Saturday 5 April 2014

SEEING WHAT WE BELIEVE: idyllic visions - imagined designs

The Shetland Times headline announced: ‘Mareel wins award.’ The report referred to the Commendation from the Civic Trust Awards - see the Shetlandarts report below. Gosh! Having written a less than favorable piece on this new arts complex in Lerwick, that was submitted for publication locally but not published, one has to question oneself on this critique that saw serious problems and various weaknesses with this building: see -  and  Has one missed something? Is one’s judgment askew? Part of the critique was that the building lacked a significant civic role in the town. Tucked away down on the old docks beside a new office block, between a carpark and the harbour, the centre seemed to rely on the recall of published images for its identity rather than any rich and regular involvement in community experience beyond being an entertainment destination. Now it gets a civic award! Is it that there is a difference between what a building would like to be seen as and what one actually sees, experiences? Have the judges looked too favourably on this project as the managed photographs do? Can one see what one believes, or wants to believe? One has to remember that the judges have perhaps visited Shetland as tourists/guests for the first time, maybe on a trip paid for by others, a situation that could add a certain excitement to the event; and possibly a flattering glow to any assessment. Do circumstances like this modify perceptions? Has architectural experience become something sought after, to be self-consciously reviewed and rationally assessed, evaluated, rather than being something sensed in the everyday manner that Steen Eller Rasmussen wrote about (Experiencing Architecture) - its just being there beautifully, everyday, in the everyday? Christopher Alexander has also written about such subtle qualities: see Pattern Language and The Nature of Order.

Louis Kahn  National Assembly Building, Dhaka

Kahn, ever sensitive to matters concerning architecture and experience, spoke of buildings best being what they themselves want to be. He elaborates on this idea with the child-like story of the brick that wants an arch:
You say to a brick, “What do you want, brick?” And brick says to you, “I like an arch.” And you say to brick, “Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.” And then you say: “What do you think of that, brick?” Brick says: “I like an arch.”
Louis Kahn is referring to some ‘inner necessity’ in material, form and function that seeks the native expression of itself, its self: to be what these forces want to be/become. It was a concept promoted by the artist Wassily Kandinsky when he wrote about the same quality in his art: that mystic demand for something to be only what it is; what it wants to be. The question is: have we changed this concept today to ‘what we want to see’ - that a building is best comprehended as what we want to ‘see’ rather than what it wants to ‘be’?

Is this the problem with much of our most recent architecture that its trying to be different, outstanding, while really being otherwise: somewhat rude and crude, while arguing for care and context, or just ignoring everything in favour of the challenge of the expression of personal genius? It seems that the Mareel would love to be seen as an heroic, sculptural complex, a cleverly and complexly formed waterfront building reflected as a glowing glory on the old dock: all grand with its pictorially tricky modelling structuring a perspective illusion that gives a pretence of three dimensional interactive shaping when it is all really very two dimensional - a folded plate mirrored to make an ordinary pair of skillion sheds pushed together. It looks as though it has desires to be seen as art, arty, whereas it appears to exist more in the realm of the artful when experienced by the ordinary day-to-day passerby of everyday Lerwick who might get a glimpse of the intersection of the roofs below the harbour waters and distant Bressay between older nearby buildings. All of this apparent wish list of style has to be remembered and imposed on the recalled vision of the place because the true impressions, the daily civic vistas, are, sadly, more than mundane. Here matters ‘civic’ have to be sought out and seen in a certain manner to be appreciated. One only has to look over the harbour-front street wall through the housing to realize that ‘civic’ does not describe this view.

The Mareel from Market Street, Lerwick

Under construction: Mareel on right; SIC offices on left

The new Shetland Island Council offices seem to hold a more ‘civic’ presence than the Mareel that is squeezed in off to one side of this office complex that proudly closes the street vista. Little wonder this building is confused with the Mareel – see below. To get closer to anything that might be considered a civic quality of the Mareel, one has to detour away from the busy Lerwick street life and move down past these offices and the Mareel car parking areas to the remote waterfront. However this fact does not appear to be recognized at all in any review. The Mareel seems to seek to be otherwise, grand and grandly grandiose: a great piece of art - Architecture. One might suppose that politically it has to be this way given its turbulent history. Perhaps the Mareel carries enough critical baggage now without having any more negatives bundled onto it.

