I can certainly admit to being a bit obsessed with cameras. I have taken a lot of photos over the years, starting in high school with my father’s Nikons. In undergrad, I worked three days a week at Schumann’s Click Clinic, a local camera shop, in Lexington, Kentucky. This gave me access to a lot of used cameras and film and many days and nights were spent in the large darkrooms at the University of Kentucky.
Making images is however not the only reason that cameras interest me. Film cameras, especially the ones made up to about the mid-1970’s are wonderful, largely mechanical inventions. The progressively innovative technology in the history of camera development can clearly be seen in looking at my Brownie Hawkeye to the Yashicamat, from the early Nikormats through the Diana and Holga, to the later rugged and versatile Nikons. So while digital cameras consistently make great images, you can slide up and down the scale of history and photography simply by taking up any of these older cameras and living with the vagaries of their imaging. Progressively better and more consistent exposure and focus however, do not make for better photography.
And so it is with architecture. We certainly have better and more conditioned construction practices which make for technically better buildings. The revolution of construction techniques that have become common place with the concerns of sustainability and green construction are a manifest benefit for every building and the environment as a whole. However, we should not confuse this technological improvement with any notion of “progress” in architecture. Pushing the boundaries of design has always been an important and vital part of architectural culture, but let’s not mistake it for making better buildings. The “test”, if you will, of a good building is not simply its ability to keep out the rain or reduce its energy consumption. Nor is it how it looks or even functions. The real test for a buiding is does it have meaning for the people who use it. Meaning may be elusive, but we know it when we see or feel it. The Pantheon was pagan temple and later a Christian church. But it has always been recognized as a sacred space and a great building.
And, the rain comes right in.