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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Miller

Expectations vs. Reality - May 5, 2022

Updated: May 15, 2022

As a student who has had close to zero experience in the real world, our discussion today on the profession’s real-estate, legal and business side was a harsh realization of just how complicated everything is. While some of the concepts surrounding HRA’s, bylaws and property taxes completely went over my head, there was one overarching theme that I followed through from the beginning to the end.

We kicked off the day hearing Steve Cairns’ presentation and watching as he flipped through his gorgeous photographs of these projects. My prior knowledge of the world of heritage and building preservation is that it is very political and requires endless meetings, policy documents, reports, drawings and analysis. What became apparent rather quickly from our discussion as a class is how essential media and photography are in gaining attention and awareness from decision-making bodies, the public, or potential buyers. At one point, Steve showed a few stunning photographs of Reynolds II House (1975) by Daniel Evan White, located in West Vancouver. At first glance, it looked exactly like the Great Hall at the Museum of Anthropology. That statement captures how this photograph formed my impression of the project without even seeing the interior let alone visiting the project in person. Within the same breath, Steve made a point to mention that while the photograph and the exterior of the building exude grandeur, the home is rather intimate and comfortably human-scaled.

Later in the day, Kathleen Staples briefly stressed the importance of photography in heritage and building preservation. She discussed her disappointment over the lack of high-quality photos and how that might have affected the heritage trajectory of her childhood home. All this is to say that the overarching theme in my head revolved around the importance of photography and the importance of the impression from a photograph and how that can form public opinion about a project. When I saw the MOA-esque photo of Reynolds House II, I thought about how uncomfortable it must be to live in what must feel like a museum. But, after he flipped to an interior view of a small canary yellow couch in a very narrow thoroughfare with a window at the end of the hall, the impression was comfort.

I decided to research the importance of photography in architecture and found a fascinating book called John. C. Parkin, Archives and Photography: Reflections on the Practice and Presentation of Modern Architecture (2013) by Linda Fraser, Michael McMordie and Geoffrey Simmins. Interestingly, the book focuses on architecture and modernism of what the authors call the period of the “postwar consensus” in North America and the United Kingdom (Fraser, et al., 2013, p.xv). The book dives into the collaborative and integrated use of print media during this time. Fraser and Simmins write: “Architectural photography originally developed for two interlocking reasons: (1) to record buildings for posterity, and (2) to respond to the demands of armchair tourism. Early architectural photographs documented the built form using conventional techniques that aspired to be true to life. This changed significantly in the aftermath of the Second World War, when architectural photography assumed a new role: to promote architecture as a lifestyle and to sell it to a generation enjoying unprecedented prosperity” (Fraser, et al., 2013, p.53).

"The Parkin Organization." Describes how important all of the marketing, technology, management, etc. was to the Parkin architectural firm. (Canadian Builder, April1961, 32; Parkin fonds, Canadian Architectural Archives, University of Calgary Library.

As designers, we have the toolkit to work with and share our projects using various mediums. However, whatever medium we choose has to be carefully considered in how its composition, lighting, atmosphere and inhabitants change the impression of the project and the capabilities the image has to communicate to specific audiences. Photography can place emphasis on true-life forms and be used to fabricate, sell, deceive, and market. As seen with our guest speakers from today, architectural photography can be used to archive the past. Photography creates a necessary architectural record of built projects and, more importantly, a record of culture and collective values.

Works Cited:

Fraser, Linda M., et al. John C. Parkin, Archives and Photography: Reflections on the Practice and

Presentation of Modern Architecture. University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta, 2013.

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