The Truth On Architectural Imagery

Reading time ~10 minutes

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Introduction:

The latest developments of evolutionary psychology teach us that our sensory perception of reality is not the window into the truth that we’ve assumed it was for a long time. Rather, it’s more like a metaphorical desktop on a computer, where the reality of the computing power if hidden behind symbolic representations of reality (e.g. the file folders on a virtual desktop). That helps us accomplish our tasks without being burdened by the minutiae of the computer’s inner workings, which would never allow me to easily and effortlessly write this piece as I was able to do, if I had to literally try and understand how everything works in a computer, down to micron-sized transistors.

What that means in concrete terms, is that evolutionary psych. tells us that we don’t see the world as it really but rather that we interpret it, these interpretations being a reflection of our evolutionary fitness. I.e., we have evolved interpretations of reality that allowed us to survive and thrive.

By the same token, since there is no such thing as an accurate perception of reality, the same goes for how we create visual media that represent the world around us. I would go as far as saying - in the example of a photograph or video of a space - that the very act of creating and designing an image of a space or building is in itself an interpretation of the object itself, influenced by the mind creating it. Not to mention the fact that we lose the 3rd and 4th dimensions (the 4th being time) and reduce the representation of the space to a 2-dimensional plane. Therefore, there can be no accurate representations of the physical space, as it’s always going to be incomplete, due to the missing dimensions.

As we just demonstrated that we cannot by design, perceive - and therefore  - represent the world around us in a truthful manner, we cannot expect an imperfect representation, or rather approximation of reality to be truthful. Not to mention that visual media in architecture is further removed from reality due to the subjective interpretation of the creative mind crafting the media, reality and truth is a myth that can never be reached.

Now that this is out of the way, what does it mean with regards to the truth and narrative in architectural media? Well, I’m glad you asked and we can proceed to answer to this question from two different perspectives, each considering a discrete aspect of the architectural documentation process.


The commercial aspect:

Architects are professional service providers and as such, have to be able to show their work in its best light, in order to convince prospects to hire them. To do that, a portfolio of images is a critical tool in the sales process. Much like any other kind of commercial photography, one can make a case that doctoring images in order to rid the iconography of the things that don’t convey the vision of the architect is fair game, and that’s the opinion of one of my peers. If you look at food or automotive photography, these guys routinely cheat in order to get images that represent the ideal of the product they’re selling and not the product itself, as you and I would experience it.

Even though what other industries are doing can be pretty dramatic in term of how far they’re willing to go to make a product look better than it actually is, nobody is ever accusing them of lying or being dishonest. That’s because if you go buy that burger or that car as a result of seeing an idealized version of it in an ad, you will still get the same thing, it just won’t look as good in the physical world, but it’ll still taste the same or perform as promised.

The same can be said of architecture and in this context, I think it’s OK for architects to fairly dramatically alter images if the end result is not quite what the original intent was. For example, I have more than once digitally “stained” wood finishes on a building’s exterior that was initially supposed to be a very dark stained finish, but had never been finished and was therefore showing up as a much lighter tone of wood than the architect intended. In that context, I personally have no qualms making such a change.

We also routinely remove electrical outlets, smoke alarms and exit signs that are both unsightly and create visual clutter. What we end up with is a clean, more focused imagery that better conveys the sense of space in my opinion, which in turn serves the commercial intent of these images.

All those changes do not fundamentally alter the physical experience of the space and do not speak to its performance. Again, let’s keep in mind that we are talking about 2 dimensional interpretations of a space the we experience in 4 dimensions and that there is no substitute for an in-person experience. In that sense, any image, doctored or not, is always going to be a somewhat deceitful representation of the space.


The ethical aspect:

Now, from an ethical perspective, one could convincingly argue that doctoring images is dishonest and does not represent the project as it is. Ignoring for a moment that a photograph (or a movie) is an incomplete representation of the physical space because it lacks 1 or 2 dimensions, an argument can be made that architectural media should take on a more documentary-like approach to the craft.

