Arch Viz and Objecthood



Some time ago, Dezeen posted about Zahah Hadid Architects’ sculptural installation at an historic Italian home - Andreas Palladio’s Villa Foscari near Venice. I’ve only just come across Dezeen, so the Hadid’s sculpture is old news now. Nonetheless, interesting to note how - first off - the sculpture is an art object in the classic modernist sense. Behold. It’s even called ‘Aura’. Is this a cheeky nod to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay?

It’s obviously designed by architects who are well-versed in the postmodern, and I guess that’s why this essentially unadventurous piece comes with so much baggage: it was apparently designed to reflect a putative generative algorithm based on Palladian proportions and musical notation (or something like that). The blurb, as ever, is confused and awkwardly trumpets something that basically looks quite familiar (and a little like chewing gum):

“[Aura] doesn’t collide with the beauty and harmony of Palladian interiors nor does it hide the perception of its frescoes”.

It “allows [you] to experience its spaces both walking through and circulating around” and “puts in context the humanistic anthropocentric vision of architecture

But it is not supposed to be a:

tool for reading hidden meanings through its gaps”.

Oh well. Despite all the bluff it’s coming off like an oversized ornament.

Anyway, putting aside my vociferous ambivalence to the work itself, the real reason I’m interested in it is because it hints at a few questions about arch viz as a form of documentation, as ideological apparatus and as a continuation of the debate about art and objecthood.

The three jumping off points for such an investigation might be:

1) Viz as sketch
There’s a sense that the experience of looking at a visualisation offers a substitute for (or falls below) the actual experience of being with the work. Like looking at a sketch. I tend to pass over this option as a viz patently goes beyond the sketch and is potentially an analog for documentation.

2) Viz as photo
Maybe the visualisation does a good job - it reproduces what we might actually see. Despite my cynicism, it’s worth considering that in the case of 'Aura’, given the industrial fabrication techniques available to architects, producing a seamlessly joined, highly reflective, uniformly smooth and complex object like this is actually possible. In this case, does the viz act as pre-documentation? And does it suffer the same problems as documentation? As a substitute? Does it fall below actual experience of the work?

3) Viz as ideal
There’s also a real possibility that the visualisation idealises the work and goes beyond what we can experience first-hand. It offers us the role of an ideal observer, like in a science experiment. Here is where ideas start to open up: is the viz a friend to Fried? Does it continue the lineage of 'Art and Objecthood’ by offering us, the viewer, the ideal conditions for contemplation - in visualising the work from the perspective of an ideal lone viewer in the ideal location on a bright day?

Given the three possibilities outlined above, looking at the image of 'Aura’ initiates an amalgamation of viewing modes that characterises the medium as a problematised mode of production, a ripe candidate for interrogation as a loaded and ambiguous ideological apparatus.