archimarathon sunday slideshows, a practice of learning from buildings according to kevin hui

that building where bamboo is used as formwork

the server

I got in late for this session. the Googler (who I think is Andrew) was leaving the room. Show from that point on I christen it the second part. The ongoing chatter is on formwork in bamboo and what it looks like when concrete and bamboo meet. It is something like that moment when you get into a movie theatre midway. I am not sure what I have missed. They are discussing a bunch of buildings together so there is the noise that I need to convert to signals. I sometimes, in other servers had problems getting out of these channels. So, getting into these sessions on discord I think twice.

a hard drive full of pictures of buildings taken over the years

the history

Now it’s really been a while I have seen slides of buildings. When I mean ‘while’, around 15years back, or maybe it could be even as late as 2003. Most of these slide shows we had, happened when a faculty who went traveling with an SLR, showed us slides of the buildings they visited. The slide show sessions could get boring too depending on who was showing us the slides. There are those who like to do certain things and among architects there are travellers. Sorts who take off for a couple of days to see a random monument in the country and gloat about it. They often are those who are not interested in accessing architecture as another’s narrative. If not for photography, they go for sketching or drawing these structures. There is a sub-culture of enthusiasts within architects who pursue this as a passion, but they don’t operate at the scale of a community and are restricted to smaller groups.

Architectural tours were mandatory for us to take as part of our coursework. There are three ways, it’s said learning of architecture happens, though reading about architecture as a domain with its various theoretical constructs, working with an architectural practice that has a specific mandate of making, and architectural travel. To inculcate learning through travel, tours were held every year till our fourth while incrementally exploring different buildings and monuments in different parts of the country. Here in the country, our collection of monuments is larger than modern or contemporary architecture therefore to understand them requires knowledge of both its significance within a historical narrative and its contribution to the broader architectural discourse. Tours helped understand the implementation of building theory and construction technology in the context of both time and region. But how much you learned or understood when looking at a building depended on who and interest the person showing you around the structure had. An urgency to understand what you were looking at why it was important.

My first distinct change in looking at buildings happened during my thesis work when I went around the country studying shopping malls. Instead of looking at buildings comparable to my program, my study was directed towards an almost similar program. When you look at malls you are seeing buildings and research conducted is on how space is utilized. There is no significant spatial gesture but just how people go about occupying random sites within a building. Now you cannot go about conducting studies of shopping malls because of security and competition reasons, is what I found out from the experience. This was 2005. I don’t have the exact date but sometime after that few friends started an architectural tour agency. In their business model, they took paying individuals around to places in different parts of the country or somewhere cheap close-by where there was an interesting collection of buildings and monuments. This experience was packaged and sold particularly to any architectural college that needed assistance in organizing a visit to a place and its buildings. It was also an easy way to fulfil a curriculum requirement. For us, our design faulty made the itinerary and based it on our coursework. Colleges now seem to opt for the experiential tours further encouraged by professional local chapters of IIA who concentrate on just traveling to popular places to have buildings recognized as architecture.

There are clients who take you places when you are doing their projects. Vendors too sometimes took you to buy things, their factories, and places like that. Throwing in an architectural site was a common perk. In offices, architectural picnics are common. Architects marrying each other and going on a honeymoon close to an architectural site of interest is another stratum. The point is with all these there are multiple pursuits architects have gone to locate what travel and looking at buildings is. They all to a certain extent have used buildings as a veneer to do touristy things. Instagram and architectural photographers have killed old-school architectural travel. Especially with changing technology, you are now seeing buildings and places through newer perspectives that otherwise may not be possible. From a time when the only architecture that we got to see was the slides of our studio in charge, today there is a multitude of offerings sold as architecture travel. Among all those voices we have Kevin, and his discord shows.

between buildings and how we go from one to another

the pictures

It’s a covid habit but whenever I attend any zoom session, I take notes. When I mean notes, I take random screengrabs of images that flash in front of me. It could be any part of the session but some things that make interesting images. The room is relatively quieter than when I entered. From a confusing jumble of different buildings, it’s now just a flashing of images. That bamboo conversation is over, and we are now looking at a Calatrava railway station. No one seems to know which one it is so for now it’s just a Calatrava. Everyone knows they have seen it somewhere but seeing it on someone else’s hard drive gives it an alternate point of view. It’s a very covid and discord gaze where now other than a review, or images on the architect’s website or even from an architectural journalist. On any other instance, I doubt anyone would be interested in seeing someone else’s unedited travel pictures. It’s either could be the slowness of the way Kevin describes them or just that he himself is seeing these images after almost 10years. I find it entertaining and educational at the same time.

