Search
  • falak vora

#2 Can photography capture architecture?

Updated: Jun 29

Falak Vora in conversation with photographer İeva Saudargaitė


Falak Vora: On our first day at Architectural school, about eight years ago, we were asked, ‘what is architecture?’ The young inquisitive minds looked around for someone from the cohort to answer. One not-so-shy fellow answered, “It is a building.” Encouraged by murmurs, another said, “It is everything that is man-made.” None of the answers were wrong yet none of them defined architecture. The professor turned and said, “Everything from the head of a needle to the largest automobile is architecture.” I swallowed that answer and went on to discover my definition of architecture over the years.

Yet another thing I learned in architecture school was the importance of scale. A dissection of the professor’s answer amplifies the importance of applying scale to the term architecture itself. His answer changed the scale of the term. From molecules to satellites, to the new developments on planet Mars is architecture. While considering this, we reduced architecture to merely the structural aspects of things.

As the scale changes, from miniature to enormous, the use of the word ‘architecture’ becomes a mere metaphorical import. This is the reason why architecture is no longer limited to the construction industry. The IT industry describes it as the ‘overall design of the computing system’. Then how is architecture different in IT and the construction industries?

Architecture operates in the dimension of physics where Matter and Energy are distinct concepts. In construction, akin to the theory of the Sublunar sphere, architecture is not limited to intermediate dimensions. It expands to an experiential dimension unlike the case with IT.

But, architecture practiced today is not limited to experiences. As first-year students, we wondered what architecture was. We were eager to see how it would shape as we grew. Little did we realise that architecture would be reduced from this sensory-experiential definition. As I see it, today the practice of architecture prioritises sight. The resultant built environment is more concerned with material forms that stand mute and cold.


The current trend of architectural photography is an aftereffect of this practice. The art of architectural photography captures the physicality of the space in a small digitalised format. This form of documentation is only a visual representation of the architecture. It cruelly strips a building bare of its character. It silences the sound of a flowing water body and that of the blowing wind. It does not smell of the rose plants in the yard nor does it smell like petrichor. The building that remains is silent, cold, and devoid of life.


While designing in school, architecture was poetry. Design panels consisted of weaved narratives about how one would experience the building. Technicalities were often overlooked. Perhaps the gap in academia and practice brought this lag. Academic narratives embodied architecture as a vessel of cultural memory, energy, and information. This gap between how architecture is perceived versus how it is translated to the matter has serious repercussions.

Today, due to the lack of character in the design, architecture is turning to become less memorable. Memory has an intimate relation to architectural setup. The memory of home is not about a perfect picture, but about smells, tastes, events, and experiences. Despite failing to be captured onto a picturesque canvas, the word ‘home’ still induces nostalgia and teleports us to the past. In conclusion, architecture is more about the lived experience than the documented one. Architectural discourse today sustains through this tyranny of sight. In fact, it is now the primary mode of perception. This eliminates methods of architectural criticism stemming from alternative forms of lived experiences.

Our saving grace from this illusive outlook could be a return to personal experiences and trusting our instincts. The ones we developed through experiences and by studying marvels built by architects. (Here, I use 'architect' as a loose term - referring not only to those with training). These can be vernacular or contemporary structures that made you feel more than you perceived visually.

What I conclude from this engagement is that ‘energy’ adds life and dynamism to the ‘matter’ of architecture. Life is important to thaw the frosted ice of brick and mortar. Energy elevates a pictorial representation into something vital and instinctive; an animistic experience that bears hints of the transformative processes of life.

So, today, if asked again, ‘what is architecture?’ I would say architecture is an experience of the built environment, one that interacts with all our senses. It is a vessel of matter into which energy breathes life. This vessel is a representative of life and of the people that occupy it. Architecture is perhaps a living organism; it births, grows, and with time decays. What remains is its memory which is very rarely the form but is most certainly how you experienced it.



İeva Saudargaitė:

İeva Saudargaitė, Falak Vora, Wooden Terrace, House, Lebanon, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Wooden terrace of a house (Lebanon): This house was very nicely integrated into the landscape, sitting on the top of a hill with plunging views of the valley and city. I was there alone for the day and as time passed, I began savouring these special moments of intimacy between me and the surroundings. It’s essentially a self-portrait of how I would imagine myself living in such a wonderful setting. Photo Courtesy: İeva Saudargaitė

Can photography capture architecture? Yes.

Can it capture everything about it? Of course not.


