A few years ago, an exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute entitled Spectacular City: Photographing the Future posited the thesis that, in the words of photographer Frank van der Salm, the best architects around today are photographers.
This is one metaphor for understanding the image’s primary role in the practice and perception of architecture today. As mentioned before, architectural photography—where space and the image intersect—reveals the radical flux acting on the constituent practices of architecture and photography today. The architectural image—which was the basis for the trade press, lifestyle publications, and monographs which nourished different aspects of the industry—has now broken nearly every bound of medium, format, and expository context. It is now increasingly independent from its original commercial purpose, and like an autonomous emergent intelligence is part of the process of demoting its ostensible benefactor (the architect and client) and casting a new, indispensable role for its creator and technician (the architectural imager).
The implications break in two directions. The first is found in extravagantly prodigal print manifestations—OMA’s Book Machine publishing laboratory and its 40K-page supermonograph.
The second is in the post-virtual, optical/perceptual hybrid space of the holographic architectural model, such as the autosteroscopic 3D tiles from Zebra Imaging.
When global modernism was emerging at the same time that cheaper and better photomechanical reproduction became available, the image became the primary currency of this architecture. Then, the goal of architectural photography was clarity and iconic singularity. Today, the opposite is true; the kaleidoscopic cloud of architectural images speaks to the decline of the architectural monograph in codex book form, and the image’s surprising annexation of architectural space itself.