Thursday 20 May 2021


Architecture thrives on fabulous photography: see - We come to know many buildings through their photographs; but this expression is now so specialised, so contrived, that the proposition is that we must rely more on Street View to truly understand our places rather than delight in the fantasy world of the fabricated image: see - Photography has become such an indulgence, that we really cannot rely on it to properly know anything about a building other than its appearance defined as a set of exotic images, all carefully shaped and framed by the artful camera. The worry is that these photographs become the inspirations for others, prompting them to strive for things unreal and impossible in an effort to reproduce unique visions that have been recorded as extraordinary slick, sophisticated, and shiny images by the photographer: surreal entities that may even have been Photoshopped in order to achieve the desired outcome.

The struggle for the extraordinary image.

It is as if the building has been doubly manipulated as an expression – first by the architect, and then by the photographer who brings other ambitions, skills, and technologies to the reading of the work that is then publicized in a smart, glossy context, isolated from the ordinary world, a situation that only further highlights the bespoke characteristics of the visions. The real worry is that experience itself is being manipulated by the photographer who is defining ways of seeing a work, prompting the visitor to see likewise, or to want to see in this manner. In Street View, this intent is nonexistent, as the camera nonchalantly travels along the roads recording what the casual eye would see, not bothering about outcome, style, or expression, merely recording what the naïve onlooker would see offhandedly - the unselfconscious everyday.

Probably the most recent extreme example of such stylish photography is that of what is known as 520W28 – the Hadid office’s apartment building in New York: see - The fabulous images of this project in create an ambience that one searches for in reality. The critique in becomes muddled by the photographs that present a smart set of images and suggest promised lifestyles, promoting ideas that are so powerfully persuasive that they beguile with a suave ease, stimulating the thought: "If only this was me!" The silent hype and the stark wonder engages both the eye and the feeling mind, fuzzing the real experience with its fizz.

Like the columns, the smaller curved windows do not seem to get photographed.

The Hadid signature - she died 31 March 2016: the name has become a brand, a marketing tool.

Life looking at other apartments: the right side of the frame is oddly fuzzed out - what might it conceal?.

WOW! - but where?

Here the High Line is used as a happy piece of green; it is not promoted as a public way overlooked by private apartments - or vice versa.

But it is not just this photographer who uses the lens to produce images that amaze and command. The collection of photographs below has been taken randomly from Google Images.

The High Line has been cut out to concentrate on the patterning generated by the plan that has been very selfconsciously stepped.
The change in levels seems to lack an easy, natural rigour - any necessity beyond a different, decorative elevation.

This street image creates a civic ambience that identifies a different experience of place.
520W28 becomes part of the background to street life just because it is there;
not because of its essential fit.

Here the building becomes a part of the patterned composition of the city.

The visual sweep of the green High Line underlines the grandeur of the form.
One is never asked to contemplate the experience of  living so close to the public walkway.

The largest bedroom of this apartment seems to get the smallest window.

The structural columns are completely independent of all other elements.

The night image (above) dramatizes the city vista and suggests more intriguing possibilities than those seen in raw daylight.

One can go to the plan to see one concern that these images conceal: the columns in the rooms. Somewhat like elephants, these are never photographed to read as they would appear in the various spaces. One can glimpse the columns in the background of the curvaceous facades, with the suggestion of their irrelevance when it seems that they are dominant pieces in the rooms, filling corners and shrouding vistas with their significant mass, while pretending not to be there, concealed by their bland whiteness.

The expression during construction highlights the columns.
The change in levels apoears more of a complication than a happy resolution.

The column becomes an awkward intrusion in the smaller spaces.

It is not as though the columns fade into the background of the different spaces they inhabit.
One does wonder how one retrieves the soap when it slides into the columned corner.

In a similar manner, the division between the bedroom balcony of one apartment and the living room balcony of the adjacent apartment is shown as an apparently random, ad hoc dividing line that seems to have only one, somewhat apologetic intent -  not to interfere with the ambitions of the sweeping forms of the facades. The dividing screen's role in separating private lives appears to be an irrelevance. The planning does not look to have the authority, rigour and clarity expressed in the sculpted elevations that 'reign supreme.'

The slick, stepped identity of the facades is not replicated in the plans that seem to work hard
to fit the various functions in and around the step in the building.

What seems clear is that the fabulous photographic images of the building are all-important, more essential than any consideration of the experience of living in these rooms, in this place, at this location. The implication is that life will be just as fabulous as the photographs if you live in this Hadid building, and if you see it in this special way.

One is left wondering; just what do we want from our architecture today - a truly meaningful life subtly supported and enriched by interactive place, its integrity; or an engagement with the suggestions of heroic, fabulous images and their re-enactment? Should we redefine our efforts in architecture as the desire to shape a vital and committed everyday, and see what this might look like before we continue to commit to smart visuals? Do we need to engage more with Street View in other ways to help break this alluring photographic habit of delighting in arty, piecemeal portions that distract us from wholeness?

Saturday 15 May 2021


Quarantine is an environment that constrains and restricts, providing one with ample time to observe and ponder not only the details and dust particles of the room's interior, (see:   and ), but also those elements of the vistas that can be seen framed by the fixed windows – the street; the people; the adjacent buildings; the neighbours – ordinary ‘outside’ daily life itself: see below. Standing opposite this quarantine hotel, across a narrow lane to the east, was a large apartment block with over 400 units. On the north, in the mid-distance on higher ground, were more apartment blocks. The local area had been designated for a specific density of special development by the planners, and the developers had happily obliged. There was the suggestion that this precinct might become a new commercial core of the city.