This SIC office block is not the Mareel (that is on left out of image)

The Mareel from Market Street, Lerwick

The Mareel for the Lerwick passerby

How does this seeing happen? Do we create places in our imagination? Are we trained to see buildings by magazines that create cunning, memorable photographic images that we carry with us? Does memory change our readings and understandings of a place? I can recall father’s complaints about harsh, hated Australia and his dreams of home, Shetland. His island home was a place with: no vermin; no heat; no savage weather; no floods or droughts; no bush fires; no bush. His chant was the last line of The Pommes Farewell (and The Bushman’s Farewell to Queensland): ‘Thou scorching, sunburnt land of hell!’ Shetland was always a beautiful, pure, treeless place of peace and beauty. Indeed, photographs support this vision. It does not take one long to discover midges, crawling insects, bad weather, flooding burns and houses; no heat or drought, but ice, snow and sludge, and a few house/shed fires - just different troubles, nuisances and frustrations. Memories seem to highlight certain matters and shun others; they mould understandings of experience: they idealize.

The 'everyday' Mareel

Eastern image of Mareel with 'remote' Lerwick behind, from harbour

The idea of the basic Mareel ‘M’ form has certainly been moulded by the camera being located at one special spot where parapets and barges are seen to splay three dimensionally, and window heads align with adjacent barges to suggest a continuity and juxtaposition that never really is. Yet this is the predominant identity that is promoted. For a random collection of photographs of the Mareel see:
Why has the critical eye of the camera neglected the Mareel? The camera can be as brutally honest as it can be brutally dishonest, if it wants to be: well, if the photographer wants it to be. Do we carry an image of a building or place that has been given to us, provided for us, pushed upon us by the iconic, promotional, glossy magazine representation that is only a special photographic view that can be seen from a unique place, in a special light, through an exceptional lens, with a special eye, at an unusually different stance, height, angle, level and location such as that used for the Mareel, the Guggenheim, etc., etc.? There are numerous examples of the special view created by the technology of the camera. Dare one ever start to talk about the ‘photoshopped’ image? To consider the making of whole new digital worlds is an aspect of the new technologies that will take us far beyond our present musings.

The question is: do we see things in the way we think about them? Consider le Corbusier at la Tourette: see -  Here the expectations arising from Corbusier’s functional fragmentation of form into sculptural expression, and his enormous reputation, appear to blind the eye to the theatrical games of large, dramatic ‘musical’ walls that become toilet windows; and the eye-catching array of private balconies, some of which are uselessly located off bathrooms and stairs, another inaccessible; all in arrangements specifically maintained to suit the desired appearance of the facades no matter what the function behind these identical places might be. How many see these foibles as they drool over the ‘magic’ of this masterful place that one assumes to have been integrally shaped by the unique rigour of inspired genius rather than deliberately manipulated, fudged, to create an attractive desired image?

Iconic view of La Tourette - uninterrupted balconies and 'musical' walls concealing toilet space

One might use the experience of seeking out the new Glasgow Museum of Transport as an example of photographs superseding experience - of informing it, for they did: see -  The visit seemed to be necessary because of a desire to confirm the understanding, to see the real forms and to know more about them. One checked the general location on a map before leaving the hotel and started walking from central Glasgow without knowing the way in any detail or with any certainty. This is one means by which one can get a true feeling for a city: to see it; to touch it; to sense it: to participate in it. As one seemed to be getting closer, the eye kept alert for a wriggly form, looking for it in order to verify the accuracy of the direction one had taken along streets, through lanes and over bridges. Then it was seen in the distance across a vacant site fenced in chain wire: see - 

A rare photograph of Glasgow's Transport Museum from the wasteland: water and wide-angle views are preferred

Ah, there it is. It was recognized - re-cognized - even though it had never been seen before; and yes, it wriggles! - but the context looked unusual. Is it possible to walk to it in this cluttered, disregarded mess along a muddy, dirt track? This wasteland shambles had not been seen before. The photographs had never revealed that this new building stood alone on riverside badlands that seemed to be waiting patiently for some unknown development. The images had all been carefully cropped to emphasize the unique character of the fancy shed. Does this experience highlight how we come to know things falsely? Google ‘Streetview’ also prepares us for what we are seeking out, but without such culling of things deemed undesirable. It is more honest. Still, the carefully chosen photographs that are themselves works of art become our recollection and expectation in spite of any ‘Streetview’ - such is their power and authority.