It may be because it looks like slides, but in the past, we were forced to sit through some of these sessions like looked like this and therefore it brought back memories. I was taught by chaps from the same batch as Kevin and Andrew therefore their tone or the way they describe ideas resonate. It’s that familiarity that takes me back to videos on their channel. Time has really changed the way a lot even understand what architecture is, for others therefore this is another experience among the myriad out there, but I find a certain comfort in that perspective. There is no discussion of statistics or any gossip on Calatrava, it is ignorance but very refreshing. The act of taking pictures too is a narrative and the images that Kevin shows directs all possible gaze towards ideas the building stands for and not anything else. Though everyone does it but bringing it together in a way that it is educational or puts across a particular position is but a skill and a practice to develop. What is new about looking at these pictures is how Kevin rolls them.

We see another Calatrava station and go to the Munich stadium. Someone wanted to see that. I am under the impression that only architects can find a strange joy in looking at pictures of landscapes and empty buildings but it’s something that we have been bullied to do as part of our education. Now we find joy in them. An architectural version of Stockholm syndrome? Kevin also gives everyone discord points for sitting on these sessions. Moving from Calatrava to Otto is intense I must say. It's intense if you know that both were engineer architects and visibly after the consistent rigor of the buildings looked at, it’s necessary to go back to their plans and details to see how they all come together. Looking at buildings for entertainment vs looking at buildings to learn about architecture are two different states. There are concepts you should ideally inform a session of seeing a building in detail to recognize what is it which is accessed. Almost akin to reading a required class paper before attending a lecture.

There is a combination of ideas that reveal themselves in Kevin’s pictures the construct his understanding of his practice of seeing architecture in buildings. To reiterate this is my first slideshow session here and even the first fully-fledged architectural one after a long time. Thus, I have the interest to see more than what is immediately seen on the screen. Then we move onto a chapel that I didn’t quite catch where it was but in a certain concentration camp. Again, the politics of a church in a concentration camp is contentious and therefore the basis of its programmatic validity but both lenses of seeing the buildings for its details and ideas that make the architecture unique is the veering conversation. An Alto church, a Hadid station, and the Bjarke Ingels Mountain are seen in succession. Architects always have a lot to say. If you listen to the right people both when they talk and from their design methodologies, there is a lot you can learn. A significant observation of architecture that came off from this session, is the changing role of detail in architecture. From the hyper-detailed and engineered of post-modernism to spatial crafting of contemporary digital trends there was indeed a history lesson too somewhere.

a very hyper engineered architectural detail

the books

Most pictures we saw were from 2010. It probably is from the time their practice began, that very first trip mentioned in that WTF is Archimarathon video? I am sure it may not be planned but sitting through these seven buildings was indeed a refresher run of a discussion on architecture. To listen to an imagination of architecture from someone else’s pictures may not be for everyone. The reason I stress this is that the lens I am discussing the event is to try and excavate possibilities to learn from unedited everyday snapshots of buildings. To learn from bland picture-taking exercises, photography as a learning aid. Of course, you can edit them to something hyper-glossy but an image archive of a building practice is a learning tool of how that practice understands architecture. What we observe from Kevin is a practice of seeing specific ideas in buildings. Archimarathon is a model that Kevin defines architecture as. The kind of buildings he sees, places he goes to, and ways he travels to get there. To document buildings and places and reuse them for your work, to continue professional development through travel. Documentation can have various forms and formats, how each of those developed is subject to a practice reviewed.

