Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Challenging imagery

The hero shot.  Memorable to the point of misrepresenting the building, misinforming even the discerning viewer, sabotaging the creation of knowledge?

Probably true in the case of most buildings written about in traditional architectural media, and still true today when most of our information is gathered from the web. But the proposition is seldom subject to critical scrutiny, least of all in the web-based architectural media themselves.

So it is doubly refreshing to come across the article We don't need another hero, in the most recent posting of ARCHITECTURE AU.  More than doubly welcome in fact, because not only is it a rare reflection by the media on their own role, but it is actually an article written as a collaborative essay by a group of Monash University Masters of Architecture students.  That the students' piece itself critiqued magazine reviews of two heavily promoted local projects completes an unusual circularity.

OK, the writing is more earnest than profound.  The issues raised are limited to the lost opportunities for communicating more about the buildings than the hero shot allows.  Tellingly, the students take at face value all other rhetoric about the two buildings represented, and therefore they are arguably complicit in the very process of controlled representation they seek to highlight.

But we should be grateful for any and all attempts by our media to reflect on their role, and especially when they deliberately help us deconstruct rhetoric.  So, congratulations Architecture AU.

Read the original article here.  And open up the excellent Discourse section of this on-line magazine for a generous collection of other content here.

1 comment:

Jiajun said...

In my opinion, architectural images serve different type of viewers, mainly categorized into people with architectural background and people without. I said this because I myself experience the changes. Before learning about architecture, my reaction to a ‘hero shot’ image would be “WOW! That looks interesting!” and that is it. My experience stops right after the awe moment and I learning nothing useful from the photo. Then I did BENV1080 Enabling Skills during my first year, I was trained to be able to not just ‘read’ images of building but also to establish a direct link between the image and the accompanied text. So now whenever I came across images of building, I do not stop myself after the awe moment but try to understand the image: why was this specific part being photographed ,what does it tell you about the architectural principle behind the building.

However, as mentioned in the article We don’t need another hero from ARCHITECTURE AU, the trend of architectural images has been moving towards bombarding the viewers with spectacular view of buildings, often very selectively photographed and would sometime give false impression on actual building experience itself. I would say this is definitely had to with marketing one’s work to the public because ultimately what catch the public attention first are the visual representation of the building, then only the principle behind the design comes and a hero shot would most likely uplift the building’s architectural value.

However, again, over emphasizing on the hero shot and just showing the good looking side of the building is misleading. I feel that there should be honesty in image representation of the building. To support this, the same article mentioned above critique on the images of the Pixel building that the front façade seems to be the only visual representation of the building. Quoted from the article, ‘Pixel’s actual “back” facades could also be included in the visual representation. We wonder, what does Pixel conceal by excluding them? ‘ Adding on to that, I would say that a building is incomplete if the rear façade is completely being missed out and being given unfair treatment. It feels like the architect wants the public to know only the building front and what’s happening at the back or inside is secret. I think this has taken off the whole architectural experience.

All in all, I think that a good visual representation of a building does not necessarily have to be a hero shot that will give the viewers a huge visual impact, but be able to tell the viewers the design ambition behind the project and also the actual architectural experience, the honesty that every image should have.