Where's the entrance? This was one of the final critiques of the International style, before it was totally discredited. Eero Saarinen's CBS Building, New York prompted this question

As one gets closer to the real seeing of the thing in place, doubts, questions and thoughts that had never been entertained previously arise: where is the entrance? How do I get to it? Can I get to the car park and cross it? There is a period of panic when one discovers that the point of approach to this place is not immediately evident. Surely one does not have to backtrack over the rail line? The organization and relationships have to be learned, discovered. Signs are sought out to assist. Oh! These are like the context of the empty waterside place: I had never seen the graphics before - glowing lime green dots arrayed into letterforms. Was legibility important here or just designed style? One finally assumes that the entry is near the brightest glow of dots and trusts instinct alone.

The iconic image that made the cover of AR

Same view by night - well, dusk (either, or: that favoured time for architectural images)

The detailed readings of the Transport Museum did not comply with the learned appearance: they surprised, as did the discovery of the door buried in the dark glass wall enclosed by the wriggles. One assumes so much from the published gloss. It seemed that the whole was more important than the part - the door. The parts added more and more complexity to the original vision that had been learned again. We see appearances only, know of them schematically at first and then learn more as we acquire a certain experience of them. Some perceptions may have to be completely rearranged; some changed; some discarded. We do not see the real building in the images; ironically, we may not see the real building because of these memories: consider Corb’s false balconies that get overlooked in the drooling of being there in the work of the hero. In much the same manner we overlook Corb’s added confessionals at Ronchamp. The early plans did not illustrate these swellings in the western wall adjacent to the pond. They have, it appears, been squeezed in almost as an afterthought, by distorting the wall to create a small cavity with a wall roof. This little chapel has two forms of confessional: one pair made of blades like those at La Tourette, the others more like those buried between stone columns in a cathedral. Is this difference generated by necessity, the late demand for more confessionals? Parc de la Villette in Paris is another example of experienced difference. Here the beautiful concept and its marvellous plan transform expectations, readings and understandings into a hum of disappointment.

 Parc Villette - lines, points and surfaces

 The private balcony off the monk's cell at La Tourette

The private balconies continue on over the stair
The toilet is below these balconies immediately to the left of the stair with half-height frosted glass adjacent to urinal

Ronchamp: note confessional 'bubbles' in end wall and directly on wall opposite  

The swelling of the confessionals in the western wall

The iconic wedge: note how the harbour view for those in the cafe gets lower and lower as it approaches the outlook

And the Mareel? One walks around surprisingly big and bland forms never seen before in order to discover the familiar photographed identity that has become the place to see the building from, to confirm the remembered image. One needs to see the triangular window that creates such iconic drama and goes looking for it. Other views of the complex are rarely published, so they are a surprise when seen. They are sometimes real ‘eye-openers’ when they show a total lack of regard for any civic relationship with Lerwick and any consideration for neighbours. Yet this situation that is just so obvious, is never commented upon. Must only blind eyes see these views and relationships? The glory of this place is hyped with the image from only the one place. The idea of one fixed concept is the preferred image for many buildings: “This is the image.” The Mareel is used as an example here because this circumstance of the promotion of a preferred image is so exceptional. Wholeness and its experience, it seems, has become another part of our lack of concern with buildings and place.

The Mareel from the western approach

Yet there is a surprise. The image of the Mareel presented in the news release on the latest award, (see below), shows a photograph taken from the street that approaches the Mareel from the west. It is a beautiful image but relies on alignments and graphics that are just as clever as those in the ‘classic’ Mareel promotional presentation: see the analysis of these images below. So the Mareel can be said to have two viewpoints worthy of promotion, each equally manicured in its careful composition; each plays with the intersections of the planes and alignments in its own way.

View of western approach to Mareel (on a dry, sunny day without traffic blurring)
Note unusual alignment of light pole with sloping wall/roof framing the 'civic' entrance space that provides access for
seating capacity of 535; add another 400 for a standing crowd (Wikipedia figures)

Idyllic visions - imagined designs: how often do we get surprised when seeing the real fabric and form of a building for the first time? The classic trick of the photographer is framing, excluding unwanted adjacencies. McCloud’s Grand Designs (Channel 4) - see:  does it all the time. What frequently looks like broad open fields of beautiful English countryside becomes, with the occasional distracted swing of the camera, a site with neighbours on both sides within a few metres of a busy street.

