The Architecture of Cities: the World

Seagrams Building by Mies Van Der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

Ten million people visit the Mona Lisa each year: A mere glance is held by a handful. Most remember where they were than the brilliance of the lady’s smile.

I too have visited the Louvre and the Mona Lisa. My eyes stayed with her for maybe an eternity: Yet I remember little more than a few mere details. I paid my respects with time. I more than appreciated the artist’s efforts. If my memories have feelings, then I do feel da Vinci’s brilliance. But do I remember the painting in its entirety?

I remember my first moment with the architect spectacular: My first Niemeyer: My first Zaha: My first Rem: My first Gehry: The unveiling of the famous architect’s spectacles has become a worldwide event. The stories about the new fabulous achievements seem to appear before our eyes at warp speed. If I understood Quantum Physics I might understand why: Our minds race forward: Maybe a new millennium is upon us: We rarely make time to embrace the entirety of anything, let alone the achievements in front of us.

Renzo Piano: California Academy of Sciences.

If you were able to see a drone image of the entire Frank Gehry’ Bilbao what would you remember? If you spent the whole day at Ma Yasong’s new-to-rise Lucas Museum what might you remember? If you stood in from of Gaudi’s finally completed La Sagrada Familia, what might your mind remember?

I have so many questions to ask the great minds who have passed:

Architects conjure like a witch’s brew:

I have spent so many years listening to architecture’s generations of voices: I want those voices to explain to me what they do. Maybe it is common, maybe less so. But what I have come home with is that architects design their promise in sections: filling the footprint that was given: They utilize materials to support their ideas, impress their clients and reveal to an urgent audience the brilliance of their ideas. I have traveled to photograph great works of wonder: I want to see what all of the buzz is about. But when I see what I see, what remains? The experience, a few details and more.

The entirety of an experience sometimes eludes us: The mind becomes like a collection of curios and snow globes that we hold dear: Those collections help us recall the details. We need reminding. Our memory banks play tricks on us: We ask about the entire experience: But a few minute details make our story instead.

Guggenheim Museum By Frank Lloyd Wright.

I write about the subject of memory and entirety because I have spent a career staring into the soul of thousands of some brilliant architectural examples: I have realized that while my camera illustrates an entire home, museum or skyscraper the details still matter most.

I have spent thousands of hours in architects’ studios: Each architect has shared not the mere excitement of designing something bold and beautiful: But the sketches and models that came along years before the project was fully realized.

So when I stand in front of the final reveal, my eyes spasm: It is a fluttering of delight: I dance in place. Not a muscle moves: I begin to consider my relationship to the architect’s mind: I consider not yet the entire project: I consider the details: I will build a photograph in some way mimicking the architect’s process of building a project; I will stack the images together: like a Disney Hall or another, I will have tethered an entire spread of detailed images into one.

Kengo Kuma Architect: Aix en Provence Conservatory of Music.

I could reveal and magnify my capture as a quintessential celestial experience: Or I could start the building process again: pixel by pixel: detail by detail.

All photos by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.