Since the advent of photography in the early 18th century, architects have had to contend with “realism” – a promise of objectivity that made it possible to substitute a singularly framed view of a space for a physical experience of it.
And yet, however ironically, the photographic representation of even the most unreal project has become a measure of its realness, even as the tools to produce such images are totally unreal; digital models, digitally rendered, digitally manipulated and digitally filtered now yield images so realistic they are often indistinguishable from so-called real photographs of so-called real buildings.
Of course, so-called Realist movements in architecture have also taken many forms, under the banners of pragmatism, modernism, rationalism, organicism and contextualism. Realism in the broad sense, however, has also been used to describe a technique of representation greater than a single subject, style, or agenda. In fact, today’s best examples of Architectural Realism employ a technique of creative process to render something of the everyday in a thoroughly romantic sense.
In the 501 Seminar, students surveyed a selection of writings on Realism in art, in philosophy, in popular culture and in architecture to ask what makes spaces, buildings, and the people they serve real in the increasingly questionable reality we inhabit. Necessarily, we also investigated the potentially subversive power of fakeness, artifice and the wholly unreal. Together, we defined critical terms and design techniques relevant to a creative non-fiction approach to architecture set in motion the analysis and proposals undertaken in the Spring.
In the 502 Studio, students began with a research phase, each producing original photography of a unique, given site in Los Angeles that was once a drive-in movie theater. Each student collected documentation of their site in the form of photography, found objects, video, audio, and artifacts and produced a photo essay to articulate their research. From there, they undertook an individual trajectory of design thinking to produce an architectural proposal, somewhere between architecture and set design, which culminates in the production of a short format video. These projects engage Realism as a material, as a process, as an organization, and as a style to develop decidedly Romantic projects across the territory of Los Angeles.