The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart: the motorway has been carefully cropped

Google Street View of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart showing motorway

One unforgettably startling context was that of the Stirling/Wilford Stuttguart Art Gallery. The story of the concept as published seemed to suggest a pedestrian link had been created through the gallery to join the old mediaeval town to its neighbouring areas. The path across the site was indeed a core idea of the forming and its shaping, and the planning, but the big surprise was that, after finding a car park, and walking to the gallery, this grand, banded travertine/sandstone massing with pink tubular trims was actually located beside an enormously wide and grand open, busy motorway, Versailles-like in its presence, but with six plus lanes of hectic movement and a constant, dull roar. The old town was on one side of this thoroughfare, the gallery on the other, directly on its fringe. The gallery overlooked the motorway void; it addressed it.

The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard

Why have this pedestrian way leading nowhere? What was this access here but an idea somewhat like Corb’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard, that does connect parts of the campus? Is it merely an excuse to shape things differently and involve various self-conscious distortions and complications that could be rationalized by the idea of a thoroughfare? The path related to very little that might interest a pedestrian in the city other than one intrigued with the inner workings of the gallery. Linking the freeway side to the service side of this complex hardly makes for a beautiful civic idea or experience. There was no necessity here; but it did open up the gallery to juxtaposed sculpted forms and shapes, and intertwined vistas for their own unique interest, and for that of the photographers. The awkward context of this gallery had been disguised by very clever, precise framings to create an identity that was reinforced by the story that had been created to tell of a quaint idea that never was or ever could be. Yet one carried and still caries these promotional concepts, such is their strength. The remembered images of this gallery are still all framed very carefully, precisely, apart from those I recorded. My preference is for a critical eye - a critical camera rather than an artful one. Then there was the astonishment of the landscaping here too, pots with what are declared nuisance plants here in Australia: oleanders; cacti; wandering Jew, etc., all struggling to survive in the Stuttgart motorway climate. These were clumsily arrayed in a row along the freeway wall with its huge pink rail, as though someone, not the architect, had sensed the need to attempt to ‘soften’ the motorway edge. One assumes that this huge pink 400mm tube can be called a rail: a buffer rail? Unlike this great rail, this ‘landscaping’ had always been cut out of the preferred images too.

Mareel by night from preferred promotional location - looking a pretty blue colour

Photography can be blamed for this deceptive game because it can just as easily show the awkward, the bad, the ill-formed, as well as construct the beautiful. One can only assume that there is someone, somewhere culling the images, selecting those ‘preferred’ shots that ‘capture something,’ and discarding the others so that the impression is created as one would like the place to be seen: to see it as. This strategy can be clearly noted in the work of Serge Jacques, (Gilles Neret, Serge Jacques Folies de Paris-Hollywood, Taschen, Icon Series), who spent a lifetime photographing near-naked/naked ladies. His sheets of proof prints are crossed and circled to highlight the discards and the preferred shots. The latter were much the fewer in number than the former. Photography seeks its own visions that may not ever be so other than as a photographic identity. One notes how Jaques, in his own introductory writing, talks of the transformation of the less than ordinary into photographic beauty: how stuffy, humid rooms, rudimentary, makeshift spaces, and temporary sets roasting under the steamy heat of special lighting, were all a struggle to overcome in order to achieve the illusion; how the constant battle was to avoid perspiration, drab grime and dusty spaces. The challenge was to make young ladies arrayed with what effectively were sundry theatrical items choreographed in a shambles of a specially lighted room look wonderful, erotic, through the eye of the lens. That a photograph does not lie has become a falsehood, especially in our era of digital manipulation, the ‘photoshopping’ that only adds a further complication to our understanding of our world. One has to read a photograph as another different reality, not one that expresses the real.

Mareel by day from preferred promotional location

Modern city image

It seems that architecture has become the promotion of the preferred image and story: maybe art has become this too? Consider Francis Bacon and his favoured strategy that it seems never was: see -
Even cities carry this baggage in cinema, in movies where cliché images create the ‘norm’ that is accepted without question in the tantalizing flow of imagery identified as: those tapering, towering vertical shots; those long tunnel street vistas; those traffic and traffic light scenes of havoc; those slick forms of gleam and glass; the uniquely quirky details of polished, quirky forms. They all scream ‘city’ - ‘modern city’ - as memory, rarely as experience. We immediately recognize these places and buildings as icons, even though they are schematic or distorted, or in part, collaged quickly, seamlessly, suggestively. These symbols train us to read our cities through low cameras; high cameras; turned cameras; wide lenses; telephoto lenses; fade-is; fade-outs. We are even told how to act in these places, such is the power of photography, the drama of theatre, the authority of the cinema. Our lives can be managed by photographic expectations established elsewhere by others.