Like any medium, be it drawing, 3D rendering, or video, photography comes with its own set of limitations. And architectural photographers have to work within these limitations. But photographs make a building “silent, cold and devoid of life” is not always true. Like with any form of representation, the audience has to do some work. Take literature, for example, when we read, we see images and feel feelings. But how well we see and feel depends on the author, but also the reader. Is she able to tap into her inner world and memories? Does he have an active imagination? I think this applies to photography as well. The photograph represents something, and the viewer creates their meaning.


İeva Saudargaitė, Falak Vora, Large Hotel Atrium, Sharjah, UAE, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Large hotel atrium (Sharjah, UAE): This is a kind of space that feels like it can go on infinitely. The masses and lines are very tangible and it’s not a very busy space as it serves to connect rooms to the elevator lobbies. I was waiting for a figure to pass by, to show how large the place was but also create a feeling of a lone human figure confronting something larger than herself. Photo Courtesy: İeva Saudargaitė

In architectural photography, the notion of scale is very important. One of the main challenges when photographing a project is how to portray it? How does the building sit in its context, and how do the people move and live in the building? This is “the experience of the built environment” that Ms. Vora refers to, and rightfully so - architecture is best when it is experienced, when we are in it, near it, around it. I always say that the best part of my job is the opportunity to experience architecture. To be able to observe how light travels, how different spaces feel, how materials and textures dialogue with one another, how sounds appease or overwhelm, and how architecture alters our reading of the place it sits in and the natural elements it’s submitted to.

İeva Saudargaitė, Falak Vora, Outdoor Terrace, Complex, Buildings, Vilnius, Lithuania, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Outdoor terrace of a complex of buildings (Vilnius, Lithuania): I had just arrived at the site to begin shooting and I saw these two girls having fun with outfits and a camera. I couldn’t miss this ironic moment– a photographer shooting the photographer. I also loved how they were playing with the architecture, sitting on something that was meant for something else. Photo Courtesy: İeva Saudargaitė

Whenever possible, I try to capture the human figure(s) inside the project. Not only to give a notion of the scale of spaces but to provide a visual key for the audience to mentally position themselves inside. At the end of the day, the photograph is an invitation to imagine the experience. I’m particularly a big fan of candid photographs where life is almost tangible. Depending on what the human figure is doing, the photograph, and by extension the space photographed, can feel calm, tense, playful, mysterious, noisy, monstrous. Of course, an audience that has experienced more spaces and a larger variety of them in their own life will be better equipped to read a photograph. Read in a way to recall the feelings and sensory triggers of their past experiences. Once you’ve touched the texture and temperature of poured concrete, it will immediately return to your fingertips when you are looking at a photograph of it, or it won’t, depending on how sensorily aware you are.


İeva Saudargaitė, Falak Vora, Photography, Swimming Pool, Amchit, Lebanon, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

Pool (Amchit, Lebanon): This was my third time back at the house and this time I insisted the owner be there with me so that I could catch him “enjoying” this special summer house that he had built for him and his family. Photo Courtesy: İeva Saudargaitė

Yet it must be said that architects themselves exert too much control on the photographers they hire. Because ultimately, they decide which photographs they want to publish and promote. And here I am writing, as an architectural photographer for hire and not the flaneur and collector of architectural experiences. Sometimes, some architects want photographs stripped of life and people. They want them to resemble as closely as possible to the 3D renderings they’ve created before the project even breaks ground. And sometimes, they want you to show them the true life of their building, in its mess and glory. Needless to say, these are the architects I relish working with.


* * *



About İeva Saudargaitė

İeva Saudargaitė studied Architecture at the Lebanese American University and École Spéciale d'Architecture along with Architectural Photography. She maintains a contemporary art practice. She has worked with over 70 architectural and design practices and magazines, photographing over 250 projects. She uses an architectural approach when photographing to portray the project's context and concept as well as the spatial relationships within, always keeping in mind the human scale and the stories that need to be told. She is based in between Vilnius and Beirut and is often on the go.

You can find her works on her website, Linkedin, and Instagram.


About Falak Vora

Falak Vora is an architect, architectural historian, writer, and essayist. She is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL), UK, and Sarvajanik College of Engineering and Technology (VNSGU), Surat. She has experience working at Aangan Architects, Eternity Architects, Wall Space Architects, Studio i!, Guallart Architects and The Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT). She is a contributing editor at Zeyka.


About the Editor

Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff Univeristy, UK and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio. She is a contributing editor at Zeyka.


112 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All