For most people, whenever the word ‘architecture’ comes up, the first thing that comes to mind is buildings: Apartment blocks or luxurious villas, seats of power or places of worship, public monuments or hang-out places – along with any other kind of man-made place that makes up the physical world in which we live. Additionally, for anyone who is somewhat familiar with this field, the word ‘architecture’ also stands for anything that has to do with the process of making such places: The mental search for ideas, the experiments in sketches and scale-models, the production of plans, sections, and elevations, and the visual expression of the resulting vision in the form of pictorial images.
These, however, are not the kinds of architecture that this blog is about.
There is a whole other kind of architecture that is hardly ever discussed. That is the architecture that generates and inhabits the space we see through pictorial media. It is the kind of architecture that is to be found in images that are totally unrelated to the process of planning, building, or discussing physical architecture. It is a kind of architecture that is very familiar to most of us, except that we seldom stop think of it as being architecture.
At first glance, it might seem that to consider buildings in pictorial images as forming a distinct kind of architecture is a bit of an exaggeration. After all, if we look at the history of art, for example, aren’t the buildings we see in paintings nothing more than a copy of the buildings that the painter saw right in front of him?
The above painting by Gustave Caillebotte is surely architecturally rich, but isn’t the architecture in it actually a documentation of a particular place in 19th-century Paris? The mere posing of this question expresses our romantic notion of the painter standing in front of an easel somewhere in the outdoors with a brush and palette in his hand. However, from a historical perspective, this way of perceiving art and artists is less than 150 years old: It is a legacy of the Impressionist movement, of which this painting is a prime example.
Up until that time, painters were mostly confined to their studios, laboring at the creation of images worthy of the revered title of ‘Art’, and guided by a set of high ideals and accepted principles for achieving it. It was precisely the Impressionists who urged painters to go out into the open air and simply paint what they see. For centuries before that, painters usually had to generate the space of their paintings and their visual content completely on their own – including the architecture in them.
For example, the above painting by Sandro Botticelli is surely rich in architecture, but you would be hard pressed to find the particular place seen in it anywhere in Italy. Not because it has not been preserved through history – but because it has probably never even existed in the first place. Some of the architectural elements in it may be direct copies of existing physical places, but others are merely a free variation on a physical place, and some are altogether invented for the sake of the painting. They were then all joined into a single composition, designed as a suitable setting for presenting the story the painter wanted to depict. In the creation of this place, therefore, Botticelli was not only its painter, but he also assumed the role of its architect.
While this point was demonstrated here using the case of paintings, the idea that is proposed by The Virtual Space Theory is that the same applies also to any other type of pictorial image – photography, film, computer-generated imagery, and so on: The places that are seen through them, in many cases, could very well be considered to be works of architecture in and of themselves. After all, in order for us to even be able to perceive them in terms of space, such places must have first been mentally envisioned, carefully planned, and meticulously executed.
That is the kind of architecture this blog is about.