Travel and Architecture – A Scenic, Full Sensational Relationship
When you study architecture, or at least are reading about it, you will, at some point, encounter a very famous attitude. That is if you want to better understand architecture, you MUST travel. Travel gives you a “4D” opportunity to experience architecture. You will get to experience volume, space, senses, and time of architecture in full exposure whenever you meet a piece of architecture in person.
Why does it matter to travel to see architecture?
In the old days, the only way of “publishing” was through words, either written in books, or by the word of mouth. Therefore, when it comes to architecture, people used to describe what they see/feel when they visit a country, write about it in their books, or talk about it when they come back.
This is exactly a storytelling method when people depended only on one way of input to perceive a notion about what they read/heard. Therefore, it is obvious that this way creates no clear sense of what architecture in reality is. This is due to the fact that everyone thinks differently. Starting from the narrator who was moved by specific senses that let him/her stress certain features to talk or write about; ending to the recipients who developed a particular image in their own brain.
When it comes to reality, none of the attempts above gave an exact interpretation of what that architecture really was, simply because every mind interprets words slightly different. Therefore, sometimes the narrator felt that words were not enough to describe what s/he experienced. Sometimes even s/he urged their audience to, eventually, travel to see for their own. Most likely, when they did, they came into complete shock for that the reality was not similar to what they’ve imagined.
Later in time, photography was introduced, and books were full of them. Hence, the narrator had a better time that s/he had not to worry about every single detail, because a single photograph delivered “a thousand words” instead. That was a huge jump that recipients knew exactly what the narrator was talking about, it went even better with the introduction of colored photographs.
However, that was not enough even to comprehend a piece of architecture from a photo or a book. I have met a number of people, especially my architecture professors, who assured that photographs were not even close to what they experienced in reality when they eventually visited that location in person.
WE HAVE THE INTERNET! Why should I bother myself with expensive travels?
Although photographs have advanced storytelling techniques and delivered a better picture to people, they were limited as well. A photograph focuses on only one direction that cannot present a full experience, even if many other photos were taken.
The internet today has made a huge step to provide an accurate and varied perspective about the world. Google Maps has compiled a huge row of information that links location, location data, and imagery. They introduced the virtual Street View to allow people around the world to navigate cities, “drive” on their streets, and view the interior of buildings, all from the comfort of their homes.
Even though many of these creative techniques were invented to enrich the user experience throughout photography, when it comes to architecture, it has many dimensions that goes beyond the power of photography, which cannot be transformed any other medium. I’ve navigated several cities/buildings in Google Maps, but when I visited them in-person, they were never the same. I had a completely different idea compared with what I already know.
The first limit comes to mind is the “window” of view. I remember a very interesting observation that was called out by Owen Wilson (Nick) in the Internship movie when he was at the Golden Gate Bridge, SF, CA with his teammates and then told one of them (Stuart) who was busy with his iPhone “Look at that view! You’re not gonna see that on your 4-inch screen.”
While we all have computers, smartphones, tablets, etc., and saw the Golden Gate on one of these mediums. However, not all of us went to the Golden Gate bridge and experienced the noise of the bridge traffic, diluted by the breeze of the ocean, which makes its way through the rays of sunlight, mixed with the smell of water and vegetation, and compiled with the sense of tiny you standing there in front of a big, huge, enormous red piece of structure, wanting you to come through itself in a unique spatial sequence that never could be experienced throughout a book, photograph, or even a 61” screen.
What you get from in-person experience of a piece of architecture?
It is just tremendous how all the dimensions come at once when you visit a piece of architecture in-person. As hinted above, the most obvious thing one expects is space and volume. There is a unique spatial relationship between the person and the architecture s/he encounters. I have a professor of mine that had always surprised each time she visits a site she had had read about it in the past.
In my case, I always disliked the work of Frank Gehry, not just because of the complexity of his designs, which is such a pain to construct, but also for the “excessive splendorous” shapes they create and, therefore, confuse the reader on what the idea is even about. For that my respect to Gehry as an architect has dropped off for his way of treating architecture (in my opinion) as a decorative item rather than a purposeful substance.
However, to my surprise, when I visited the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, CA, a remarkable building of Gehry, I’ve got the chance to navigate around and in that building. This was the one and only building of Gehry that I had the chance to investigate at a distance. My whole attitude towards Gehry has changed from only visiting one building!
Although I still have my viewpoint about his complex work valid, I was able to read and disclose many ambiguous design decisions from the details I saw. Many of the curved surfaces had another function other than the fancy look, they supported the explorer’s journey with a different viewpoint! When a person is walking the outside path of the building, s/he discovers that this path is integrated within the complex circumference of the building. Therefore, the path fluctuates up and down as the form of the building does; and each time it does, it surprises the navigator with a new viewpoint that is looking towards the city or a specific portion of the building.
Another amazing aspect is the function of the “skin” of the building. It seems that it has a certain purpose of reflecting light, providing a rich tonality supported by the skin material itself. The other hidden skin function is the acoustic one. While you are casually walking around the building, innocently telling your friend that this is a nice wall, you find that your voice starts to rise until you hear yourself speaking as loud as a loudspeaker! It turned out that the building takes a concave shape at that spot on purpose, reflecting sound waves in a way that magnifies them to be heard as loud as a loudspeaker.
There are more amazing features that building has that goes beyond the scope of this article. That was one of the strongest experiences that made me more persistent and excited to visit architecture in-person as much as possible, in order to reveal its hidden secrets on-site.
If you ever interested in architecture, you MUST travel. Yes, that is an order!
The more you meditate in architecture, you feel it starts to talk to you in reply to your thoughts. The more you visit it in-person, the more it reveals its secrets to you. You don’t want to miss out these exciting journeys that include unique experiences in space, volume, senses, and time.