John Howard (ex Australian Prime Minister)

Consider the little politician who always likes to be photographed from ankle-level to give the appearance of a towering figure: e.g. John Howard, Campbell Newman, when the reality is always otherwise. Is it a desire to conceal the baldhead? Frank Lloyd Wright did likewise, but he had a full head of hair. Wright’s dramatic image of grandeur was so persuasive that upon his death, when he was laid out on the horse-drawn dray to be walked to his resting place beside his lover, one student commented on his surprise at seeing how such a very small, frail man this architectural giant was. It is through photography that we are asked to see the dwarf form as a giant, heroic. It is through our memories that we carry the identity and the expectation of the image and its size. That the Robbie House is so small in scale is something that has been frequently commented upon by many of its visitors. The surprise is that the drama of the photographic image makes it appear much larger than it really is.

Campbell Newman (Premier Queensland, Australia)
Is this stance looking up the nose or down the nose?

The personal discrepancy in size becomes a puzzling intimidation when things are experienced differently, creating an awkward pause in perception that is always used against one to favour the brash and bold who want their glory; they grab it. The identity becomes overwhelming and is used in this manner, to overwhelm. Architects frequently seek the same for their buildings. It is said that Harry Seidler always photographed his own buildings himself with his own camera to establish the preferred viewpoints prior to briefing the professional photographer who was directed to the identified locations. The situation is not unlike a version of Wittenstein's duck-rabbit, seeing as, but it is not as ambiguously clever or entrancing. It is far more blatant in its singular intent. It is really a forced viewing of ‘seeing as’ - as ‘I’ want it to be seen as.

Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit

The iconic Mareel image

It is certainly not alone, but the Mareel is probably the extreme in this context of selective viewpoints, so much so that its different aspects are never revealed and will not be discussed publicly. It is not as though the everyday identity is similar to or can be seen in the same light as the preferred shot. These alternative views are alien to it. They are the other parts of the place that highlight such a difference as to make one ask about the reason for the predominance of the ‘one shot.’ Why effectively ‘conceal’ the remainder 359 degree views of this freestanding arts development? Well, the other 358 degrees, as the street view illusion has been created too: (see below). One can understand that promotional hype only wants good, but no one seems to want to know anything differently. Is this island coherence, insularity; dare one suggest political scheming?


It seems unlikely as the selection and promotion of preferred images is an international problem. Maybe technology has allowed this to happen? Maybe it encourages such manipulations? The cinema tricks us all the time with its camera locations that are ignored in order to promote the idea of a person, alone, entering an empty room. Looking back just to the 1950’s, one can see what changes there have been in copying, reproduction, photography, printing and publication. What were once crude black and white images on rough, off-white paper with texts all handset in hard, uneven type, is now all slick, full-colour, glossy perfection created by technology that allows touch up and 'corrections' to create the desired image immediately: see - No longer is it just a physical camera angle or a carefully held tree branch that can change the image: it is the very substance of the process itself that can remake the vision of the vision; in architecture, remake to the vision of the architect ‘god’ and recreate her ‘glory.’ We have a new understanding of the old adage that ‘seeing is believing’ when we ‘see what we believe.’

Stittgart Gallery - details can change visions, become anchors for memory

The path through the cylinder - memorable parts recreate the whole as if a hologram

Glasgow Transport Museum - rarely seen from the water but remembered

These are the images that we learn from. They start in error by being so perfectly printed in such quality sheen. When the image itself is further modified by frames, angles or clever digital games, then the illusion is multiplied; the error heightened. So it is that we need more of the critical eye; the questioning camera; the real, raw experience of place if we are to truly know it. This is essential, because if we are learning from illusions, then we will only recreate them; and the cycle will spin out into a self- referential nonsense of illusions of illusions. We need experience, real experience of place, space, people, materials, structures, landscape, and more, if we are going to create an environment that can truly sustain us. Playing games is fun, but deceiving ourselves is something that we allow at our own risk - and that of civilization itself. We must become more honest with ourselves and with our environments: the built environments and the natural ones too. They must work together to create a place of rigour and substance rather than a mirage, a pretense that we might like to drool over with clever eye and conceited words, boasting about our own cleverness. We really cannot afford such indulgences. We need to be true to ourselves, honest, in the same way as Kahn calls for buildings to be - what they want to be; what they have to be. We must maintain an inner integrity in everything we do if we too are, as Shakespeare said, 'to be.'

