Architecture can be portrayed very beautifully as art, something that’s frozen in time and stands testimony to a vast number of philosophies, beliefs, eras and lifestyles. It can be called as a bold statement representing the societal fabric, economy, status and power. When architecture, an entity that surrounds us and reminds us about it in everyday life, gets written somewhere, is reduced to mere documentation and a series of advantages and disadvantages. A subject that calls for so many aspects to be thought about, designed, planned and executed, gets reduced to a nominal debate of whether the building works well or not, is it fulfilling the functional duties and is it aesthetically beautiful or not. Whereas, a building or a structure is much more than that.
Architects, architectural critics, historians and architectural journalists have been studying architecture in depth, writing about it, making documentaries, films, publishing books and expressing about it in a very different and a detailed way. But, unfortunately it is understood and responded in the architectural fraternity only. It obviously trickles into the surrounding society too, but in a very limited sphere. Thus majority of the public is unaware about the vastness of architecture. As a result of which, the expression reduces to a mere objectivity and gets discussed at a very basic and minimal level. To make people aware, we as architects should first try to inculcate a sense of responsibility amongst ourselves to know this language thoroughly and then propagate the same in the society. This could be done by writing about architecture in different ways that appeals to everyone, create an experience about the structure and make everyone understand the gravity of design thinking and the process. Here are some ways:
1. Description of Visual Aspects
A structure can be described as a manifestation of thought processes that include the context, concept, requirement, the design philosophy, services, accessibility and finally its aesthetic portrayal. The writing can elaborate these aspects in detail, taking the reader through this process and make her/him understand the depth. By listing down the materials, the significance of spaces designed in a certain orientation, circulation pattern, sequential progression of spaces, interrelation of these spaces with each other, the human involvement in every space and how people could respond to every space, can become the crux of a write-up. According to the target audience, the language can be modified, words can be mellowed down, or technical words can be used depending upon who is going to be the recipient of it. In this way, the article can successfully adapt to the readers’ mentality and deliver architectural content with a crisp and detailed narrative regarding a built piece.
2. Historical comparisons and evidences
An architectural marvel or a simple building can be easily depicted through extensive comparisons with the historical and cultural references. It is seen that many people have an interest in history and mythology. They take to reading books and novels, watching documentaries and watching movies having historical content. Discussions revolving around lifestyle of people, beliefs, customs and traditions, socio-political fabric, their dressing style and economy do happen to take place amongst these groups of people. So, it is easy to relate to the architectural language that draws parallels with the context and towering antiquity. By using metaphors, by portraying similarities and differences, the philosophy, by denoting the purpose of such structures, the articles can become very useful in channelling the thought process of the readers towards the architectural nuances during certain period in the past. And it becomes easy for the non-architectural folk to grasp the importance of structures, their planning and their role in the stories. The write-up can be articulated in such a way that they tell stories through buildings, create a sequential descriptive walk-throughs that would even more enhance the imagination of the readers and eventually leave it to the audience to comprehend the beauty and enigma of the encompassing spaces and architecture.
3. Experiential Setup
A very beautiful way of narrating architecture is through giving an experience of being in that place and in the building along with the writer at that same point of time. Taking the audience along, by enunciating a series of incidents that happen on the way, by describing the mood, the setting, the weather, the anticipation and building up a drama, one can make sure that readers can get involved in touring the space and experience the space as felt and written by the writer. Since, experiences are a kind of storytelling, its easy to grab people’s attention and turn it towards architecture and make them breathe in the same air. By including relatable examples of senses like touch, sound, visuals, a writer can take readers on a journey that narrates architecture like a poem, a piece of art waiting to be described and like a story that is waiting to be told. This way of writing about architecture could be the best way to reach maximum number of people and creating an awareness as well as affinity about and towards architecture.
4. From Architect’s point of view
When architecture is getting built, an architect’s vision is being manifested into reality. What the architect wants to portray, what does she/he want to give back to the society, what form the building takes, what the surroundings provide to the structure and how they help in forming this vision, all this is best known to the prime person herself/himself. Thus, to understand the philosophy in realizing such a humongous task and creating a write-up around it and putting the architect herself/himself in focus is another way of writing about architecture. Many a times, the structure, even if it is demanded by the client and society according to the requirements, portrays the architect’s character. A personality that has evolved around the society, honed from the cultural beliefs and nuances, will definitely put all of this in the structure that gets built. Seeing a structure from the architect’s point of view could actually add a very vital insight on how, why and what prompted her/him to design the spaces that were thought about, designed and executed on site. A narrative that explains this philosophy would also help in reducing the design intellectual barriers in between the architectural fraternity and the society in general.
Every building has an impact on its surroundings and users. Representing and presenting these impacts in the form of the personality of the building, gives architecture movement and meaning. It’s also a great way to emphasize on the social and economic impact of architecture. Using dynamic metaphors, comparisons, and using ‘human adjectives’ instead of architectural lingo can give your piece of criticism an interesting spin.
To conclude, I would like to add that by describing a structure as a breathing and an experiential entity that relates to the context, history, architect’s point of view and how it appears on the skyline of a certain place, the write-up necessarily emphasizes on the presence of this architectural reality that we subconsciously are surrounded with but consciously do not register it. By bringing these nuances in writing, making people aware about this living, breathing being and sensitize them about varied aspects of a structure is a power to be unleashed. And the most beautiful thing about writing that overpowers the visual content is that, writing leaves the readers imagining various underlying things, speculate, wonder and exclaim! It is this power in writing that can be channelized into breaking the stereotypical photographic representation of structures and turning architecture into a beautiful and memorable experience!
Sources: Book: Writing About Architecture: Lange, Alexandra: New York, 2012