasmaa’s meaning.

5 The architectural image

This section suggested itself as the most relevant to my research question and therefore piqued my interest greatly.  At the outset, Pallasmaa didn’t disappoint, adding yet another binary opposition to his argument.  Architecture is threatened, he claimed, by two processes: aestheticisation and instrumentalisation (119).  Buildings are either empty, high-tech shells or flat seductive surfaces with nothing behind the curtain, either way, they fail at the chief role of architecture according to Pallasmaa, which is to create meaning (119).  One way of doing this is via metaphor, specifically, he claims, qua the notion of the home which architecture might always have recourse to (120-121).  As such, it helps us to orientate ourselves in the world (he quotes Heidegger, here on 121).   Another key source of meaning are windows and doors as they provide entrances and views that connect interior and exterior worlds (130).   He also returns to the notion of the fragile image and fragile architecture put for in an essay ten years prior.  Borrowing from Gianni Vattimo and Ignasi de Solà-Morales (133), he explains that this ideal sort of architecture seeks not to impress us through structure but rather to invite us to participate in it.  Ruins and “layered” renovations as offered as examples of this form of architecture (134).  Lastly, he ends the chapter and the book with the idea that newness is a dead end and a “shallow criterion for artistic quality” (137).  Instead of seeing novelty as a value in itself, we should study old things in order to invent new ones and get in touch with the origins of poetic imagery, in short become part of a tradition, in order to truly contribute and not merely innovate (138).

I like the fact that Pallasmaa has taken a stand.  He believes in what he says and certainly argues passionately for the sake of a better world.  But does he do so effectively?  His reading is broad, but are his interpretations deep?  Throughout each of his publications I have asked myself if he is not merely propping up his arguments with the arguments of others like expert testimony in a trial.  And if so, what is wrong with that?  I believe the answer is that his evidence supports his conclusions and not his research questions, which appear to have been answered before he started.  Ideally, one should ask a question and find a suitable method to test it.  But here as in all the other books I have read by Pallasmaa, I find that whilst I agree with him on many points and align myself with several of his beliefs and fears, it is not because he has convinced me but because I already felt that way before picking up the book.  Furthermore, there are some internal inconsistencies in this book that I cannot ignore, such as the presumption of a universal subject which in itself seems the kind of totalitarian move he is fighting against via his critique of the media’s use of images as propaganda.  He seems to have an answer that is right for the whole world and to have addressed all that is wrong for the same number of people.  I am afraid in doing so he has gone down the path of so many other architects before him and were he given free reign, would unleash another Plan Voisin or Brasilia on the world, all of which were meant with good intentions provided your definition of good is in line with the visionary’s.  However, I think the fact that he has deepened his definition of the image and suggested a more complex relationship between human subjectivity and our exposure to images is an enormous stride forward in understanding architecture and imagery, and through each, the world.  The embodied image is one while activates the other senses—Pallasmaa recognizes crucially that the senses are interconnected, hence questioning the very notion of a purely visual encounter.  He suggests that exhausted commercial cannon fodder make exist in such a limited dimension, but he finally appreciates the fact that not all images are of the same sort, and that much can be said with them where the intention (or at least the result) is, as put by him “poetic”. As an image-maker, I am encouraged and heartened by this new or at least nuanced direction and feel that in this sense at least, Mr Pallasmaa has made a valuable contribution to the discourse on the topic of aesthetics within architecture and of imagery—as a part of that—in the world.

Literature

Pallasmaa, Juhani.  “The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2011.

diary: truthy lies

“The manipulation of commercial architectural images has become so commonplace that almost no other views of architecture are visible in our culture. […] I don’t believe that a photojournalistic standard of truth can be applied to commercial architectural photography. To do so would make it unsustainable economically for the majority of those employed as architectural photographers. So you can’t get architectural photographers to shoot the truth. As recently proven by Edgar Martins, you can’t expect a fine artist to tell the truth. I suppose you could get a photojournalist to shoot the truth but then perhaps, it becomes more about social context than about the architecture itself. In any case, all three of these [kinds of] photographers can produce a version of the reality. Whichever one of the three is considered more truthful largely depends upon the inherent values of the particular audience involved.” (Tim Griffith)

