Due to the pandemic, going to other buildings and spaces has decreased significantly – to the extent that civic buildings are either closed or have restricted movement. When one manages to step out, they stop to think about the quality of spaces as they were before the spread of COVID-19 and as they are viewed now. Spatial character is not only defined by the building in isolation, but gains character by the interaction it has with the visitors, or the impact it creates within its surroundings. In contrast, photographic evidence of buildings is a secondary viewing or a medium with which a building can be viewed, if not in person. This means that the interaction of the built with the person viewing the picture is a lot more detached – the user rather interacts with the medium in a lot more sensitivity than the building.

Perception of a Building - Through Physical Presence v/s Photographs - Sheet1

This is just an example to indicate that spatial perception is increasingly dynamic; interpretation built by each individual may differ, and for individual different observations can be made for different visits. Factors like natural conditions such as weather are extremely crucial in determining the sensory experience of a person when they visit a building. In addition to simply viewing the building, the user uses all their senses that create a rather holistic memory within the mind of the user which is not simply visual.

Perception of a Building - Through Physical Presence v/s Photographs - Sheet2

In the case of photographs, this kind of connection is made between the photographer and the building; it is left to the photographer’s intuition and skill to figure out a good angle for the building for photographing it. A view of the building is chosen for photographing purposes due to some simple reasons – the information it gives to the viewer of the photograph, the kind of aesthetics that are involved with the view, and how it reads on a photograph. In this case, a photograph can manage to capture all of the better-looking parts of the building, but at the same time, it can highlight the insignificant or absurd details that are sometimes missed. Architectural photography is essentially an art form – where the photographer paints a picture or a narrative of the building through their lens.

While a photograph may not become the same memory in the back of our minds, it becomes a visual representation of what could be, making the viewer speculate about the building. Especially for someone who has visited the photographed building before, it is a different journey to look at it through the photographs, and it does not form the same spatial understanding as to the actual traversing within the building. In other words, photographs are similar to a 2D representation of a 3D building – they seem to be more like a composition that has perspective angles and something closer to an architectural drawing than the actual building. What makes it different from sketches is the fact that these are real-time photographs of the final product, a lot more dynamic and established as an entity on its site.

This is further accentuated when photographs are taking from the exterior such that a slight contextual element is added to the pictures, for then the interaction of the building in its surroundings is captured as well. Similarly, humans and furniture in the interior spaces bring a space alive, and the more natural it looks, the more close to its actual reality it seems to be.

It can be said that architectural photography essentially toes the line between being a static element that focuses on certain aspects of the building, but at the same time has a form of expression of the photographer linked to it, which makes a rather 2D entity become much more dynamic and convey a lot more meaning. But also the entire set that is captured in the photograph becomes evidence of what was there and what it is. It is a foolproof way of cataloguing architecture, much like how photographs of a trip we take with our friends or family become an album that contains precious memories.

While a photograph cannot contain an entire building perception, and when one visits the building they had once seen in a photograph, their entire perspective regarding it changes, but a photographic exhibition adds to the viewing experience by pointing out macro and micro details that may not be possible with our vision.


Ruchika is an aspiring architect and an enthusiastic writer. She likes exploring design principles and methodologies and is open to new possibilities and alternatives in the field of Architecture.