Friday, May 15, 2015

Space perception and communication: the architect-flâneur

The aim of the project was to rediscover the city through photography. People move through the city from A to B to achieve a specific goal. The way they move through the city becomes a routine. They have become familiar with the space, they don’t notice anything new. The method of the flâneur allows the people of the city to rediscover the spaces in the city that are familiar to them. This essay will further investigate the potential of the architect-flâneur in site analysis and design communication.


Flâneurs don’t have any practical goals in mind, aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere. What flâneurs are doing is looking. Opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them, wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives about the houses, eavesdropping on conversations, studying how people dress and street life in general. Flâneurs relish what they discern and discover.’ - (Fletcher, 2001). In other words, the flâneur is an observer.


Every person has a unique world view due to the different life experiences and interests. In psychoanalytic psychology the Rorschach ink spots are used to interpret personality. According to R. Archer the “distinct methods of assessment provide largely unique information about a person's personality and functioning(Archer & Meyer, 2001, p. 487). That means that the test subjects who are being analyzed provide mostly unique interpretations of the ink spots. This infers a unique and highly personal interpretation of visual information in general. If most people provide different interpretations of an ink spot, they will also have different interpretations of other textures, colors, materials, two dimensional images or three dimensional spaces. This implies that every flâneur has a different and unique way of seeing the world.

The flâneur as a photographer

When the flâneur is photographing an object of interest, the three dimensional space is captured in two dimensional photographs. When the three dimensional object is translated into two dimensions, information is lost. The information that is captured in the two dimensional images dependents on several factors.

The position of the photographer  

The object of photography is three dimensional. When two-dimensional images are taken of the three-dimensional object, an infinite number of images would be required to capture the 3D model fully. Each image only captures part of the 3D space, but a collection of images will approximates the 3D object.


When the 3D object is translated to 2D images the aspect of time is captured in the images. Every photograph is a record of a specific moment in time and space. It is a factor that will influence the way the space in perceived in the photographs. The day-night cycle is a significant factor in the way photographs are interpreted. Also the position of the people, cars, trees, birds, people, weather, etc. in the space is never the same twice. They form an ever changing composition that will influence the way the space is understood.

Capturing the essence

The goal therefore of the flâneur is not to fully record all aspects of the environment but it is to try and capture the essence of the space, its character and atmosphere and the way it is used. Every photograph captures a fragment of the essence, but a collection of images will approximate the whole atmosphere or experience of the space.
The essence that is captured in the photographs of the flâneur is the way the flâneur sees the space. It can be very difficult to communicate the essence of a space in words. When the flâneur has captured the personal interpretation of the space in photographs, communicating the exact personal interpretation becomes plausible.  

Book format

The photographs taken by the flâneur are presented in a book format. The book format has several advantages. The book format will ensure that a sufficient number of images can be used to approximate the essence of the space.

Narrative construction

The J. Paul Getty Museum states about William Eggleston’s work: ’monumentalize everyday subjects, everything is equally important; every detail deserves attention.("The J. Paul Getty Museum," 2015) His color film photographs capture ’democratically’ unspectacular events of our everyday life. A storyline is constructed in the way the images are arranged in his book ’Los Alamos’(Eggleston, 2003). The composition, activities or difference in time between both images, suggests a relationship between the two. The mostly fictional relationship can however strengthen the essence of the space, it can capture the atmosphere or the way the space is perceived.


Architects, like everyone else, have a personal and unique way of looking at the world. The interpretation of a site and the resulting design will be different from every other architect. A design is a personal statement and it dependents on the way the architect sees the world.

Site analysis

In order to make a design for a building the context has to be understood. The site analysis is a key factor to the design process and will greatly influence the design. The goal of the site analysis is to build a comprehensive understanding of the site.  The architect who is analyzing the site is there with a goal in mind. The flâneur who is just observing might see the space differently. When the architect visits the site for the first time, the architect should behave as a flâneur, without a predetermined notion of what the space should be like. It might help the architect in understanding the space more objectively and it might generate a better understanding of the essence of the space. The photographs that the architect-flâneur takes will communicate with the client the way the architect sees the space. As a method for site analysis the approach of the architect-flâneur could be very suitable.

Design communication

The architect traditionally communicates the design trough 2D drawings, such as floor plans, sections, elevations, details. Drawings or renderings of the building are sometimes added to show what the building will look like. Clients might have a hard time reading the technical drawings and it could be difficult for the client to understand the building as it exists in the mind of the architect. If 3D renders or drawings are added, they will give an impression what the building will look like, but only from a one point of view and during one moment in time.
The architect-flâneur approach has potential in communicating the design to the client. The book tries to capture the whole essence of the building in the way it is used, perceived and feels. The book should contain rendered or hand drawn fragments of the building that capture the essence.  
Relating two images together in the book will suggest narratives and will strengthen the atmosphere or it character. The images could correspond to different times of the day, inside and outside spaces, the way light enters the building during the day, the way the users could use certain spaces. Or small fragments that give a good understanding of the design. This will ensure that the essence of the design can be understood by the client. The client can compare his expectations to the architect’s vision. The book could be used as a way to communicate those abstract aspects of design that are hard to capture in words like atmosphere or the character of the building.

 Arwin Hidding


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