Just Another Pretty Face?
by Colleen O'Keefe
Pick up a typical architecture magazine and you become transfixed by images of new buildings and newly renovated spaces from all over the world. In our media culture, these images express the latest stylistic trends and new perceptions of space.
The media thrive on images of beautiful objects, but at what cost? While the magazines enthrall their readers with photographs of captivating objects, they may be neglecting the buildings' experiential qualities.
Architecture is not simply an artistic object produced for an aesthetic purpose. New buildings have cultural, political, and social importance. An image should provide the opportunity to analyze the work. If architecture is represented visually and without critical analysis, it then becomes merely an image. We must question the effect of "image architecture" and what it means for our culture.
New styles in architecture are developing independent of a traditional context and then built anywhere in the world. The building's form becomes a hot topic for the media, which display images that people inevitably become familiar with. New architectural works can benefit a local economy through increased tourism and new business. But without sensitivity to the site's context, cultural traditions and aesthetic values get lost.
Certain architects have come to be known as "star architects" for their trend-setting architectural styles and the constant media attention to their works. Their stylistic forms become a personal signature. Does this qualify as "image architecture"? If the architecture is a mere representation of current artistic potential, where is the cultural vision?
How the Image Makers Choose the Images
The media capitalize on stardom and the images our culture is assumed to want--in other words, what will sell. But what is the selection process behind the architectural images in today's magazines? What makes one building more "publishable" than another? Are buildings published because they possess specific aesthetic, spiritual, or environmental characteristics? These questions were posed to two architectural magazine editors.