Saturday, 5 July 2014

Those doses

7/11 Museum NY
There are innumerable architecture and design blogs and zines on the Internet, but only a few of them have floated to the top.  The one of which I am perhaps most fond is John Hill’s A Daily Dose of Architecture. The byline says that it is (almost) daily architectural musings and imagery from New York City, but the author does himself injustice, because while his professional frame of reference is definitely the United States, is coverage of architecture is far wider. When I say I like this particular site, I mean it a bit like one is fond of a favourite uncle in spite of his flaws.

Setting aside the sporadic but very welcome book reviews and a challenging list of links to articles in other architectural media, A Daily Dose is essentially exactly that, of usually quite large collections of images of individual buildings. The buildings chosen are generally of some greater public significance than the many other archipop sites, where an endless procession of single theme individual houses or shop fitouts seem to occupy positions of equal weight with major museums or memorials. As a result, Hill's blog raises some old issues about the endemic methods of propagation of information and ideas in architecture.

The Pinterest-like multiplication of images on the one hand reinforces the concern that single point visual imagery is the dominant form of information.  Such photographs have all the well-documented problems of whether we are looking at the building, or at some completely different product of the photographer’s art. On the other hand, by the simple expedient of inviting and linking Pinterest, and being willing to publish much broader collections of images, this blog begins to subvert that art-historicist tradition. Even more subversive is Hill’s personal touch of adding a relatively unselfconscious linear timeline narrative to some of these image sets, of his own experience and thoughts, through which he brings alive the locale much more effectively than the usual artificial constructs of contemporary architectural criticism.  An excellent example, and the one that inspired me to link his blog, is the two-part entry on the opening of the 9/11 Museum.  Okay, it cannot be like actually being there, but it is a much more satisfying exploration of the rich experience than I am used to from most other sources.

Taiyuan Museum of Art, China,
So it really is a pity that the relentless drive to give us something almost every day also results in uncritical collections of photographs, as in: “Here are some photos of the Taiyuan Museum of Art (2014) in Taiyuan, China, by Preston Scott Cohen Inc., photographed by Jeffrey Cheng.”   
These exterior views invite, even at the most simplistic level, some comment on what they represent in contemporary architecture. But there are no comments, even on the almost ridiculous realisation of the primitive meshing of the 3D visualisation package, as randomly trimmed metal faced composite panels glued together by mastic.  As strident that particular criticism might seem, I am confident that it is part of the larger critique of architectural representation through photographs to which I refer earlier – contrast the normal human beings throughout Hill’s competent snapshots with the desolate uninhabited images by Cheng.

I keep crossing my fingers that Hill provides good medicine, rather than that other (admittedly Australian) slang meaning of a ‘dose’.

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