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Architecture tourism - the experience of modern architecture

August 2023

 

Modern architecture in tourism cities is generally presented as visual objects, as something ‘to see’. Architecture professionals often regard architecture as an applied art and it is suggested that understanding architecture as applied art requires insight and knowledge. 

I have a different perspective. 

Stressing seeing and understanding - the eye and the intellect - limits the architourism experience. The Eifel tower in Paris or the Sydney Opera House, to mention two famous architecture destinations, are not architecture objects to look at and to understand as applied art. These places are about experience, engagement and meaning. The same for all destinations on this website. For visitors the issue is not to understand the intentions of the architect or the specific context, the point is the architecture experience, enjoying the place. We can compare it with music or good food. Is it necessary to understand what the composer or cook had in mind and how they developed their music or great dish? Or is it about enjoying the music or food and the setting. Perhaps, after the experience, you want to know more about the music or the restaurant, but experience first.

As an example, I describe briefly an architecture experience of a visit to the Stone Church of Cazis, in Switzerland, which I vividly remember (pictures here).

“I saw the church on a picture somewhere on internet and had no specific expectations. Seeing the church was a surprise – who expects such a modern building with three large stones and a kind of notches with glass in a small Swiss mountain village? The place is beautifully situated, with views of the mountains. After entering, the interior of the stones made me happy. The round shapes, the light and the colours are wonderful. The stones have three distinct spheres. It was very quiet in the small church; I was the only visitor. I walked around and took some photos and then sat down on one of the coloured chairs. Just looking and listening. This place made me joyful, even a bit exited, and calm at the same time. Walking around the place and looking and touching the stone, iron and wood, was a very nice experience. Mountain air. A sandwich on a bench under the big tree in front of the church. Clear mountain water from the tap next to the bench. Architourism life is good!

Afterwards I read and understood the intentions of the three stones, as described on the Graubünden page of this site (I prefer to have only limited information when visiting a building and check out details after the visit).

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This example is about visiting a small church. I could share many experiences, positive and not so positive, of various big and small buildings. Examples you can find on this site: the Filharmonia in Szczecin and Centro Botín in Santander really made me happy and enthusiastic. And so did the public library in Almere (NL) and the Magic Turtle in Duisburg. There are also plenty of buildings that I find rather depressing (not described on this site because I cannot recommend visiting them). As a visitor ‘looking and understanding’ is not the point, but using all senses (including the eye) and the subsequent experiences is. One of the nice sensations of visiting Centro Botín in Santander for me was the airy location and the smell of the salt and sea. And the building in its port and promendade context - in the middle of a city centre this building would not work that well.  

Architecture tourists are generally interested laypeople, attentive tourists who want to enjoy places and spaces. They don’t have architectural mental frames and don’t start with questions about style, design and materials. 

 

Architecture can have a significant effect on a person’s emotions, perceptions and behaviour. But not very much research has been done on the relation between architecture, senses, experiences and behaviour. One reason for the lack of studies is the emphasis on the visual and the intellect - architecture as visual objects and as applied art.

Let me conclude with a question: which buildings or spaces you visited gave you positive feelings, made you happy? Do you remember what you felt, what your senses noticed, what made you happy?

Note

I am working on an article on the city tourist experience of modern architecture, 'Reframing architecture as cultural tourism experience', to be presented at the 'X Congreso Internacional Científico-Profesional de Turismo Cultural', in Cordoba, Spain, 22-23 Feb. 2024. The article will be added to this blog when it is submitted. 
Two quotes / references I use in this article:

“We [architects] have been taught to conceive, observe and evaluate architectural spaces and settings primarily as formal and aesthetic entities”, concludes  architect Pallasmaa.

[Pallasmaa, J. (2014). Space, place and atmosphere. Emotion and peripheral perception in architectural experience. Lebenswelt, 4, 230-245, p. 241]

and

“Broadly speaking, recent architecture has largely appealed to the eye and the intellect, but not so much to the body or how it feels to occupy a building” says Robinson.

[Robinson, J. (2012). On being moved by architecture. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,70(4), 337-353., p. 339]

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