Archeology of the Present

The degree to which a building engages with the culture or the landscape of a place is primarily controlled by the design intent i.e. the architectural concept and the success of its implementation. Photography reveals relations but it does not build them in the first place. Even in the extreme case where a structure is consciously designed to differentiate and separate itself from any sort of environment, cultural or natural, it is still inevitably situated into a context and perceived as part of it.

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Paulo Mendez da Rocha. Sao Paulo. Image © Erieta Attali

That being said, through my photography, I cannot and do not aspire to disentangle the physical from the cultural context. The years I spent photographing excavation sites were formative both in the way I perceive and in the way I photograph artifacts in a landscape. At an excavation you encounter the entanglement of culture and place, in a very literal sense: the two effectively become one as succeeding layers of former landscapes sediment on top of each other and engulf walls, pillars, courtyards. The process of retrieving and reconstructing culture, archeological research, demands an engagement with the landscape, a conscious and studied peeling back of these geological layers. Photography has to reveal this relation through its main two components: the physical or spatial and the temporal, or procedural. 

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La Escondida House by Barclay Crousse. Image © Erieta Attali
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Perú. Image © Erieta Attali

Even without considering archeology, however, I believe it is not possible to separate culture - which is a deeply localized phenomenon - from landscape. The inverse is also true, or as historian Simon Schama has said, “Landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood and water and rock”. Therefore, the narrative definitely extends into what you call a ‘macro discussion’ situating architecture into a cultural context because it is impossible not to extend it. The ‘micro’ discussion of place and ‘macro’ discussion of culture are to me one and the same thing. 

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Kehl Bridge in Strasbourg by Marc Mimram. Image © Erieta Attali

Human-made structures are universally considered to be the subject, or content of architectural photography, while the landscape is usually treated as mere context or background. Content and context, however, are equally important and oftentimes even interchangeable. Through my practice, I have tried to stay away from the content-context dichotomy and instead create idiosyncratic images that capture an identity of place; its particular atmospheric quality, lighting conditions, materiality and mood. 

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Glass Restaurant in Yamaguchi by Kengo Kuma. Image © Erieta Attali

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Cite: Erieta Attali. "Archeology of the Present" 14 Dec 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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