Each apartment in every building that could be seen had its balcony that appeared to be an essential requirement for all accommodation units; but these outdoor ledges seemed to be there more for cliché appearance than for any function, as if to identify each apartment, and give some 'character' to the edifice. During the two weeks of incarceration, all of the balconies in view were seen to be used on only three occasions by a person or people, and on one occasion by a dog. Surprisingly, the balconies seemed to hold as little interest for the canine occupants, as they did for the human residents. So why have balconies?

We had no windows that could be opened, so weather conditions could only be checked online and observed through tinted glazing. One could see the sunny times, the rain, the cloudy days, and the wind-blown leaves on the trees. It was the wind that surprised, frequently gusting along the streets, raising the question: did the towers cause these unusual breezy conditions? Might it be that the balconies were made uncomfortable because of the exposure to sun, rain, and these gusts?

Are balconies merely pattern-making devices?

It seemed certain that this extra balcony floor space would be much more useful if it were enclosed, offering the possibility of controlling the exposure of these small areas, managing their micro environments. The problem here is the method of calculation of floor area allowed in the development. The balcony is an ‘extra’ area, and plays a different role in the calculation of GFA to that of the interior zones: enclose it, and the calculations change. All the mathematical benefits that accrue from this additional open space are lost, irrespective of the minimal differences in functions: so the balconies are left exposed as open space.

The pretty pieces could easily become dangerous missiles.

The picturesque fantasy ignores the view of planter boxes at seated eye-height.

Even though they might be elaborately fitted out with chairs, tables, benches, plants, and barbecues, the balconies remained mostly unused. Only a few folk were ever seen in these outdoor spaces: a couple residents were hanging out washing; another was observed reading the newspaper while supping on the morning beverage. Strangely, the situation remained the same for street activity: although there were over 400 units, as with the balconies, there were very few people ever seen on the footpath, either coming or going. What was happening?

Balconies become pictorial delights, suggesting impossible outcomes.

The balconies literally become hanging spaces - projecting ledges used to dry laundry.

The balcony offers visions of stylish living - hopeful fantasies.
There is hardly any leg-room in these styled exteriors.

Balcony as storage area.

The plans of the apartments were looked up online. These were budget spaces, crammed with every essential one could reasonably expect to make them attractive, all fitted into a minimum number of compact areas. There was the kitchen, living, dining space; the bedroom or rooms, the ensuite(s), with a recess for a laundry and a small bookshelf built into one wall. These were little places. One might have thought that a balcony would have offered a grand opportunity to spread out; but no: puzzlingly, the outdoor areas were not used with any everyday frequency for what appeared to be their intended function: they looked as though they were unnecessary accessories, a remarkable luxury given the tight planning.

The balcony as a bonsai backyard.

Rail planters offer some 'natural' decoration, but isolate the resident from the edge,
and block the view from the seated position (which could be beneficial).

The benefits of an enclosed balcony were obvious; the apartment would have an extra room, albeit as modest as the existing spaces. Depending on the type of enclosure, the area could still be opened up differently to the other areas to become the equivalent of a balcony, if needed. One wonders why the rules are not varied to allow more functionally useful places to be created. Might it be that developers are already seen to be very astute, shrewd, and cunning when it comes to interpreting the present rules, making authorities wary on how they might manipulate or abuse any relaxation or modification to balcony conditions?

The enclosed balconies of Gleneagles.

The twin towers of Gleneagles in New Farm, Brisbane, enclosed the balcony of each apartment with much success, creating miniature ‘sun’ rooms or a ‘conservatory’ for each bed-sit space. These tiny areas became an extension of the living area; sometimes the dining space, depending on the occupant’s needs. The outcome was so impressive, that one has to argue for open balconies to go, to be abolished, and be replaced with flexible enclosed places. Surely rules can be framed to minimise abuse; or have planners lost the ability to write anything other than vague, ambiguous, ‘motherhood’ documents that set the framework for negotiating, wheeling and dealing with ‘mates’?

The enclosed balcony offers multi-functional space: either / or.

Something has to happen to make some sense of these decorative, outdoor places that presently have no useful function other than some perceived possibilities that never materialise, or as a drying space, in spite of being a major part of the expression of apartment towers. One suspects that balconies have become selling points, there for the visual delight of the gazing eye fantasising about dwelling in an apartment. Do the facts of habitation and its experience soon show how useless these external ledges are, turning hope into a sad despair, and happy outdoor places into laundry extras or storage areas?

Balconies as performance spaces; for people to be seen.

Zigzagging seems more important than the balcony experience.

We need to find a way to make the dreams come true, or just forget the balcony as an essential element of any apartment: balconies should be there for happy, healthy dwelling, not just for sales, for laundry, or the occasional cigarette. We need to answer the question: what should a balcony be? - and then do our best to make these annexures vital areas for happy, high-rise habitation.

The balcony as a stage set.

'X-ray' spaces display the clutter of ordinary living.

The balcony needs to become a multi-function edge condition, that space between inside and out that can be either/or, providing comfort and purpose for any option seen either as inside or outside, to allow the enjoyment of the delights of the in-between, instead of the discovery of the hopelessness of styled exterior ledges pretending to offer an impossible dream, as seen in the magazines: c.f. Aldo van Eyck Team 10 Primer 1963 ed. Allison Smithson - the richness of 'twin phenomena.'

An open balcony: no choices.

An enclosed balcony: choices.

The images above are taken from Google images as generic examples of the situation.
The images below are those taken in quarantine.

Lifeless spaces.

The northern development node.

The street.

The adjacent balcony: a laundry area.

The balconies offer little protection from the western glare.

Balconies as 'architectural' edge voids.

'Sky' balconies seem to have become a popular 'sculptural' element.

Empty balconies.

'Sky' balcony above apartment balconies: all empty.