Books that work in conjunction to answer the questions, how to travel? — The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, how to see ?— Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture by Marita Sturken & Lisa Cartwright and, how to take architectural notes?— Exercises in Architecture: Learning to Think as an Architect by Simon Unwin, seems the most ideal to go about how Kevin locates and engages with architecture. Reading into what is an architectural detail or study into places and the activity of spaces around buildings are additional recommendations. To learn about architecture is to understand how you see and consume content classified as architecture. It is firstly a culture of consumption to associate with. Once this material is identified, transcribe what you are seeing is a discipline to develop. To know some concepts exist and to recollect them is the first step in learning. Then is the application to reproduce that learning. Getting someone to verify what indeed you have done is an outcome of learning is the final step in the process. Research is not learning, research is an inquiry that is done either to aid a solving a problem, study about a condition or generate new observations because of working on a situation.

Though rudimentary the three references generated from extended videos about travel by Andrew and Kevin is an attempt to develop avenues in thinking and learning about architecture, Archimarathon as a practice has outlined. Every architectural practice promotes a culture of making, thinking about architecture that it disseminates. They themselves too have picked up these skills from elsewhere and now discussing a version of what they learned. Ideologies, frameworks, and methodologies they subscribe to. To understand the culture of consumption around architectural sites is to know about its origins from the grand tours during the Renaissance. Where the rich to complete their education went to cultures, not of their own. It was particularly common among the British and therefore modern architectural education. Corbusier in Europe and Wright in Japan was the popular international architectural study tour narratives for a generation. The form today remains unchanged if learning is the objective of traveling to buildings. Where you source the ideas, you are planning to work with is equally important on how you improve or develop them. The pictures that Kevin shows are not photographs but documents discussing ideas on architecture. Only if it is seen as such then further discussion on them is possible.

Kev in action

the alternative

The grand tour, international tour, or the national tour we have in colleges only addresses the ostentatious formations as objects of study. Select structures of a certain scale and aesthetic appeal are considered architectural. The way we select them too shows the biases that govern the decisions that make us curate the structures that we appropriate. The making of an architectural travel plan involves books, magazines, archdaily buildings, social media hunts, and google maps searches. This process if questioned can present other ways a travel plan is assembled. Kevin goes to Europe or China such that there is more value for money, get to see more for less. Popular buildings are better documented too. To rework this construct of imagining architectural production rather than considering building practices of lands afar starting with an available building stock locally is more advisable from the neighborhood to the city and to the region all can throw newer observations that may probably not be covered in available publications. Saved costs in travel in then redirected in creating new knowledge and in some ways new commissions for projects based on connections made during such explorations. In the recent past, architectural conservation practices have tapped this methodology of discussing building practices. These strategies can be developed over time via miscellaneous other strategic investigations of local travel expeditions.

& references

  • Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel. (2014, February 26). [Documentary]. https://youtu.be/kETN114A4IE
  • Archimarathon’s 9 Rules For Architecture Travel Planning and Why It Matters. (2020, May 7). [Instructional Video]. Archimarathon. https://youtu.be/FE7_Pf6ox9k
  • de Botton, A. (2002). The Art of Travel. Vintage Books.
  • Ford, E. R. (2011). The Architectural Detail. Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Gehl, J., & Svarre, B. (2013). How to Study Public Life (K. A. Steenhard, Trans.). Island Press.
  • Grand Designs. (1999). [OTT]. Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/in/title/80160755
  • Happymiles India. (2020, March 2). Bhutan Architecture Tour 2020 [Promotional Video]. https://youtu.be/1Tm6OfukQxo
  • NGV Melbourne. (2021, June 2). Art Tour — The European Grand Tour [Lecture]. https://youtu.be/Tx5YAcZCwHQ
  • Public Libraries. (2021, June 24). Creating Libraries for the 21st Century [Keynote Address]. https://youtu.be/em9iY6Fj7Vs
  • Q+A Session 001 | Architecture + Travel. (2020, April 29). [Instructional Video]. Archimarathon. https://youtu.be/VTLw5st_88M
  • Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2018). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.
  • The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. (2017). [OTT]. Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/in/title/80213025
  • Unwin, S. (2012). Exercises in Architecture, Learning to Think as an Architect. Routledge.
  • Why You Shouldn’t Go To Touristy Architecture Travel Spots — It’s A Trap! (2020, April 14). [Instructional Video]. Archimarathon. https://youtu.be/y1P5GwHU5RA

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