We are all constantly exposed to images. When it comes to blogs and Instagram accounts, we are bombarded by carefully curated imagery that represent idealized versions of everything from holidays to the daily lives and experiences of people you may or may not know. Each person actively creates an image of a lifestyle or experience and they have the agency to present that to the world in any way they choose. If you were physically present in that moment, your perception of it would surely be altered.
There is an ever-growing divide between reality and perception – or rather, representation. What we perceive as the daily life of someone is stripped of all its nuances and real world interactions and reduced to a picture perfect representation of an isolated moment. Our sense of reality becomes skewed because it becomes increasingly difficult to understand something in all its complexity when the manner in which it is presented to us purposefully obscures just that.
I like to think of it as social media suggestivity – and it must ring true that what you expose yourself to on a daily basis will inevitably influence your thought patterns and taste. This contributes, in small doses to your daily decision making which in turn affect your interactions, which shape who you are.
What becomes interesting through the lens of social media in particular is that you are exposed to purely subjective representations of various other peoples’ realities and through this, that reality is being misrepresented and expectation and perception is being increasingly divorced from reality.
This cultural phase, if you would allow me to be optimistic, has an ever-growing influence in all spheres of art and especially in the built environment where, at the core, you are attempting to make the immaterial material. There is a very similar process at play, but in the opposite direction.
Representation in architecture has developed over the years from water colour paintings of a new building proudly labelled “artist’s impressions” to guiding your client through the model of your building with both of you sporting VR headsets and an increasing detachment from reality. The ease of disseminating images and information has resulted in an unrealistic and isolated portrayal of spaces and places.
It seems most famous spaces and places around the world have become photo opportunities rather than meaningful experiences. This focus on the digital portrayal of space and place has become the norm and as such, I believe it has started informing the way in which architecture is generated.
Clients, to a large degree, dictate a lot of the visual style of the building, as touched upon in one of my previous articles. Their taste is dictated by the imagery they are exposed to – what blogs and magazines tell them they want. It is essentially informed by their perception of the life they think they should have. Now, without us really knowing it, the magazines, blogs and social media portrayals of architecture (reduced to style and particularly lifestyle) are starting to inform the generation thereof.
I have no problem with precedent and we all use visual cues and references to design, but has the focus on image not become a catch twenty-two, where the images you are exposed to and want to eventually produce through your work, are no longer merely representations of your work but in fact generators?
And here is where I run into the proverbial pickle – a photograph or render is and will always be a two dimensional image and more importantly, this image creates an expectation of the reality to be created. If you are constantly focused on producing a building that looks like a render – that looks like a photograph – that looks like something your client saw in a lifestyle magazine while in his dentist’s waiting room; then the intention has shifted.
Does this obsession on the image of the architecture you are attempting to produce not distract from the inherently complex nature of buildings, translated through concepts or narratives, made material? Is it possible for the lifestyle image and the production of meaningful, authentic architecture to be reconciled?
As much as we use seductive imagery as a selling tool, I feel the proliferation of the render on one side of the spectrum, set against the increasing focus on the way your life is perceived by others has blurred the lines between representation and generator.
There are layers of meaning, association and subjective experience that cannot be captured by representation and to allow those forces to inform and generate architecture might result in fantastic photo opportunities, but will result in buildings that are not considered primarily for their value, complexity, context and interactions with the environment around them.