ONE OF MY MOST ABSTRACT IMAGES OF A REAL LIFE SUBJECT. IT INVARIABLY MADDENS VIEWERS WHEN I AM FORCED TO REVEAL WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS.
Discussing your art with others can be very interesting, especially if you hope that they might actually bring an example of your work home. I find that even people who profess admiration of my "eye" sometimes seem lost over my artistic intentions. Which is certainly not to say that this disconnect is their fault - it's just that either I have failed to communicate my intent, or that my way of viewing the world is even more foreign than what my viewers thought. As a retired architect, I am naturally drawn towards architecture and the city as a subject, and my training has certainly allowed me to put myself in the designer's shoes. I approach a work of architecture by trying to understand what the architect was trying to accomplish, even though centuries might have past, and that designer certainly wouldn't understand my world. I also must acknowledge that most of the time I am faced with work that is certainly beyond my capability as an architect - I'm just trying to understand it so that I can better appreciate something that I probably couldn't have accomplished myself.
ONE OF THE CORNERS OF THE BUILDING. THAT IS A LOT OF GLASS WITHOUT ANY FUNCTION WHATSOEVER.
Two things get in the way of my communication with my viewers. One is that I am very rarely interested in documentation as a my primary goal in creating an image. I understand that I have been priviledged in being able to travel to see buildings and cities in places far beyond what my viewers have seen - but the architecture that I might be focusing on might not be something that they have ever "heard of" or even would notice in the same way if they had had the opportunity to travel to that city. Since I am not really interested in documenting a building, my images tend to ignore the entire building and concentrate on parts of the work or even details that might only interest me. To me images of an entire building are either boring and bland or are just to much trouble to obtain - no one is paying me to provide an overall shot to explain a building in an architectural magazine. Frankly, I have neither the photographic lenses, the training, or the budget of both time and money to procure such imagery, so I happily leave it to others. Since I don't want to document a building, I can take it on my own terms, which allows me to use another architect's art to create my own. I hope to create an impression of a whole building as a sum of the parts that have moved my eye. Of course this collage approach only works if my choices make sense to my viewers, but that is my problem, not theirs. If the viewer has not had the opportunity to actually view the building it might be even harder to communicate my take on the subject.
AT LEASTFOUR DIFFERENT MATERIALS IN AN ARBITRARY "DIVISION" OF ONE FACADE
Even though I sometimes refer to my approach as a series of "architectural portraits", I have to admit that these portraits are frequently harder for viewers to understand than portraits of humans. No matter how foreign or ancient or weirdly dressed, we can almost always understand that we are viewing a portrait of a human being. This is true even if we are looking at a science fiction "humanoid" whose strange features can't hide the fact that they are members of the actor's union. My architectural portraits can become so abstract that my viewers no longer know what they are looking at. But most of my images do tend to show enough of the whole building that with just a little imagination the viewer can appreciate the subject as a part of the whole.
THIS IS ALMOST UNDER CONTROL, BUT ALL THAT RIGGING SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM A TALL SHIP IN SAN FRANCISCO BAY
These images are all from an hour's walk around a fairly new building that I went to see in San Francisco on a weekday afternoon in 2009. What is interesting is that this structure, no longer "new" and separated from the present day by the Great Recession, a Worldwide Pandemic, and an urban "doom loop", is still so foreign to most viewers that they can't even decide what to think of it. That this edifice is a Federal Office building is beyond most viewer's understanding. I imagine that even most people who have lived in San Francisco ever since it was built still don't know what to make of it. All I can say is that it was designed by a firm called Morphosis, which should give you a hint that we aren't in Kansas anymore. Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi started the firm in 1972 and have been defying architectural conventions ever since. Since this building doesn't even have large elements that actually move while you are standing there dumbfounded, it isn't even part of the more "radical" part of the Morphosis architectural portfolio. This is the kind of building that even architects "confront" rather than just visit, and these images illustrate my personal confrontation fifteen years ago.