Supposing that this is feasible and realistic, I think it’s a weak argument because even a documentary medium -especially film- tells a story that is a representation of the author’s thoughts and opinions. While the media may not be altered per se, it’s the narrative that expresses an inherently biased opinion. And I think that’s the crux of the issue, that short of directly experiencing a space or a building, any other form of representation, doctored or not represents the artists’ biased view through a narrative. It is therefore very difficult to say that a photograph (or movie) is a truthful representation of reality

A few years ago, and incident with the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) made the news when it was revealed that an award winning building image set had been doctored, where unsightly (and very visible) air handling units on the roof of the building were removed in post production at the behest of the architect. In the article quoted above, Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s architectural critic described the oversight as follows:


“So the honor award puzzled me. How could a jury of respected architects from out of town have missed this glaring misstep? Easily, it turned out.

Unlike the AIA's national awards, which require that at least one juror visit a short-listed building, or the Pritzker Architecture Prize, whose jury travels extensively, jurors for the Chicago AIA honors typically don't inspect buildings firsthand. There simply isn't the time or money. The jury meets for just one day. In the distinguished building category, there are scores of entries (134 this year), and they consist of projects from all over the world. So according to people who administer the contest, the jurors consider required materials (design statements and photographs) as well as floor and site plans, which are optional.”


To me, the issue is only partially the responsibility of the architect and/or the photographer. In this case, it’s clearly the jury process itself that created conditions for a doctored image set to allow for Juan Moreno’s building to win an award.

The AIA has since issued new rules for their award submissions regarding retouched images, although I couldn’t find these rules in my research. I think it’s great change, because when it comes to awards, we step outside of the realm of strictly commercial photography and that we can and should reasonably expect images to not be purposely deceiving. It can easily be speculated that the building wouldn’t have won the award, had the images not be photoshopped. Since awards don’t have as much of a commercial component (although some privately-owned award competitions are huge money makers for the organizers, but that’s a debate for another article) and are supposed to be an objective assessment of the entries and determine the winners based on the merit of the work, there should be an expectation that images not be modified and in my opinion, it falls on the organizers to demand more truthful imagery.

Similarly, publications reporting on architecture, have a moral duty to ensure that the projects they publish are not overtly deceiving as it erodes the reputation of both the magazines and the designers, especially when it comes to publicly accessible architecture that can be experienced by the general public. It would be very damaging for a magazine to talk up an innovative building only to find out that half the innovations are being impeded by some unsightly design element.


Conclusion:

I don’t believe that the conclusions we can draw from this topic are either black or white. Ultimately, each player in the process, be they photographers, architects, publications, award organizers or critics have a duty to ensure that they’re not purposely deceiving their public.

I think the amount of doctoring that should be tolerated should fall on a spectrum from heavily retouched, to very slightly retouched and that were the imagery falls on the spectrum is dependent of what one is comfortable with and what is appropriate for the intended usage of the images.

Some architects and photographers will have specific opinion in favour for the more honest side of the spectrum while others will unabashedly put out images that have less to do with reality and more with the commercial aspect of their practice. Azure published a very well thought-out article on the topic last year and their conclusion was thoughtful and fairly accurate representation of the variety of opinions that are out there.

I personally do a fair amount of retouching but I do draw the line at doing work that would alter the architecture and represent the space in a way that could never happen in reality. Outlets, exits signs and smoke alarms are all fair game and so are blemishes on a wall, reflections in glass, etc. I am also a little more liberal for residential work as the issues we fix are often a matter of the construction process not being faithful to the original vision or the client making changes without the architect’s knowledge.

I would generally say that restraint and common sense are ultimately our best allies. I’m a big fan of trusting my gut when it comes to making decisions that aren’t easy and the science backs me up on this.

I think the biggest takeaway from this discussion is that we ought to be very conscious of the impact the decisions we make will have down the road and act accordingly within the boundaries of what each of us is comfortable with. The rest is just noise.


Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a friend, or reach him at arnaud{at}rvltr.studio.



Timing your visual communications to run a better business

~ 4.5 minutes read

In the typical cycles of business, we are now fully in the 100-day sprint, the roughly 100-day period between now and the holidays where businesses are the most productive. People are coming back refreshed from vacation, kids are back in school and summer is gone, so there is no more excuses to play hooky and go hide at the cottage. Lake water is too cold anyway. That is, until the end of the year, before people take off again for the holidays to go skiing in Gstaad.

In the realm of visual communications and specifically architectural photography, not only we are subject to business cycles as described above, but even more so to seasonal conditions. That translates into a shooting season - without guns -  that extends from roughly May to November, coinciding with vegetation being in a suitable state and the weather being cooperative to allow for good photographs of your buildings and spaces. In that timespan we get all kinds of colours and textures, from the vivid bright greens and flower blooms of spring to the colourful fall season, without forgetting the deep greens of the mature, midsummer vegetation.

When you superimpose the seasons with the traditional business cycles, it looks something like this: post-christmas coma and hibernation from January to May, spring awakening in May-June, Summer slump (a.k.a. Spending summer at the cottage) in July-August and 100-day sprint from September to Christmas time a.k.a. “Shit! I need to wrap up my projects” period.

Photography seasons

Photography seasons

Why should I care?

We are in the last 50 or so days of good, predictable weather and decent vegetation before we are stuck with cold, shitty weather for the following 6 months which makes architectural photography quasi-impossible. Some projects are suitable to be photographed in winter, but these are the exception to the rule. Timing a project with a snowfall is also extremely challenging as winter snow tends to turn into slush in the city after a day or two and believe me when I say you don’t want to shoot in those conditions. If you’re an interior designer you might think “Haha, nice try, but this doesn’t apply to me!” as you’re not subject to weather.

While you’d be correct in thinking so from a technical and logistical perspective, let’s not forget the dreaded award season, from post-christmas to the early summer, where most award submissions are due. Marketing professionals spend most of that time working on submissions, on top of the million other things they usually have to do like managing social media, RFPs, etc. Based on my experience, most of them do not want to deal with managing photoshoots on top of that.

Ok, so all of this is self-serving, but how does it apply to me?

I’m glad you asked. Well, taking into consideration all of the above, what that means to you, is that by and large, you are left with 60 days (90 for interior design projects) to plan, execute and complete your photography projects before everyone in your office switches to holiday mode and slows down to a crawl for about a month, spending more time thinking about that vacation in Gstaad or the dreaded presents they need to get for their incredibly hard to please in-laws.

Considering that it takes easily 3-6 weeks to plan, prepare for and execute a shoot, there isn’t a lot of time left to get that accomplished. With professional pictures in hand before the the season’s end, you will be able to do the following:

  • Promote your latest 2018 projects to prospects with the goal to sign new clients, and keep feeding new prospects in your pipeline.

  • Have your images ready for your winter slump, when your marketing people will want to have them handy for the 10 million + 2019 award submissions they’re going to prepare. Believe you me, they will thank you.

  • Wrap up the current year with completed projects, which should bring a sense of accomplishment to your practice and boost morale before the seasonal affective disorder sets in. Happy employees = productive employees.

  • Take advantage of the winter slump to plan and prepare your 2019 press submissions and scour the newest editorial calendars, in order to time your media relations accordingly and increase your chances of being published, not to mention that beautiful photographs will help you in the matter.

All of the above, accomplishes one thing: it makes your practice more efficient and more effective on many fronts. Which results in less time spent scrambling to get something done at the last minute, more time to do other important business things (or more time for yourself) as well as a long-term increase in your profitability because you now run a lean, mean business development machine.

After all, who wouldn’t like more time and increased profits?

If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to book your fall 2018 shoot, you can reach us at hello@rvltr.studio.