Posted by Lisa Ward on March 12th, 2014 No Comments

Mareel has received a Commendation from the Civic Trust Awards, one of only five Scottish projects to receive a Commendation. From 238 applications, 134 were progressed for consideration by the National Panel (12 from Scotland). A total of 79 national and international projects were rewarded with a Civic Trust Award, Commendation, or Community Recognition.
Commendations are given to projects that make a significant contribution to the quality and appearance of the built environment and demonstrate a good standard of architecture or design, sustainability, universal design and provide a positive social, cultural, environmental or economic benefit to the local community.
Managed by Shetland Arts Development Agency, the leading arts agency in Shetland, Mareel is the UK’s most northerly music, cinema and creative industries centre.
The building, designed by Gareth Hoskins Architects, is situated in a prominent quayside area in Lerwick, adjacent to the Shetland Museum and Archives and incorporates: a live performance auditorium, two cinema screens, rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, education and training spaces, a digital media production suite, broadcast facilities and a cafe bar with free, high speed wi-fi internet access. Providing a year round programme of film, live music, education and other performance events, Mareel is a hub and a focus for the creative communities in Shetland and beyond.

Mareel. Photo by Phatsheep Photography.

In their Commendation the Civic Trust Awards described Mareel as: “a key element in the regeneration of [the] waterfront edge of the town.” They added: “The architectural response reflects the tradition of simple, robust forms and echoes the materiality of the fishing industry buildings dotted along the waterfront.
Shetland Arts’ Director, Gwilym Gibbons, said: “Mareel is a very special venue. A tribute to the design is the speed and the way in which people have made Mareel their new creative home. Mareel has one of the best attended cinemas in the UK, a busy recording studio linked to the main auditorium with a sought after acoustic quality that has led artists to choose Shetland over other studios in the UK. The venue also houses the delivery of further and higher education courses and a broad range of live music is performed on the Mareel stage, regularly live streamed to the world through our in house broadcast partner 60 North TV. It has become a buzzing creative hub with a busy cafe bar which doubles up as an important social and business meeting point. Mareel a huge cultural asset, an asset that has value far beyond Shetland shores and for generations to come.”


Mareel: Photo by Phatsheep Photography (one rainy night with traffic)

John Coutts' image of the Mareel from car park (one sunny day without traffic): unusually, foyer car park views are preferred to harbour views

The analysis of this image created by Phatsheep Photography is no critique of this beautiful image or its creators. The idea is to explore how this image manages to recreate its special identity of the Mareel through careful composition, in much the same manner as a Renaissance painting is deconstructed with an analysis of the compositional arrangement and its critical alignments: see -  The investigation seeks to understand how a photograph can modify understanding and challenge experience.

One assumes that the image has not been photoshopped, although the spill of light on the southern wall and the careful articulation of the streaming lights do make one consider the possibility.

This is one of the few images not from the preferred location out on the dock in front of the Shetland Museum and Archives Building. It is a carefully crafted image that takes advantage of the wet surfaces, the play of light and the alignments of the massings. It is a wet night so reflections and streaming car lights dazzle the eye into reading an attractive patterning of place that is really not there. The streamers disguise the car park entrance precinct that the bright foyer looks out to. The wide-angle lens and careful cropping have all been managed judiciously.

 The organisation of the alignments of various elements around the one vanishing point gives a coherence to the whole massing - compare modern city image (see above)

In the photograph, one can see the ‘stairway to heaven’ in the illuminated foyer; the glowing foyer space itself that looks out to the car park away from the harbour views and the distant lights of the Northlink ferry that can interestingly be glimpsed on the right of the bland south wall of the cinema centre in the image above the eye-catching white reflection, the brightest mass in the image that encourages the eye movement to the vanishing point on the right.

The rawness of the carpark has been covered by wriggling bands of red and white streamers that heighten the perspective angles with a drama frequently seen in skies. The stopping and starting of these attractive lines is significant for the reading of the whole, as it their direction. The sky also shares in the structuring of this angular highlighting, but seems real. Shetland does get grand skies; but not grand car parks.

The streamers form an array of lines angling off the same vanishing point as the ridge of the higher roof and the road. The shrewdest alignment in this image is that of the lower roof barge line that also aligns with this same vanishing point, creating an illusion of coherence that reinforces the drama in much the same manner as the primary image does to the whole. This generates the illusion that it just not there in the true everyday, daylight experience of this place as best recorded by John Coutts.