Full article:

http://criticalterrain.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/truthy-lies-photographers-speak-out-on-edgar-martins/

diary: re-presentation

The dreaded talk went better this time.  Much better indeed…a resounding success as a matter of fact.  The funny thing is, i was up all night with very virulent virus – stomach bug that made me all too devout to the porcelain god.   I took the Immodium tablets I bought for India (but didn’t need there) and crossed my fingers.  I was so exhausted but once things started (I had to chair the session and so present the other speakers as well as do my talk) I had such an adrenalin rush that I no longer felt poorly.  I got through the presentations fine, and the room was half empty until it was my turn, at which point loads of people poured in to hear me speak,  which was of course an enormous compliment, but upped the ante quite a bit.  Would have been a disaster had it gone like the week before, but quite the opposite happened actually.  I doubt very much I’ve ever done such a good presentation in my life.  And whilst there were hardly any questions for the other speakers the response was so great to my talk that we finally had to cut people off as we had gone over time and there was another talk coming up.  Even then, people stayed afterwards to chat with me and give me their cards.  It was really quite amazing.  Unfortunately, instead of going out to celebrate I went home and slept for 15 hours.

research log: shooting

Aoa

Shot the first interiors today 26 March on a site visit with Vesa and 3 other architects.  I tried to focus on the work taking place there as it predominates at this stage of the game and presumably I’ll have plenty of opportunities to shoot it empty and clean, furnished and then finally open, used and then a bit later once it’s had a few pages dog-eared.

K2s

Shot the first interiors 23 March.  Ditto the above comments plus an attempt to focus on the Tapio Wirkkala-esque woodwork  which is the best part of this project, for my money.  The shape reminds me a bit of a JKMM project, though.  I wonder if they think so too…perhaps the client asked for something of the sort after seeing the Shanghai Pavilion.  Would be nice to ask them about it but one always worries about the foot in mouth syndrome with that sort of thing.

Jkmm

Shooting the first interiors 27 March, tomorrow.  Shot a few exteriors a few weeks ago to get the last of the snow.  Bit of a disaster as the snow was dirty and sparse, but I knew that going into it.  As with all of these shoots, the timing could have been a lot better.

 

The main problem with all of these shoots is access.  Time is a serious obstacle.  There exists a prevailing attitude – difficult to shake – that you should be able to bang out a few nice pictures in an hour or two and job done.  The entire point of this project is to spend lots of time observing, shooting and repeating.  And whilst no one has denied me access directly, it is damned near impossible to get inside these buildings to shoot them, and none of the architects involved have done much to change that.  Which of course one can understand perfectly, as they have lots of other things to attend to.  But that is the central question: how high on the list of priorities should photography fall?

diary: gave the dreaded talk today

http://prezi.com/x0v7dfrdhgfw/copy-of-atmographs-or-archmospheres/

all was going well but then for some reason, suddenly and out of nowhere, my throat closed up, i got red in the face and couldn’t continue.  disaster loomed, i thought.  but luckily i had a bottle of water on the table, so i had a drink and said the secular equivalent of a prayer (to whom?  science?  kamppi? the weather channel?) and hoped i could struggle through it.  which i did.

so now i am left wondering, was that a blessing in disguise?  have i now beaten goliath and come out unscathed.  or is this just the slim end of the wedge, the tip of the iceberg, the top of the slippery slope which will eventually jettison me into the abyss (a job at kamppi, the aforementioned shopping centre).  i guess only time will tell.  and not much is needed as i must repeat the performance (hopefully sans the agoraphobic laryngitis) this thursday.  the horror…

diary: equipment

One of the reasons I can’t keep both flats is that I need to invest in new equipment.  If I had the money I would buy this:

http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/1734524/arca-swiss-targets-medium-format-photojournalists

or this:

http://www.alpa.ch/en/products/cameras/camera-bodies/alpa-12-max.html

or this:

http://www.cambo.com/Html/products_photo/set01/english/internet/Item504.html

But it’s simply too expensive.  Which is actually a problem, as any architectural photographer worth his salt these days uses one of the above.  Instead, I can see no choice but to buy this:

http://www.onestop-digital.com/index.php?dispatch=products.view&product_id=33385

or this:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/46340-USA/Schneider_06_039789_28mm_f_2_8_PC_Super_Angulon.html

or both?  Each offers more problems than solutions: images quality problems, focal length (hence coverage)…

important accessory

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/833324-REG/Horseman_TS_PR0_27011_TS_Pro_Tilt_Shift_Front_Unit.html

https://captureintegration.com/cambo/cambo-wide-compact-rc-400/

What to do, what to do?