{Insert flight pun here} Let your projects soar with aerial photography.

When I hear the words aerial photography, it evokes a different perspective, looking at the world through a bird’s eyes. Since we humans, are so accustomed to looking at things from the ground level, which means looking up at the city; having access to this view from above, gives us the ability to appreciate the urban environment from an unusual perspective. A different point of view which makes us appreciate the amazing setting we’re a part of. I personally marvel at the level of human achievement every time I get a chance to look down at the city, as it suddenly comes into focus.

With the advent of consumer-level drones, aerial visualization & photography has become a bit of an ubiquitous commodity, but it has not completely superseded traditional aerial shots from aircrafts, if only for regulatory reasons that make flying a drone in the city both complex and a huge liability (drones also have the bad habit of being very prone to randomly crashing, speaking from experience). That means that to shoot anything from the air in the city, there is not yet a good substitute for planes and choppers.

This is why rvltr partnering with our dear friend and veteran aerial photographer Brett Price(linkedin) to offer you his expertise and knowledge of shooting from the air, combined with our knowledge of the city and its surroundings. Over the course of the first 2 weeks of September, Brett and rvltr will be available to shoot all over the GTA and beyond.

If you had projects under consideration for some yummy aerial photography, now is the time to act and book Brett + rvltr here. Spots are limited and going fast!

Instagram @brettprice / @revelateur_to

The fine print: Each location is shot to your specifications (Close ups, or to show property in relation to amenities etc). If you are interested, book us here, or have any questions please contact us, with the address of the property you wish to have photographed along with roof colour, and size of property. We will get back to you promptly to discuss the details of your project and come up with an appropriate scope of work and budget, based on your needs.

How I was inspired by a writer to look at architecture differently.

The State of Architectural Journalism.

I love talking to people in the architecture industry to find out what makes their jobs exciting, learn about their challenges and use that information to try new things. I often do this with journalists and editors and find it fascinating to learn how to think like they do, and it helps me help them to find good stories for their publications.  

When I met with Dave LeBlanc, columnist for the Globe and Mail and well-known for his weekly column, “The Architourist”, I learned a lot about architecture from a non-architect’s perspective. Dave is not a trained journalist, he spent his whole career in radio production and serendipitously fell into writing about architecture a couple of decades ago when asked to produce short radio stories on Toronto architecture. Having been a fan of design and specifically mid-century modern architecture since childhood he jumped at the opportunity, which eventually led him to become a weekly columnist at the Globe.

Dave is as much interested in stories as I am and, similarly, thinks architectural narratives in their current state are a bit dry and factual, too often forgetting to speak about the human stories unfolding within the built environment, in favor of the building as an object, replete with facts, statistics and bombastic declarations, which are no-more than transparent, ego-inflating statements that makes the designers feel good, but leave the people who are looking to connect with architecture on a deeper level a bit hungry for a relatable story.

 

How Kahn and Mies brought this home.

When I think about some the best and most memorable buildings I've ever had the chance to visit and get to know intimately, like Crown Hall by Mies van der Rohe and the Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn, the spiritual experiences that I've had in those space had very little to do with the architecture itself, but rather with my experience of the space, specifically through the way natural light was managed and let into the building in very specific and deliberate ways.

I didn't care that much that the building was made of metal, concrete or wood but rather that these materials provided me with an phenomenal sensory experience and therefore deeply influenced me. The Kimbell with its silvery natural light flooding from the slits at the top of each vaulted ceiling, grazing the galleries’ surfaces and revealing the textures and warmth of the wood and concrete combination. Crown Hall through the enormous amount of natural light flooding the space from all sides, and reflecting the seasons and time of day, while blocking a direct views on the outside, the black steel curtain walls, terrazzo floors and wooden partition walls taking a back seat to that experience.

I believe this is what Leblanc is trying to convey in his weekly column: how architecture is a machine for sensory experience, to paraphrase Le Corbusier. Perhaps that's what his "Machine for living " idea meant? After all, what is life if nothing but a succession of sensory experiences?
 

