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Materiality of the Visual: Reimagi(ni)ng the City

Banou, Sophia



The 19th century, was a period of rapid developments in the field of optics with the invention of a series of optical devices that imitated or expanded the capabilities of the eye. The increasing mobility of the world due to the mechanization imposed by the industrial revolution, combined with the manipulation of the corporeal subjectivity of the observer that these new technologies offered, gradually contributed to the cultivation of a new visual culture (Techniques of the Observer, Jonathan Crary, 1992). The articulation of this new perception of the space-time paradigm had a direct impact on the development of the pictorial arts, as it was expressed through the vision of modernity (Vision in Motion, L. Moholy-Nagy, 1947). The shift that was taking place in the mental image of looking was leading to a shift in the physical image of representation.

Nevertheless, despite this shift in the understanding of both space and its image, architectural notation largely maintained conventions established as early as the 15th century (ichnography, perspective). The image of the city thus appears as a selective invention that forgoes the microbe-like processes that occur within it. Is this discretion a matter of the limitations of the graphic image, or is it an issue of what is defined as the subject matter of representation? What do we consider as present, in order to re-present? It appears that architectural conventions have established a ‘materiality’ of the visual, eliminating what is considered intangible or unquantifiable as visually illegible. Tracing this inconsistency in the transition from the actual to the virtual through Henri Bergson’s understanding of the image, ‘half way between the idealist representation and the realist thing’ (Matter and Memory, 1897: xiii), this paper will look into the criteria of inclusion that shape architectural representation, by critically addressing the ways that the city has been represented in architectural practice.

In doing so, this paper will also focus on the installation ‘’Kaleidoscopic City’’, a representation of a square-shaped excerpt of the city of Edinburgh. Inspired by the 19th century concept of the kaleidoscope as a mechanical means of producing beautiful images (The Kaleidoscope, David Brewster, 1858) the installation is structured around six ‘optical devices’ and their contribution into configuring an image of the city. Understanding the city as an ‘aggregate of images’ (Bergson, 1897: 101) the installation examines the limits of architectural conventions by reassessing the multiplicity of inputs that compile the image of the city.


Banou, S. (2014, March). Materiality of the Visual: Reimagi(ni)ng the City. Paper presented at What Images Do Symposium, KADK, The Royal Danish Academy Schools of Architecture, Design, Conservation and Visual Art, Copenhagen

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name What Images Do Symposium
Start Date Mar 19, 2014
End Date Mar 22, 2014
Deposit Date Apr 28, 2020
Keywords visual culture, architectural drawing, perception, urban representation, Bergson
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