Furthermore, it would be cheaper to buy in London but I had all of my equipment robbed there once and feel unsure about risking it again.  Paranoid, I know, but the feeling of losing everything doesn’t easily leave you.  And as usual, not speaking the language here means I really don’t know to what extent my insurance covers my equipment nor does anyone seemed able or bothered to explain….

research log: the interview i have been conducting

Part 1  Photography and Architecture

  1. What is the role of photography in publishing architecture and winning competitions?  (The business of architecture aside from ideological considerations.)
  2. Photography and architecture have a long history together.  Can you think of some ways the one might have influenced the other?
  3. How do architectural conventions shape architectural photography? Where does the “architectural style” of photography come from?
  4. Are trends in architectural photography changing?
  5. Can you talk about that relationship with reference specifically to your practice?
  6. If you accept that the institution of architecture influences the practice of (architectural) photography (through specific briefs and general conventions), do you also think it could work the other way around?  Can you think of ways that photographs, photography and photographers might have an effect on architectural practices?
  7. My research question can be stated as follows:  Do images make buildings?  Could you respond to that?

Part 2  Atmosphere

  1. What is an architectural atmosphere?
    1. Can it exist at once in a building and in it’s depiction:  can the photo and the architectural work share common ground through atmosphere?
    2. What are the strengths of Finnish architecture with respect to atmosphere?
      1. Are there some aspects of that notion which local architects are overlooking?

 

10. Peter Zumthor has written and spoken repeatedly about the notion of atmosphere as central to his work and appreciation of architecture.  Do you see any possible links there to photography?

11. Gernot Böhme has also written extensively on the subject of atmospheres.  He has identified the stage in theatre as a space for the production of atmospheres.  He asserts their production and reception is almost scientifically reliable and predictable.  Could you talk about that idea with reference to architecture?

12. What about photography?  Can you see any similarities in the way it reproduces space in an image?

13. Architects such as Juhani Pallasmaa and Neil Leach have spent a decade disparaging photography and blaming it for much of what is bad in architecture.  Why do you suppose that is?

 

Part 3:  Project Specific Questions

  1. 14.  What were atmospheric intentions of _________( name specific project)?
  2. 15.  How well were these realised by the photography you commissioned?  In what way do the photographs succeed in transmitting your intentions (atmospheric and otherwise) and in what ways do they fall short?
  3. 16.  What were some of the pleasant surprises from the photography you commissioned?

17. What do you think could be added in subsequent shoots of that work and why?  How about a wish list?

18. Can the atmosphere of an image coincide with the one perceived upon visiting the actual site?  And upon what would it depend (photographic techniques, correspondence of light and weather, presence/absence of people, noise levels and general “vibe”, etc).

 

log: memorable quotes

Umberto Eco

“The whole of the visible universe is only a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination assigns a place and a relative value; it is a kind of nourishment that the imagination must digest and transform” (Joyce 355).

“One does not paint a landscape, a harbour, or a figure; one paints an impression of an hour of the day of a landscape, a habour, a figure” (Manet 356).

“Real artistic invention develops in that moment of intuition – expression that is wholly consummated with the creative spirit.  While technical expression, the translation of the poetic phantasm into sounds, colours, words or stone is merely incidental and adds nothing to the fullness an definiteness of the work (401).

Alain de Botton – The Architecture of Happiness

“The condition of beaty, once viewed as the central taks of the architect, has quietly evaporated from serious professional discussion and retreated to a confused private imperative (26).

“If modernist architects primarily designed with beauty in mind, why did they justify their work in technological terms?  Fear…(67).

“Beauty is the promise of happiness” (Stendhal).

“We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need” (107).

“During the span of human history there have been only two types of art: abstract and realistic” (154).