More experiential narratives, less verbosity.

The lesson to retain from this, is that aside from other designers and self-proclaimed design nerds, very few people care about who designed a given building, how much of a celebrity the designers or how expensive the finishes are, because these facts are completely irrelevant to the physical experience of a space. There is a reason the best writers and magazines in the design world are more interested in how the architecture is lived in and like to include the users in their stories. That reason is that it makes for quality content that will capture a reader’s attention. It is an absolute necessity that the story you tell speaks to your audience, or you run the risk of losing their interest.

There is no shortcut for getting to know your audience. You have to spend time engaging with them. It helps greatly to be able to show a vulnerable side of yourself that they may not know about. Digital and social media allows for unprecedented levels of access to your audience at a very low cost, making it easy to be in dialogue with the people who are interested in your work.

Spending the time to craft compelling narratives that speak to the way your building is lived in is the way to go. I know it’s tempting to wax lyrical about the technical achievements of your project, but if they do not directly contribute to the human, dare I say emotional, experience of your space, they can be ignored. Instead the focus should be put on what it feels like to experience your space from a user perspective.

In these days of instant gratification and casual consumption, most people will probably not pay attention to what you are putting out. However the level of care that you put into it will be noticed by the people who relate to what you have to offer. This minority of ardent supporters will go to bat for you. Once you have a few of those, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

A community of followers, the kind of people who will fervently support you and promote you because they believe in your vision, cannot be bought. It is primarily based on trust and that trust has to be earned. There are no shortcuts.

What can you do today to build such a following?

If you liked this, share with a friend and let us know in the comments!

Hambly House on the cover of Canadian Architect

Cities such as Hamilton are rapidly growing and being designed to accommodate the sheer influx of people moving to the downtown and surrounding areas. This is a reversal of the strategy of the 1950's when the United States and Canada preferred to build cities around highways to promote easier travel and automobile use. Thus, today the surrounding areas of Toronto (Hamilton, ON in this case) are becoming more architecturally sound, interesting and diversifying the neighborhoods. The Hambly House by DPAI and Toms + McNally featured on the cover of Canadian Architect this month is a prime example of bridging the gap between old and new. Further reading HERE!

Hambly House at dusk

 

 

révélateur in Dolce Magazine

Weiss AU's boathouse was featured in the Spring 2015 edition of the magazine. Kevin Weiss' design deserves the kind of attention it's been getting lately and we hope to see more of his work published in the future.

Stay tuned for future publications of our images.

 

Yorkville Residence on the cover of Designlines Magazine

révélateur is proud to announce its first magazine cover! Our shoot of the Yorkville residence by Audax Architecture was featured in the the Spring 2015 issue of Designlines magazine.

Spring 2015 cover

Interestingly, this is our first ever commissioned project and turned out to be a client favourite from day one. This reno of a 70's modern house turned a very dated dwelling into a sleek, contemporary, state of the art dwelling that reflects the personality of its owner, a 30-something successful entrepreneur from Toronto.

Click here for full article.

Photography + Styling = Killer Images

Styling is the art of making a space look like it’s lived in, often in a subtle and discrete fashion. Ideally it is something that not consciously noticeable because it looks natural. This effortless look requires a lot of planning and production work, but the results are often far beyond what a professional photographer alone can offer.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Révélateur studio always strives to improve the quality of its offerings and client satisfaction. This is why we are pleased to announce a partnership with professional stylist Laurie Clark. Starting immediately we are offering styled photography packages. By offering these packages, we take the headache out of shooting professionally styled quality photography, while delivering incredible value as these images will make you look fresh and professional.

Main entrance and lounge

Main entrance and lounge

Laurie Clark of GH Styleworks is a master stylist with a background in art direction and graphic design. She has an eye for the killer accent that is going to bring a photograph together. Our own architectural and photography background complements Laurie’s skill set perfectly and we can together deliver images of exceptional quality.