BRUTE STRUCTURAL GYMNASTICS THAT NO DOUBT CONFUSED THE STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS
Yes your tax dollars paid for this, so you have more rights to an opinion on the result. More than thirty years ago, observers as varied as architects, bureaucrats, and even Senators began to wonder why Federal architecture seemed so unimaginative and conventional that even those who didn't mind "Classical" design in our Nation's Capitol didn't see why it should be duplicated around the country by mediocre architectural firms that very few people had ever heard of, much less saw in the architectural press. There began a concerted effort to expand the range of firms who could be hired to design government buildings beyond those who had learned to how to fill out the opaque calls for references that seemed to include every criteria except for design excellence. So all bets were off, and staid federal office buildings, court houses, and even "infrastructure" were suddenly open to art beyond the usual "5% for art" that had formerly gotten people's hackles up around the country. The entire building was now a piece of art, and the public was now exposed to much more unusual architectural forms than the Classical Columns they were used to.
ZIGS AND ZAGS AND A YELLOW TRANSPARENT BEAM THAT IS HOLDING UP AIR
If you think that this went too far, you wouldn't be alone. All I can say is that it is certainly interesting, well built, heroically detailed, maybe to a fault, and can grab your attention as you skirt the tents on Market Street. Is it overwrought? Yes. Are there parts that are more attractive than others? Yes. Does it make any sense at all? Who knows? All I know is that if you don't like one facade, just turn the corner and you'll find a completely different facade that you might find more attractive or even less understandable. In an age when most architects were at least paying lip service to designing with a recognition of the urban context of their building, Morphosis didn't even acknowledge the context of their own building. To say that it doesn't make sense is certainly a critic's right, but that doesn't even seem to be the point.
EVEN THE LANDSCAPING IN THE COURTYARD IS A SOURCE OF CONFUSION. AND WHERE DOES THAT REFLECTION COME FROM?
So this architectural photographer, who tries to treat a building as a collage of images, was confronted by a building that was a collage in itself. Even almost twenty years later, while I don't think that it is an example of the Emperor's new clothes, it is certainly open to question. The talent exhibited in parts of the collage seem completely disconnected from the object as a civic structure. Most of the architectural moves, while certainly picturesque, seem, to have little to do with the actual function of giving office workers a place to be bureaucrats.
A GREEN FACADE TOPPED BY A GLASS CORNICE
And like an auto accident, it's pretty hard to turn away. Even architectural critics, who are paid to try to explain this stuff, could only come up with "Deconstructionism" to describe buildings that not only broke the rules, but seemed to have no rules at all. This collage approach, while certainly dynamic, and even more divorced from history than any radical piece of "Modern Architecture" that now populated the history books, proved as short-lived as the "Post Modern" phase that proceeded it. When you are so determined to absolve yourself of any rules beyond the fact that the building should not fall down, it becomes very hard to determine why any decision might be more correct than any other. Architecture that becomes totally arbitrary, with no relationship with function at all, becomes just as straight-jacketed in its own way as any mute rectilinear black and white glass and steel box where "form follows function." The "style" proved very hard to expand beyond the larger commissions that Morphosis continues to get to this day. These sculptural collages make Frank Gehry's sculptural buildings seem positively "conservative" in comparison.
OH THESE GREEN GLASS FINS ARE ACTUALLY VERTICAL SHADING DEVICES! GO KNOW!
I hope this collection of images provides some understanding of this urban event. I don't know if you will find the architecture compelling or even understandable. But as usual I tried to express my "wow" and hope to communicate it to you, even though I don't know if my "wow" is just a very complicated reaction to such a confrontational piece of art.
I HAD FUN WITH THE SQUARE CROP THAT FURTHER OBSCURED THE REALIZATION THAT THIS WAS A COLLECTION OF ONE-STORY HIGH EXTERNAL SHADES ON AN OFFICE BUILDING. THIS IS ACTUALLY THE CALMEST FACADE OF THE BUILDING, AND THE ONLY ONE THAT "MAKES SENSE." MOST OF MY VIEWERS LOVE THE COLOR, BUT THE MOST COMMON GUESS IS AN ASSEMBLAGE OF RAZOR BLADES.