“The house had an otherworldly, abstracted air: to be inside it was to fell close to the realm of mist and shadows.  What it rained, the pitter-patter of water sounded overhead, but the glass revealed nothing of the could from which the raindrops fell”. (234)

“A development which spoils ten square miles of countryside will be the work oa few people neither particularly sinful or malevolent” (254).

“We must always remember that the fate of cities is decided in the town hall” (Le Corbusier 265).

David Bate – Key Concepts

“Essentially based on objects, still life photography lends itself to well to the picturing of products” (112).

“Different objects are shown from different angels but there is hardly much range between products and they are almost always systematically photographed in the same ways” (117).

•A study of photography could be conducted through investigating the key institutions that use it….  The sociological anatomy of these institutions might reveal the systems by which photographs are produced, the arteries of power and decision making, or even the creative space that photographers are supposed to occupy.  Such a project is probably urgently needed (1).

Peter Zumthor – Atmospheres

•“We perceive atmosphere through our emotional sensibility – a form of perception that works incredibly quickly, and which we humans evidently need to help us survive” (13).

•[T]he task of creating architectural atmosphere comes down to craft and graft….[p]rocesses and interests, instruments and tools (21).

Gernot Bohme

•The truth is that atmospheres are a typical intermediate phenomenon, something between subject and object.

• it is rewarding to approach them from two sides, from the side of subjects and from the side of objects, from the side of reception aesthetics and from the side of production aesthetics (3).

•It is the art of the stage set which rids atmospheres of the odour of the irrational: here, it is a question of producing atmospheres. This whole undertaking would be meaningless if atmospheres were something purely subjective. For the stage-set artist must relate them to a wider audience, which shall experience the atmosphere generated on the stage in, by and large, the same way (3).

Christopher Bedford, Words Without Pictures.

•‘If photography is to be understood as a medium always and deliberately productive of meaning in the same sense as painting, this will require a rich and thorough understanding of the myriad decisions that precede the production of the photographic image, ranging from the conceptual and obtuse to the mundane and pragmatic.

Roger Connagh

We might describe the photographic capture of a building a natural progression in four stages.

The first order, establishing shots, usually indicate mass totality, and an immediate, predictable (often erroneous) idea of scale (53).

[T]he second order is usually the conventional photographic rhetoric found in journals.  This is the frontal image….  Usually main shots, entrances, large exteriors (corrected or altered) wide angles…. Here homogeneity in architectural images remains cultural, professional, and undisturbed.  In Barthe’s words, they don’t really touch us!  These photographs conform to the professions way of drawing, and thus seeing elevations, however much this has been challenged in recent history.

The Third order of architectural approach in photography is in the detail.  Applicable to space, material and construction….

The fourth order…would then be the invisible, of ten unaccounted for, detail that we could call the accident.  Something might happen, might be stumbled across, that invites the photographer to take image.  It might be planned, noticed, even staged.  It might be fleeting, unique, and unstaged (54).

Professionals wait for the sun to dial a cliché.

Rarely do we get a comparative photography, the dull day against rain or the sunny day against the overcast.  Any form of early interactive studies of buildings and architecture that the camera could have offered since 1925 have been rare.  In the twentieth century, an optical truth inextricably tied with the professional production and promise of architecture ruled out other ways of photographic seeing (55).

Clearly, publishing, commissioning bodies, and educational careerism have limited the use of photography to the acceptable market reality (56-57).

Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, very little in the architectural publishing scene actually helped the nonprofessional reading of images.  Mostly, the ways of seeing architecture through photography remained in the private and privileged world of the architects themselves (57).

 

The architectural photograph…rarely tells us the following:

  1. the building is an open form, not closed
  2. in movement its solidity of material and culture remain unfinished
  3. the building was a complex stunning space in its neo-modernist underclothes of raw concrete and is now a touch too polished
  4. why now, in its pristine white dress, this particular architecture is strangely remarkable yet unapproachable.
  5. this is an architecture that will mature when ruination begins
  6. when then building will look lived in (67).

For three decades now, a neutral photography opting for the pretense of critical openness and freshness can be seen to have failed much contemporary architecture (68).

[T]he architectural culture may be depriving itself of that most important critical tool for any development—self criticism (68).

