Foreword to Drawing Parallels: Architecture Observed

As you read this, look about you. Note the shapes and functions that surround you, the squares and right angles, the circles and cylinders, the coarse surfaces and the fine finishes. Try naming those materials – animal, vegetable, mineral.

The earliest ideas for Drawing Parallels were first generated by Quintin Lake over ten years ago when I happened to see a draft for a glossary of structures, buildings and architectural eventuality.

Even at that time, when a young student, Lake’s desire to steer the compendium of his experience towards fresh audiences showed an exceptional clarity of purpose. I was struck by the way that all his images emerged from travel and encounter and articulated real experience in real time and space. Real conditions, real weather and real seasons. I remember thinking that perhaps the images could one day assemble themselves into a magnetic needle which would point a way across the whole puzzling field of cultural energy, the things which humans make and destroy, the things which humans leave behind, and the things which humans come upon. This is something that a good eye and a commitment to travel, not tourism, can set in motion.

The camera is a strange editorial tool – the world of ‘seeing’ has no edges, no right angles, only the marvels of peripheral vision and the edginess which is the gift of being human, that sensation of being curious and always wanting to know more than we can see. In English, this mongrel language, we are as likely to begin sentences with‘I think…’as with‘I feel…’ and we often show our understanding of others by saying ‘I see’. The camera can do none of this but editorial intelligence can. Our ability to do things comes as much from the gift of sight as from the capacity for thought. The eye, like the camera may be ‘stupid’, but it is the owner of the eye who makes ‘pictures’.

Seeing, looking, watching, eyeing, observing, noticing, witnessing – together they add up to a prodigious critical process, one of the great things that all humans share. With the eye of Quintin Lake, you are reminded to look up.

He alerts you to both meanings, not just the spatial one,‘looking upwards’, but also the pleasurable pursuit of information, or the tracking down of an acquaintance, whether a person, a building, or a space. He reminds you that the past is turning into the future. One verb, associated with vigilance, slips into a noun to remind us of the biggest question of all – time. In English, we may ‘watch’, but we also may wear one.

The object which you hold is another of those small, portable, architectural marvels – a book. A cousin of the hinge (and so a relation of both the door and the window) it pivots on its spine and allows a furling process, of befores and afters, of images and type, set in sequences that mirror, remind and rehearse. The reader (we don’t say ‘looker’) brings to a book his own special powers of intervention and interpretation, moving back and forth through the territory before him. This too is how we become spatially intelligent, coursing to and fro in cities and beyond, acquiring our own thesaurus of spaces and places, as much as we map a sense of ourselves as temporary occupants of the world. We discover our ‘whereabouts’ surrounded by our ‘belongings’. We learn to‘belong’.

All those questions of utility and serviceability, which architecture and urbanism can never escape, are played out in the utensils which populate our lives. Many of these mini architectures come with ‘directions for use’, whose counter-intuitivity thwarts and frustrates us.

Drawing Parallels is itself a utensil of a special kind, an un-guide book where the imagination which we associate with the promise of all books is the primary agent for giving directions. Drawing Parallels honours and dignifies the pleasure of inhabiting a haptic world. Its comparisons remind us how we come to differentiate between things, how we sort and re-sort. These multiple acts of recognition, which we store in our own reservoirs of experience, overflow into fresh conversations we come to share. It’s unstoppable.

Text © Richard Wentworth, 2009

First Chapter Extract>

Extract from my architectural photography book: Drawing Parallels, Architecture Observed