Sunday, January 12, 2014

Through the (Looking) Lens

New ways of seeing the world are often the product of those working at the intersection of multiple disciplines. One such individual was little known artist / inventor Cornelius Varley, whose work was recently on display at the American Philosophical Society Museum in Philadelphia. Varley was primarily an artist, and exhibited talent for watercolor landscapes and portrait drawings; but also displayed an innate curiosity in the natural world and scientific instruments.

In 1811, Varley invented the "Patent Graphic Telescope"--a portable "camera lucida" which allowed him to see a subject observed through a macro- or micro-scopic lens superimposed, through a series of mirrors, onto a drawing surface in front of him. This allowed Varley to produce a collection of beautifully detailed images of the living botanical world seen through his microscope with a near photographic accuracy.

The images deserve a closer look to appreciate the graphic detail of his work: a narrative of thoughts and observations are interwoven with the images; arrows suggest the movement that Varley observed as he was recording; all transcribed on rich watercolors rendered with scientific precision and organic artistry.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Through the (Panoramic) Lens

I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation hosted by local historian Michael Kluckner at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre last month on the photographic work of William J. Moore. The panoramic photographs were all taken with a rotating No. 8 Cirkut camera and capture a remarkable collection of landscapes and portraits from early 20th century Vancouver. It is of course immediately striking how completely the identity of the city has changed in less than one hundred years. The images also beg the question, what will today's Vancouver look like as seen from one hundred years in the future?

An extensive collection of W.J. Moore's panoramic photographs have been digitized by the City of Vancouver Archives and posted here. The images are best viewed in the 'original' size setting, where the incredible resolution of the photographs (the original negatives measured 8 inches by as much as 8 feet) truly bring the historic landscape to life.

Downtown Vancouver from World Building (1921)

Pacific Construction Shipyard (1919)

CPR Terminal Dock (1926)

Reclamation of False Creek Flats (1921)

Stanley Park Causeway (1921)

Pennant Day at Capilano Stadium (1913)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Architecture, Mr. Cruz?

What if an architect were concerned not with the order of columns but with creating communities? What sort of design practice emerges from this line of thinking? Architecture can be defined not just as physical infrastructure but also as social practice. This is not to suggest dispensing with architecture per se; but rather shifting the focus of the designer's attention from the artifact to the sociopolitical context in which we build our surroundings. Architectural design on its own can never match the impact of redesigning policy.

How might an architect take up the challenge of designing the conditions from which new architecture can emerge? It is necessary to begin by redefining the problem. A reconsidered practice requires an intimacy with territory and history; with ecology and psychology; with economies and with public affairs. It is through the conflicts of interaction and negotiation that hidden values are translated into the reconstruction of paradigms.

This is a world of economic pro formas, policy frameworks, spatial tactics, and imaginative speculation. It is a world of choreography and collaboration; of investigation and experimentation. It is a world ripe with possibility.