The Distance Between Us 

Bianca Weeko Martin

In the earlier years of my education, I would view an architectural image extractively. Desperately; fumbling through intelligent compositions and geometries with the seedlings of a professional knowledge that takes years of latent labour to develop. I misread plans. I planned site visits. I tried to relate to the photographs of built work. Yet at best I mapped them onto my own fragmented ideas where I mostly just mashed them all together. They re-materialised as patchwork design projects, coming together like architectural Frankensteins, the memories of them even now still vivid. Oh, to find that precedent image so worthy of your love, the one that serves you till the end.

But loving without the promise of return is a radical act.

Now, I try to love images without inserting myself into their empty space, not with the intention to mine, or to borrow, but just to view. I try to love the images without swallowing the subject whole and making it a part of me. I make peace with the distance that spreads between us, that space between the screen and the convergence of two elevations, side and front, and the littering of elements that construct a facade. I cast aside the specifics of place, time and intended occupant, all of which will never really touch me. I don’t live here, I don’t work there, and I’ll probably never even visit. As such, I close in, instead, on details that make my heart sing; I throw myself in silence and really listen to my heart, which replies: that perfectly-less-than-perfect filigree of contractors vernacular. That render and that slender masonry, their respective bricolage.

I ignore what the leaves on the fringes hint about the climatic conditions in which the projects dwell. Never do contextual cues appear to me as informative clues in as much as ornament: decorative and compositional. Yet even if I did come to know a project's contextual specifics, what else could they tell me about the buildings already there, complete, rooted? So, I resist the urge to speculate on the cars parked on the street. I put further distance between myself and the fiction I may project onto the image. I seek to concern myself less with the so-called strategic-everydayness that constructs this probably ordinary experience in the foreground.

I resist the urge to analyse and compare. I view, not necessarily to see what I like or dislike but what I am drawn to, what I dwell on and what resonates with me. “Cobalt Blue”, against beige masonry. Staved metal fence bookended by brick. A solitary window. A shut wall. I slip into observation, study, critique, but I stop at the edge of speculation. What goes on within? Beyond? Perhaps beneath? Questions remain unanswered. Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. I stumble into citation. I relent. I relent to the sight of concrete, grey and smooth; concrete always makes me feel chilled out. I acquiesce to the image, and I see not an artist’s studio or house but rather, two vessels made beautiful by the natural properties of their materials, by histories not wrought by human hands, but which they simply reassembled. The facts of ownership, program, and purpose, which the images precede, are not a part of my love.

Leaning on an image as a foothold, we allow ourselves to think, dream, and grapple with the environment around us, whatever that may be. Through processes of inclusion and exclusion, an image constructs a fleeting mise-en-scene for contemporary architecture to dwell, even if the world it represents, characterised by distance, is a place we will never know. Regardless of distance and accessibility, images incite either memory or imagination, or both; and the architecture within serves as a datum point for subjective viewing.

I view these images through the horizon they construct, which relies on the distance between us.

BIANCA WEEKO MARTIN is a designer, writer, and illustrator educated in architecture at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Bianca is currently engaged in the writing of a guide on modern Philippine architecture for a Berlin-based publisher, and in user experience design projects for a research organization in Toronto.

Image Credits: 1.Juergen Teller Studio, 6A. Photograph: Johan Dehlin 2.Mole House, David Adjaye with Sue Webster. Photograph: Ed Reeve