Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete | History and Theory of Urban Design

The Travelling Architect’s Eye: Photography and Automobile Vision

This research project aims to investigate the status of the photographs that architects take during their travels by car. It is based on the hypothesis that the view from the car has established a new epistemology of the urban landscape and the territory at large. Focusing on the views from the car produced by the architects under study will help us to better understand how this epistemological shift influenced architectural thinking and practice. The automobile, since its invention, has reshaped our conceptions of space, revolutionized the way architects perceive the city, and significantly contributed to the transformation of the relationship between architecture and the city. Plus, one should not forget the importance of the car itself: indeed, no other factor changed the city so drastically during the twentieth century as the pervasive presence of the automobile, which had a significant impact, not only on the ways one accesses the city, but also on the city’s own relation to its territory. The project will focus on the close examination of photographs taken by architects John Lautner (1911 – 1994), Alison and Peter Smithson (1928 – 1993 & 1923 – 2003), and Aldo Rossi (1931 – 1997), which will contribute to a broader understanding of the process of viewing and photographing scenes from a car, and the elaboration of a “snapshot aesthetics” to capture contemporary urban life in its ordinariness and banality. A point of convergence between these architects’ approach is the attention they paid to the role played by automobile transport in the reorientation of how we perceive urban landscapes and territories. This project is based upon the conviction that to develop taxonomies of the photographs of these architects – according to scenography and subject matter, for instance – would allow us to discern patterns in their approach to urban design, as well as in their conceptions of the urban fabric. In parallel, it would help us comprehend how they categorized the elements of the landscapes that captured their attention.

Pages from Alison Smithson, AS in DS: An Eye on the Road. Baden: Lars. Muller Verlag, 2001. Original edition: AS in DS: An Eye on the Road. Delft: Delft University Press, 1983. © Smithson Family Collection in Stamford, UK.

Dr. Ir. Marianna Charitonidou []

Project timeframe
2019 – 2021