Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Visiting buildings considered aesthetically

Arch Order window with pilasters ancone bracket in keystone position, and spandrels, supporting entablature with architrave, frieze, cornice, dentil molding, mutule blocks, and parapet, Broadway and Lawrence, Chicago

We can explore architectural styles around America and visit great buildings in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and in towns and villages anywhere, Louisiana, Knoxville, Tennessee, on the web. As we do, if we can think about it as a plan maybe to get to some of those places, including, while we're at it, to Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, anywhere, we might enjoy it more. [Here's another fine site on the art and architecture of that great art city, Florence.)

Alongside such web explorations, and before we start preparing for any of those trips, we can start looking on our own streets in our own neighborhoods. I ask my students to document their observations by taking pictures they assemble in portfolios. Some good visual glossaries come in handy, such as this or this.

When we come to know something about the history of architecture, our explorations begin to reveal things with names to them, so that we can identify what they are called, look at them again, some more, and take in their surroundings, which we also begin to identify and distinguish, often making comparisons to other buildings and , sometimes buildings of great character and moment.

Observing architecture simply means looking at it, and making sense of it. How do you make sense of a building? You can live in it, walk around it, work in it, play in it, worship in it, get lost in it, but you've got to look at it. You can evaluate a building by determining how well or how poorly it permits people to get something accomplished--getting a good night's sleep, eating well, chatting with friends, worshiping God, reading a book, teaching a class, writing a paper, watching a movie, listening to music, or getting work done. You can also judge a building by how well it holds up, or keeps the elements out.

Considering a building aesthetically is more likely to attract our attention because it immediately broadens our horizon to any building in the world we can see a picture of on the web. We don't have to live or work in a building to get to know it aesthetically, though obviously a visit makes a great deal of sense. After you've visited a building you begin to think that maybe you can't really get anything from a photograph, which is not quite the case. Many buildings do smell in particular ways, though, of particular things, especially churches, and sometimes kitchens and bathrooms. Also, the way they organize the space you sit or walk around in can only be apprehended by sitting and walking around.