Reflection

Paulo Catrica 

“Less than ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality” 1

The etymology of the word reflection refers to what is reflected, whether due to the effect produced by reflected light, a reminiscent image or to something unconscious, involuntary, which is performed without knowledge of the fact. But to be reflective means to meditate, think deeply, as well as to turn back, to reveal, to raise awareness.

Architecture and photographs are inherently reflective, one as a creative and ideological device, and the other by revealing and connecting space and time. This is why the attraction of architects towards photographic images was immediate, first with the idea of recording to document, using the idea of transparency and photographic veracity. Later on, from the last decade of the 19th century, with the ability to reproduce photographs in offset, in the pages of newspapers and magazines, new means of understanding and seeing architecture multiplied and were disseminated.2

Thinking of the window as a frame, which reflects a point of view on an object or a landscape, often times between a private space and another that is public, Corbusier’s fenêtre en longueur launched a new hypothesis of relating the interior with the exterior, corresponding in Colomina’s understanding to a gesture and a photographic space.3 As one of the figures of modern rhetoric, the myth of transparency revealed architecture with the idea of looking outside the building’s interior. Reflecting the belief in technological progress and in democracy, this ideal of transparency brought together architecture, photography and cinema, thus understanding these media as windows to the world. However, literal transparency is an architectural exercise that is practically impossible, as Pei admitted while designing the Louvre pyramid, wherein the glass, due to the effect of the light, transforms transparency into obscurity, or reflexively into its opposite.4

In the janela paisagem (“landscape window”) of the Centro Cívico Eça de Queirós in Leiria, designed by Gonçalo Byrne, reflection is not a formal artefact, but rather a scenic device that integrates the work in context, bringing together the image and history in a fragmented landscape: the castle descends to the downtown, the historical centre, and its reflection on the mirrored surface, through its inverted image, forms part of the urban fabric. It marks a double movement, the landscape seen from inside outwards, the castle on top of the hill, and the reflected landscape seen from outside, the hill with the castle in the centre of the city.

Entering the building under the columns, we climb some of the ramp of the courtyard and come across the reflected image/landscape. Quickly, the hypothesis of the tableaux fades away, our point of view is now a cinematographic one, a camera in movement. In the middle of the climb, we are surprised by the reflection of our own image within the landscape. Deprived of depth, the mirror as a binocular space of three-dimensional vision, “leads to fusion, in the same visual plane, of the familiar (what can be seen) and the strange (the projected image)”.5 But only twilight reveals the scenic device: the reflection fades away and the translucent window lets us see the interior partially, while the landscape disappears. Finally, when the illumination of the castle ascends, the landscape/image reaches its zenith.

 

1. Bertold Brecht, quoted by Walter Benjamin, Little History of Photography in Walter Benjamin Selected Writings 1931-1934. Michael W. Jennings (ed.) (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England, 1931),
pp 507/530, p 526.

2. For example, Erich Mendelssohn’s fascination in Amerika, Bilderbuch eines Architekten (1928) reflects the turnaround in the understanding of photographed architecture, while others such as Moholy-Nagy or Rodchenko pursued the objective of deconstructing the architectural object to create an image.

Mendelsohn, Erich (1993), Erich Mendelsohn’s “Amerika” (New York: Dover).

3. Colomina, Beatriz (1994), Privacy and Publicity: Modern architecture as Mass Media (London: The Mit Press), p 131.

4. Anthony Vidler, Architectural Uncanny: essays in the modern unhomely (MIT Press; Cambridge, Mass.; London 1992), p 220.

5. Mahmoud Sami-Ali clarifies this disturbing strangeness: “Being simultaneously itself and the other, familiar and nevertheless strange, the subject is that which has no face and whose face exists from the point of view of the other.” Mahmoud Sami-Ali, “L’espace de l’inquiétante étrangeté”, Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse 9 (Spring 1974): 33,43 in Anthony Vidler, Architectural Uncanny : essays in the modern unhomely (MIT Press; Cambridge, Mass.; London 992), p 222.

 

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