The broad bland southern wall has been made more ‘interesting’ by the lighting that changes the scale and proportion of this surface and reinforces the vanishing point drama with its light dark division. This bright surface also drags the eye deeper into the vista.

The construction line of the solids ties the building into the landscape and echoes the alignment of the clouds

This image of the Mareel from the approach road from the west is just as enigmatic as that of the ‘classic’ image taken from the north-east. The structuring of both images is equally self-conscious, with the angles being carefully selected for the appropriate alignments. In one case, the north-east view, the barge line of one mass is aligned with the window head so as to create an illusion of three-dimensional complexity, with the horizontal parapet appearing angled to its vanishing point to mirror its neighbouring skillion roof to suggest a match rather than a contrast.

Mirrored lines of the photographic composition suggest a complex, skewed three-dimensional massing

In the western image, the alignment of one roof line is such that it conforms with the perspective vanishing point of the road and southern wall, highlighting a dramatic vision that is further modified by lights and darks, and streaming red and white vehicle light lines that likewise vanish to the same point. Compare this drama with the John Coutts' daylight shot and the blander 'M' photographs. There is a beautiful illusion being created here that seeks to tell us how to see this building.

The compositional line integrates the building into the harbour and the sky with an enhanced, wedge-formed, almost symmetrical pictorial division

These are wonderful photographs; this is not the problem. It is that they are just good images that bear little in resemblance to any experienced reality other than one that one might want to try to see things in this manner. This is the concern. Real experience is not illustrated here – just an ideal vision of photographic art that uses the Mareel as its base material, to transform it into true art, very artfully, skillfully, as a part of a uniquely structured photographic composition. This is an example of how architectural works are presented to us, to inform us; to train us to see.

Note how and where the streaming stops; note the lights and darks on the southern wall; note the lights and darks in the sky; note the change in the dark mass of the upper triangle; note the highlights, the bright spots, how they drag the eye to the vanishing point away from the Mareel mass, the real mass with its own relationships that hold less drama without these additions (see the Coutts image).
This is only one way to see the building, just as that other location becomes another. Is this the award way of seeing places? Do we carry these preferred images with us and layer them onto our everyday reading with a forgiving, optimistic eye?

The rare image of the Mareel from the east, the less well remembered 'static' image seen only as  broken roof lines from the streets of Lerwick (see above)

The diagonal of the image uses the old dock alignment to enhance the impression of coherence

The Mareel from the favourite location, north, out on the harbour dockside (one sunny, cloudy day)

As with the photographic images that eulogize, this is not the Mareel either: only the location is nearly correct!
On the comment in the critique - see: - that one confuses the new Council buildings with the Mareel, it can be noted that this confusion has been recorded formally by others.
See:  where the new Shetland Islands Council office building is illustrated and described as ‘The Mareel under construction, Lerwick.’ Mike Pennington does an excellent job with his recording of places throughout Shetland, but he might like to correct this error. One can see how it can be easily made. It was certainly my first impression too, until it was realized that the image did not match the vision held in the memory; nor was it close to this. One was left puzzled for some seconds before the Mareel-like forms appeared around the corner to the left.

HU4741 : The Mareel under construction, Lerwick
near to Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Great Britain

The Mareel under construction, Lerwick

The Mareel, a cinema and theatre venue, has had a controversial history, with many in Shetland arguing that the building may not be value for money.
© Copyright Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
year taken

Grid Square
HU4741, 665 images   (more nearby)
Mike Pennington   (find more nearby)
Image classification
Date Taken
Saturday, 16 April, 2011   (more nearby)
Saturday, 16 April, 2011
Building remains after explosion   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! HU 473 418 [100m precision]
WGS84: 60:9.5029N 1:8.8865W
Photographer Location
OSGB36: geotagged! HU 474 417
View Direction
NORTH (about 0 degrees)

(NOTE: The Mareel is located at North Ness, Lerwick)

