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Consuming architecture

Is this a true or false statement?

“It is through media, of course, that we primarily consume architecture.”

Witold Rybczynski recently spoke about this on his blog. Initially he thought it was a preposterous statement. But then he begrudgingly accepts that it is actually the case today. This in turn leads to an interesting distinction between what it means to experience architecture versus consume architecture.

The former takes more time. You have to do laborious things like actually be in the space, walk around it, and generally just experience what it’s like to be there. Consuming, on the other hand, is much easier. Maybe it’s as simple as an image in your social feed that you forward to a friend so that they can in turn respond with a single fire emoji. Cool. Consumption done.

Naturally this distinction translates into different ways of thinking about architecture. In the words of Witold, when you’re a consumer of architecture, you want to be “amused, titillated, and entertained.” You don’t have time for subtleties — things like tactile materials, historical references, light, and shadow. This is about consuming architecture.

Now, I’m not sure if Witold has given any thought to what web3 and a mixed-reality future will mean for architecture, but it’s an obvious and interesting question. Intuitively, one would think that the more time we spend with digitally mediated experiences, the less time we will have to experience architecture the way nature intended it. Though maybe that’s not the way to think about this.

I tend to be a bit more rosy about the current state of affairs and the future than Witold, but here are two points. One, consumption allows more people to interact with a piece of architecture. In fact, before writing this post I consumed Studio Gang’s recently completed project in Hawaii. It was nice, and maybe one day I will also experience it. That, I agree, would be even nicer.

Two, architecture is always a product of the zeitgeist at the time. Part of its job is to reflect culture and, for better or for worse, speak to who we are as a society. And so if architecture has become effective at reflecting our current milieu, isn’t it doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing?


  1. AM

    And I would argue that consuming architecture used to require a lot more attention and one could spend some time reading, looking and plans and pictures and figuring out how a project worked through this cross-referencing exercise. So the consumption had more meaning in some sense, almost as a kind of virtual visit in one’s head. Nowadays it’s pretty pictures (if not renderings) and little else.

    Maybe the increased consumption of architecture is not to be decried, but rather an opportunity for industry people to bring forth the issues of the day (although I have little hope that on instagram, anyone cares about anything beyond the eye candy).

    We don’t notice good architecture because it does its job and recedes in the background (unless you’re an archi-nerd). We notice the bad because it makes our lives more difficult. That’s the challenge anyone has to face, in architecture and elsewhere.


  2. daniel b

    the difference in experiencing architecture on foot or bike, vs seeing it out the window of the car, is as wide as the difference between seeing it on tv and seeing it from the car…


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