Two posts ago I praised ARCHITECTURE.AU for hosting an article reflecting on the limited usefulness of the ‘hero shot’. Today, Deezeen magazine leads with the above headline linking an article by UK critic Owen Hatherley. It's hard to do better than to quote from that post:
Hatherley says sites like Dezeen and Archdaily “provide little but glossy images of buildings that you will never visit, lovingly formed into photoshopped, freeze-dried glimmers of non-orthogonal perfection, in locations where the sun, of course, is always shining.”
He adds: “In art, this approach to reproduction is dubious enough, but in architecture – where both physical experience and location in an actual place are so important – it’s often utterly disastrous, a handmaiden to an architectural culture that no longer has an interest in anything but its own image.”Of course, there is irony in that this elegant summary of a much more complex article – written for The Photographers’ Gallery in London as part of a series of critical essays on photography in the 21st Century – is itself published on one of the two sites named and shamed. That the irony is intended is made obvious by the image of the preening critic chosen to headline the report.
As must be obvious by now, I share Hatherley’s concern. But if I am to be honest I have to declare that I am a voracious consumer of both Dezeen and Archdaily, because without them I simply would not be able to keep up with what is going on in architecture. And to be fair, they can only maintain the flood of architectural news through the medium of text and image, mainly supplied to them by self promoting practitioners. It would be nice to think that the material could be appropriately editorialised, and supplemented by much more contextual and performance information. But in the real world such editorial resources cost real money and require sometimes deep and elusive expertise, neither of which are easily available in the new world of advertisement supported online magazine publishing.
That said by way of excuse for the image peddling media, the architectural profession itself has much more to answer for. If Hatherley is right in his characterisation of architectural culture, and by implication its practitioners as actual and aspiring narcissistic prima donnas, it augurs badly for the future of the profession. I wish I knew the answer to how that perception might be tempered. I wish I knew how to fix the corruption of architectural knowledge which is the other inevitable by-product of this relentless image making