Altering the way we read architecture, which includes the way photography informs and deforms architectural promise, would help us understand why contemporary architecture is considered inactive and incomprehensible to all but architects themselves (72).

Rethinking the architectural photograph might accelerate such a speculation (72).

Manfredo Tafuri

Since the 30s architectural culture has preferred to deduce from its own centre what could have only been found by a complete and unprejudiced analysis of the ways in which the mythical society being addressed decodes, distorts, transforms, makes factual use of the messages launched by the builders of images.  And this is a sign of the insecurity of architectural culture itself.

It is an insecurity that stems from two main causes:

–The wish to contain all the problems within the architectural discipline, to avoid well-founded outside examination.

–The unwillingness of the younger generations to abandon the myth of the perpetual avant-garde (103-104).

research log: this was the plan

General Description

Who:

I will collaborate with 6 architecture firms:  3 Finnish & 3 Danish

What:

The collaboration involves a preliminary 1 hour interview with at least one follow-up interview of the same duration (more meetings could be arranged but only if it suited the collaborating architects).  I have a series of questions I am asking partners, project architects and PR officers (any combination of the 3) to establish what a specific project is about and what things can and should be communicated photographically to reach a broader audience (broader than other architects, that is).

When:

The Danish phase would start 1 June (I could pop over sooner if needed) and continue for 3 months of intense shooting with a few periodic follow-ups.

Where:

To simplify things I am looking to work ideally in the Copenhagen Metropolitan Area.  Aarhus might also be an option to consider.

Why:

My long and short-term goals with this project are as follows:

2 exhibitions starting in Finland and London (through FI/UK cultural organizations).  I will seek funding to make this a traveling exhibition.

Publications, starting with an article in Finnish Journal of Architecture (ARK) 9/2012, followed by Mas Context, BJP and then popular magazines (for the sake of PR).  Upon completion of thesis work, I will contact publishers I know in Finland, UK and Spain to discuss the (very likely) publication of a book.

Thesis work for a doctorate at Aalto University

How:

The basic answer to this question is by adding more time to and removing cost (on the part of the architect) from the equation.  My research is funded so I am not looking to sell images.  Therefore, I can spend more time than usual studying the project and exploring a larger story.  I hope to use the interview as the basis for this exploration, so I can use images to tell the same story the architect put into words.  Additionally, I hope to add to that story things that were not initially considered.  I like to think of this as a dialectical process or feedback loop.

In summation, the theoretical basis behind this exercise uses the 6 examples as case studies for field work for practice based research (through photography) to explore the conventions of an institution that shape a commercial creative practice (architectural photography).  The idea is to see whether there is room for doing things differently — why and why not.  Both are interesting both from an academic and professional point of view (hopefully for the architects involved as well as for myself).

Important:

 Architects can choose to get very involved in this if they like, but I realize the opposite is the most likely/realistic/appealing scenario.  So for that reason, all I am asking for is the preliminary and final interview plus contact details for anyone that would provide the necessary access to any and all buildings photographed.  In other words, this is a massive effort on my part but almost zero time/effort and no money is required on the part of the collaborating architects.

Architects

JKMM

AOA

K2S

Henning Larsen

SHL

3XN

Interviews

Pallasmaa

Mukala (Editor in Chief ARK)

Hytonen & hautamaki

Jørgen Hauberg & Jens Fredriksen

Uffe Leth

Boyer (Sitra)

Leviska

Wooston (ALA)

Vormala

magazines  scan the history of the finnish journal of architecture and analyse content

Teaching (description sent to students)

This module aims to equip students with a new approach to architectural and

urban landscape photography by centering on spatial aesthetics through the

notion of atmosphere.  Students will engage in artistic research

into how the light effects to the atmosphere and how the atmosphere changes by the light.  Ideally, the course will be interdisciplinary, bringing together

students from the Theatre and Fine Art Academies to cooperate and learn through a synthesis of knowledge derived from distinct academic backgrounds.

