Archive for October 2009

Invade and Document

October 7, 2009

If you’ve ever been part of a hoard of architecture students trekking across Europe and you find yourself without a camera (mine had fallen down a gorge on the way to a remote villa  on Capri) you’re bound to notice some disturbing group behavior.

Firstly I/we/them don’t actually view the world with eyes but instead and almost exclusively with cameras. Perceptions are further warped by the constant re-adjustment of the position of the picture-taker, the components of the camera and the jockeying for  prime angle in prime light. Often If a loner is seen to be feverishly snapping away from somewhere which at first seems seems odd, the group will slowly migrate there in case anyone feels they’re missing the coveted exception-to-the-rule shot.

Without a camera the only choice you have is to watch the picture-takers. Nothing  else is left unobstructed by their presence and you certainly can’t be in the way of their shots.

You’ll also notice pretty quickly that humans do not qualify as relevant subject matter. Even the bland signs of in-habitation are avoided unless  part of the point of the architect (maybe to soften the monumentality of a housing project by Aldo Rossi).

It’s not so hard to understand why we architectural practitioners (and fans) demand such purity of the objects we photograph. We have seen pictures, plans and  sometimes even models of these places but when we experience them in the flesh it’s akin to finally seeing your favorite rock star in concert. Goose bumps.

There is no place for sloppy, unpredictable humans moving about and destroying the experience of a building.

Fine. But the whole taking-pictures-of-buildings business becomes absurd, not to mention rude and insensitive, when someone’s home is involved. I have seen people tackle bushes and stomp through gardens to get a more impressive shot of a house. Should privacy be completely obliterated just because you live in a famous building? Or in a not so famous building designed by a famous architect?

Even worse are the architectural/planning experiments where the jury is still out. In these places the photo-tourists are there to evaluate and ultimately judge your home. They don’t want to actually speak to you – your opinion is not relevant – and they certainly don’t want you in their pictures.

Such is the case for the Wychwood Barns artists’ residences. They’re only about a year old. They represent a novel idea for housing in Toronto and it’s certainly no stretch to call them experimental.

All of which brings me to the following. While walking my adorable dog around the barns this morning I spotted a hoard of youngish student-types  being toured around by two elders. A series of short lectures were followed by the the group moving en mass to another spot and ever closer to the private homes of the artists. My heart began to sink.

The residences are on the north side of the project on a residential street across from older houses with tall trees. The building itself consists of the remains of the TTC barns with the residences carved out of the old facade and a colonnade acting to shelter a row of front porches each with individual entrances.

By the time the invaders rounded the corner to the residences it was a free for all – students scurrying up and down the colonnade within inches of the artists’ doors studying details and of course, snapping pictures.

One resident emerged from his home, coffee in hand and in his pajamas (?) with a  look of shock and then embarrassment.

I didn’t see anyone trampling the tiny gardens the residents had planted in front of their homes but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Instead I approached the tall, bespectacled leader and his shorter accomplice with a her perfect blond hair-do.

He said yes to everything I said while the blond smiled smugly.

Yes, He was leading this tour of the Barns.Yes, he knew people lived here. Yes, they deserved their privacy and yes he would make sure his group stoped being disrespectful. He gave no instructions to his group though. Most of whom looked like they had been caught with hands in the cookie jar.

I lingered around until the whole group had rounded the corner and beyond the residences.

How long they were able to resist the itch invade and document, I’m not sure I want to know.

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