Online imagery can be a valuable resource, broadening our exposure to architectural design. However, we must recognize the disconnect between the screen and real life experience.
The online world allows us to discover spaces that we may otherwise never see. We can explore design globally, peek into private spaces and consume an insurmountable amount of imagery in one sitting. With platforms like Instagram, we can see spaces through the eyes of more than one photographer. There is certainly something to be gained from the exposure to so many ideas and to see the world through a diverse range of eyes.
However, before we foolheartedly applaud access to endless imagery, it’s important to recognize the distinction between the image we see on screen and reality. Ignoring this can distort our understanding of our environment and potentially damage our focus as designers.
What the camera captures is rarely an accurate account, particularly when dealing with edited images at low resolution. With most social media platforms driven by a system of likes, we are generally presented with an optimistic view, which may not be an honest one. It’s not uncommon for designers to visit highly publicized spaces and come away feeling disappointed. On the flip side, there are successful spaces that simply can’t be captured by camera. Since the quality of the design is held hostage by the quality of the photography, our ability to really understand and learn from online images is limited.
Yet the accuracy of the image is secondary to the fact that architecture is about more than just static, two-dimensional images. An image viewed at the speed of a finger swipe is no comparison to immersing yourself into a space completely. Only from physically being in a space can you understand the spatial relationships. What is it like to journey through the space? How does it encourage you to move or behave in a certain way? How usable is the space? How does the space sound? How warm or cold is the space? Architecture is a complex three-dimensional experience that we engage with using all the senses. With the bombardment of images online, we’re feeding an obsession with two dimensional snapshots and shifting the focus away from all the other aspects that make a design successful or interesting.
Online research has it’s merits but it’s important to remain conscious of its limitations. We must guard against conceiving of architecture as a series images rather than a complete experience. End users may not send “like” notifications to our phones, but ultimately, it’s the real life response that really counts.
If the Internet is a useful tool, what can we do to guard ourselves against the obsession with the image? How can we continue to use it as an effective resource?
Could superficial engagement with online imagery be doing more damage than good?
How important is an awareness of the global design context? Does it help us develop our own personal ideas or does it encourage global sameness?
With an awareness of the global context, do we risk designing for a global audience rather one rooted in place?