Content

 

The module is taught through illustrated lectures, demonstrations, interactive

workshops, seminar discussions and independent study.  Studio lighting,

available and mixed lighting will be covered, together with other aspects of

photographic production. However, the focus of the course is on producing

atmosphere centred imagery and the research in doing so. Students are advised that this is an experimental workshop that will require a high degree of participation, both verbal and in terms of photographic production. Furthermore, findings will be used towards the instructor’s doctoral thesis, and some sessions will be recorded.

Some of the pertinent things I have read over the past year and a half

Andersen, Asgaard,  Nordic Architects Write. Routledge, 2008.

Bachelard, Gaston.  The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, 1992.

Bate, David.  Photography: The Key Concepts. BERG, 2009.

Böhme, Gernot. “The art of the stage set as a paradigm for an aesthetics of

atmospheres”,

Baudrillard, Jean.  The System of Objects, Verso Books, 2005.

Burgin, Victor (Ed.).  Thinking Photography. MacMillan Press, 1982.

Čeferin, Petra. Constructing a Legend. SKS, 2003.

Colomina, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity. MIT Press, 2000.

Collins, Peter.  Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture.  McGill University Press, 1984.

Connah, Roger. How Architecture Got its Hump. The MIT Press, 2006.

Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson 2004.

de Maré, Eric.  Photography and Architecture, The Architectural Press, London, 1961.

Elkins, James. Photography Theory. Routledge, 2007.

Hagen, Margaret.  The Perception of Pictures.  Academic Press, 1980.

Hale, Johnathan.  Building Ideas: An Introduction to Architectural Theory. Wiley-Academy, 2000.

Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Anchor Books. 1981.

Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.

Hayes, K. Michael (ed.), Architecture Theory Since 1968, Columbia Books of Architecture, 2000.

Iloniemi, Laura.  Is it all About Image? Wiley-Academy, 2004.

Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes. University of California Press, Berkeley,1994.

Klein, Alex. Words Without Pictures. Aperture, 2010.

Leach, Neil. (ed.), Rethinking Architecture, MIT Press,1997.

Leach, Neil. Anaesthetics of Architecture. MIT Press, 1999.

Leach, Neil. Camouflage, MIT Press, 2006.

Lefèbvre, Henri. Production of Space. Blackwell, 1991.

Marchán, Simón. Perception of Architecture through Photography. Exit 37.

Architecture II. The Artist’s View. Olivares y Associados, 2010.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, Routledge, 2001.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Embodied Image. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Thinking Hand. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Raniere, Jacques. Aesthetics and its Discontents. Polity Press, 2011.

Rattenbury, Kestner (Ed). This is Not Architecture: Media Constructions, Routledge, 2002.

Robinson, Cervin. Architecture transformed. MIT Press, 1987.

Shulman, Julius. Photographing Architecture and Interiors. Balcony Press,US, 2000.

Tafuri, Manfredo “Toward a critique of architectural ideology” (1969)

Traub, Charles H. and Bell, Adam (Ed). The Education of a Photographer. Allworth Press, New York, 2006.

Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Birkhäuser, 1998.

Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Architectural Environments – Surrounding Objects. Birkhäuser, 2006.

 

Timeline for Research

Jan – June 2012: Fieldwork with Finnish Architects

June – Sept 2012 Fieldwork with Danish Architects

Sept – Dec 2012 Time out to analyse findings and work on 1st article

Jan – June   2013 Fieldwork with Architects: FI & DK

June – Dec 2013 Finish Fieldwork (final intervierws) interpret findings and write another article and begin framing thesis

Jan – June   2014 Submit 1st draught of thesis?

June 2014 – June 2015            rewrite/rework and finalise thesis for submission and defense?

diary: decisions, decisions

I first started this blog with the intention of documenting the mundane steps involved in turning my thesis from dream to reality, as well as a means of jotting some of my ideas down before they were lost.  I’ve not done as well as I’d have liked with either, yet now I write with a third intention:  to ask for practical advice from my small circle of readers.  I have a problem, or rather several.

The first problem involves time instead of money for a change.  Just a few short months ago the calendar seemed such a simple thing to master:

January to June – Helsinki shoots

June to September – Copenhagen shoots

September to January – Analysis and articles written in the hills of Granada

But as usual the gods have looked upon it all with mirth.  Here’s what they have done:

March – complete interview process with Helsinki architects

May – phase one shooting the chapel in Kamppi and the library

May – tenants in Barcelona flat leave.  Find new ones (repaint, buy furniture) or give up the place (go there and sell everything and bin the rest)?