Dressing room

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the images included in here a few example of images that came out of a shoot we did with Laurie (Project: Taylorwood, Build: Rose Barroso | Barroso Homes, Design: Urbanscape | Ali Malek-Zadeh). Feel free to contact us for further information on these packages.

Main entrance

Stafford Development projects

We have been working with Stafford Developments to shoot some of their completed projects to showcase on their new upcoming website. Below are some shots that we did for them:

The Rushton Residences, 743 St. Clair W.

530 St. Clair W.

500 St. Clair W.

Film District Towns

Stay tuned for more cool shots to come...

Little Portugal fixer-upper by Downey Design

This project was featured on our blog a few months back, when we shot the interiors for the Designer. We have recently returned to shoot the exterior of the building upon completion of the landscaping.

Main facade

Home to Arts & Labour home-studio, the renovation turned an old factory into an airy, bright space that appears to be much bigger than it actually is.

Main Entrance

Although the renovated building may appear mundane at first glance, it is the simplicity of the elegant materials and solid detailing that makes it come to life in an understated fashion. It is first and foremost a very livable space as evidenced by the spatial and light qualities one finds throughout the project.

Landscaped courtyard


Junction Bungalow by STAMP Architecture

Revelateur recently had the pleasure to shoot a post-war bungalow renovation in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto.

Main entrance, front of the house.

Designed by Brad Netkin of Stamp Architecture, the house is an very clever take on the bungalow typology. The original house was gutted and a second story was added, so that the main floor was turned into a spacious living-room / kitchen space opening onto the backyard and the front of the house was turned into a cosy dining room.

Entrance, Dining room, looking towards back of the house.

The main design feature of this house is a rather intangible one: natural light. Indeed, large windows and skylights are common currency in every area of the house, making the entire dwelling a very pleasant, airy one that makes one feel at ease instantly.

Living room, looking towards entrance.

Add to the the mix the architect's idionsyncratic furniture and art collection and you get a home that is humble in its materials and finishes yet very generous with large spaces that give away a subdued feeling of luxury. This is not a house of ostentatious character, but rather a symphony of natural light.

Staircase with skylight

There is a constant connection to the outdoors in almost every space of this bungalow. That alone makes it worth experiencing in person.

Back of the house, from backyard


Tips for hiring an architectural photographer #5

This is post 5 of a series of 10, in a series detailing important aspects to hiring an architectural photographer while avoiding the most common pitfalls.

5. GET THE RIGHT LICENSE.

Great savings are within reach if you predetermine how your images are going to be used, including potential uses that might not appear necessary at first. Discuss your licensing options with your photographer and favor open source licenses (such as Creative Commons) over copyrighted images as these will give you more flexibility in the way the images can be used and limit your legal liability in case of a dispute. It is important to understand copyright law and how you can use your images - not all licenses are created equal - and be sure to ask your photographer to walk you through the type of license he/she is going to use and how it will impact your rights to the images. These licensing terms should be clearly detailed in the photographer’s contract. 

Tips for hiring an architectural photographer #4

This is post 4 of a series of 10, in a series detailing important aspects to hiring an architectural photographer while avoiding the most common pitfalls.

COLLABORATE

Photographing buildings and interiors is not an exact science and it requires collaboration between the photographer and client, in order to achieve the client’s vision. Photographers have a particular way to look at spaces, usually different from the clients'. It is a good idea to use this difference in viewpoints as a sounding board for coming up with ideas that neither you, the client, nor the photographer might have thought of on their own. The pre-production meeting and the scouting shoot are great places to brainstorm and kick-start this process. If you are going to be present on the day of the shoot, use this to you advantage by discussing each view with your photographer and formulating your specific needs in the clearest way possible. Your photographer should be able to show you each shot prior to capturing the image to serve as the basis for discussion. 

Yorkville residence,  Audax Architecture

Yorkville residence, Audax Architecture