The Pommes Farewell

AUSTRALIA! thou art a land of pests,
For flies and fleas one never rests;
E’en now mosquitoes round me revel;
In fact they are the very devil.
Sandflies and hornets just as bad –
They nearly drive a fellow mad.
The scorpion and centipede,
With stinging ants of every breed,
Fever and ague with shakes,
Tarantulas and poisonous snakes;
Iguanas, lizards, cockatoos,
Bushrangers, logs and jackeroos,
Bandicoots and swarms of rats,
Bulldog ants and native cats,
Stunted timber, thirsty plains,
Parched up deserts, scanty rains.
There’s rivers here you can’t sail ships on,
There’s nigger women without shifts on.
There’s humpies, huts, and wooden houses,
And nigger men who don’t wear trousers.
There’s Barcoo rot and sandy blight,
There’s dingoes howling all the night,
There’s curlews’ wails and croaking frogs,
There’s savage blacks and native dogs.
There’s scentless flowers and stinging trees,
There’s poisonous grass and Darling peas,
Which drive the cattle raving mad,
Make sheep and horses just as bad.
And then it never rains in reason –
There’s drought one year and floods next season,
Which sweep the squatter’s sheep away,
And then there is the devil to pay.
To stay in thee, Oh! Land of Mutton!
I would not give a single button.
But bid thee now a long farewell,
Thou scorching, sunburnt land of Hell!

The Bushman’s Farewell To Queensland

There are several versions of this bit of old folklore still in circulation. The present one has been slightly abbreviated, not for reasons of censorship but because it seemed to me boringly over-long.
In With Malice Aforethought, edited by Bill Wannan.
Queensland, thou art a land of pests;
For flies and fleas one never rests.
E’en now mosquitoes round me revel –
In fact they are the very devil.
Sandflies and hornets, just as bad,
they nearly drive a fellow mad;
With scorpion and centipede
And stinging ants of every breed:
Fever and ague, with the shakes,
Tarantulas and poisonous snakes;
Iguanas, lizards, cockatoos,
Bushrangers and jackaroos,
Bandicoots and swarms of rats,
Bulldog ants and native cats;
Stunted timber, thirsty plains,
Parched-up deserts, scanty rains;
There’s rivers here you can’t sail ships on,
There’s native women without shifts on;
There’s humpies, huts, and wooden houses,
And native men who don’t wear trousers;
There’s Barcoo rot and sandy-blight,
There’s dingoes howling all the night;
There’s curlew’s wail, and croaking frogs,
There’s savage blacks and native dogs…
To stay in thee, O land of mutton,
I wouldn’t give a single button,
But bid thee now a long farewell,
Thou scorching, sunburnt land of hell!

It is hoped that this is not the future of the Mareel - see

15 April 2014
Serendipity or synchronicity? Maybe there is something of both here. When reading Jan Morris’ Contact, A Book of Glimpses, Faber and Faber, London, 2009, I came across the following lines on page 66:
More than most cities, Stockholm projects two images – the one you have been led to expect and the one you discover for yourself.

This is the very point that this article seeks to expose. The problem with architecture is that it specialises in training others, tutoring the world, telling it what to expect: how to see a place, a building. It is only when one arrives that one discovers the reality for oneself. The argument is that we need to be more honest in our representations so that expectations can be an enrichment rather than a disappointment; and ideas and inspirations can be grounded on accurate first impressions rather than on delusions and illusions.

18 June 2014
Towards the end of The Mind’s Eye, (Oliver Sacks, Picador, London, 2010), in the section that carries the name of the title of this book, Sacks discusses theories of perception. These suggest how it might be that we see what we believe.

p.236 . . . for there is no perception without action, no seeing without looking.

p.230  . . . visual perception depends on visual imagery, matching what the eye sees, the retina’s output, with memory images in the brain. Visual recognition, they, (Kosslyn and others), feel, could not occur without such matching. Kosslyn proposes, furthermore, that mental imagery may be crucial in thought itself - problem solving, planning, designing, theorizing.

see also:

NOTE: 29 October 2014
On photographs and drawings see:

23 October 2015
Leone Huntsman  Sand in Our Souls The Beach in Australian History Melbourne University Press, 2001, p.16:
Thus first impressions were filtered through existing preconceptions, starkly revealed in Sir Joseph Banks's description of the people seen from Captain James Cook's Endeavour when it first touched on the Australian continent in 1770:
In the morn we . . . [discerned] 5 people who appeared through our glasses to be enormously black: so far did the prejudices which we had built on Dampier's account influence us that we fancied we could see their Colour when we could scarce distinguish whether or not they were men.
Here Banks refers to William Dampier's unfavourable accounts of the West Australian aboriginal people in published accounts of his landings in 1688 and 1699, and reveals his own awareness of the extent to which perception was influenced by expectation.

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