May – first phase of Danish school must take place

June – shoot large project for Helin in Espoo

June – official opening of chapel

June – second phase of school in Denmark

June – Aalto student takes over my flat in Helsinki whilst I am away?

Sept – Erasmus in Granada starts

Sept – Library in Helsinki opens (next phase of photography)

September – official opening

Given that all but 2 of the Danish architects have gone quiet, the sensible thing would be to stay here until mid-September, finnish up all of the Finnish projects, take a quick flight over to Cph and stay with friends and another to sort out the flat.  But there are problems there, too:

– I’ve already imposed on my friends enough in Cph (they have a little boy that’s more high-maintenance than Paris Hilton)

– I really want to spend more time than that in Copenhagen for personal, academic and professional reasons

– I feel the time has come to spend some time away from Helsinki before it starts to feel more like hell

– I need to distance myself from everything in order to start writing so do not want to cancel Granada

– It will take a while to sort everything out in Barcelona

– The girl interested in the flat here was the only one that responded to the ad I posted…and finding a flat here was such a nightmare that I’d rather not go through it again if possible.

How can I do the shoots  in FI, DK and sort the flat situation in ES without getting on a million plans and holding on to all of the flats?  I literally don’t see how this simple plan could have got so tangled or how to properly unravel it now.

But at least it has got me writing again.  I have been too busy up until now with interviews, teaching and research, all of which I need to put in to this blog at some point, together with my actual analysis of the interviews and battle plan for the shoots.

diary: FI 3 DK 0

I guess an inevitable part of this process will be a gradual but irrevocable slide into insanity.  I can make no sense of the vagaries of these functional advocates of clear thinking.  Not long ago I was railing against the Finns for their insular attitude – how dare they not respond to my emails?  Now it seems Finn is friend and something is rotten in the state of Denmark where my foe might actually be the ability to communicate – something I am not doing very effectively at the moment due in part to a long absence from this blog.  The idea requires a bit of unpacking.

Finns are quiet people used to being amongst themselves as there is almost no immigration to this country.  So perhaps in part that explains why none of them replied to my several emailed attempts at setting up interviews.  Borderline racist generalisations – of the sort that would have sat better with a Victorian audience than this one – aside, there might also be a work-culture reason why Finns didn’t respond and Danes did:  the relative size of the offices I contacted.  Despite their growing fame and local prestige, AOA, K2S and JKMM (my three beloved partners in the crime of doctoral studies) are all relatively small shops.  So the partners I met with in each firm are rather busy with the buildings they are currently working on, as well as the day to day running of the company and their lives.

Danes, at least the ones in Copenhagen I met with, are gregarious cosmopolitan people that despite their reputation for being the most racist country in the region, seemed only too happy to work in international offices and discuss the world quite as easily and openly as their little corner of it.  But let’s focus once again on the office itself and not some new theory of skull features: Henning Larsen, 3xn, PLH, SLH, CF Møller and BIG are all, well…big.  Each is spread out over different countries – and the Cph branch alone spoke of money, fame, success on a global scale.  The people I spoke to were open, friendly, inviting…because they were PR people and new business developers.  It is their job to say yes.  But yes doesn’t mean yes, it only means it’s not in their interest to say no…yet.  Say yes to everyone and everything, yes is more as Mr Ingles would have it, and then see which offers you go with and which you shelf.  It’s a case of leaving your options open.  And it is the modern way of doing business, one suspects, but it has been rather gutting for me.

After getting the red light from BIG I have received the cold shoulder from SHL and a smoke screen from another great Dane:

Sorry for not getting back to you.

We have decided that we would like to wait untill spring/summer to start up new photographs of the culture house. So maybe we can contact you when/if we will start it up? Regarding the N____ Station project there is still long way to go… Right now they are only doing underground work for the train platforms and redirecting the infrastructure. So that we have to wait with as well.

Best S____

Copenhagen is California and Finland is Spain.  Where will I find the next England?  Perhaps a trip to Guatemala, South Sudan or Turkmenistan is in store if I am to answer that question.