I’ve struggled a lot with the concept Time Space Existence as it applies to architecture. At first thought it strikes me that all things that occupy any measure of the first two satisfy the last – be it architecture or shoes or grasshoppers. I’m not sure architecture has any singular claim on time space and existence that every other physical thing that possess “objective reality” (as the New Oxford American Dictionary calls it) can’t claim as well.
I’m already way over my head – if there’s anyone still with me this far I hope you’ll grant me some artistic license and except my apologies for going on…
Architecture unlike most other objective reality is summoned into existence by human imagination to satisfy human need for shelter, so its place in time and space are human driven. Photography of architecture, which
is my current practice, is even further removed from naturally occurring objective reality because it is not only man-made but man-comprehended. An animal can enjoy the shelter provided by a roof over its head, but it has no use at all for a photograph of a building. Printed on paper it can be eaten or used to line a bird cage, but the image itself is only meaningful to humans. And this is where a photograph occupies Time and Space and satisfies Existence uniquely from architecture.
Images of architecture can and often do outlive the lifespan of the building photographed—and though the building has to come first chronologically, a photo of it can outlast the structure by at least decades. Photography of anything has only been around for a hundred years, but it’s easy enough to imagine images surviving millennia in one form or another.
And though a photographic image in two dimensions literally occupies zero space, a work of three dimensional architecture depicted in one can be “visited” from the other side of the planet – the space occupied and enclosed by architecture can be “experienced” in the imagination. Many of us can remember at least one photo of a place that is breathtaking in the same way as the experience of actually being there, because we are able to read the visual cues and project ourselves into that objective reality. So in a sense, photographs of architecture exist only so far as there are humans to view them. A photograph is only successful so far as it communicates space as understood in human experience.
Massing and volume, elements and voids, opacity and transparency employed by the architect and experienced by all the senses – but visually only in the presence of light. And it’s in light that the objective realities of architecture and photography intersect: at the human experience of it as it plays off the built form. The eye and the lens “see” the world in essentially the same way by collecting together in one tiny point all the diffuse light that’s reflected off surfaces and diffracted through materials. A photographer is just like all visitors to a building except that he chooses that point and captures it in a form that can be viewed by others at any time and however far removed – one instance of time in a single particular existence of space.