Friday, May 16, 2008

Reflecting the world

click photo to enlarge
I don't know the first architect who used mirror glass in a curtain wall, but I imagine he felt pretty pleased with himself! The idea of a wall that appears almost intangible, that reflects its surroundings in a grid, that conveys a sense of lightness or even weightlessness, is very appealing. It makes possible buildings that change their appearance according to the time of day, state of the weather and the particular season. Yes, when the first building that made this possible went up the architectural profession must have clapped its collective hands in delight. I've seen buildings with mirrored walls that look elegant and ethereal, that cause you to stop and stare.

However, there is also a sense in which mirror-wall buildings are a major cop out. They are "easy". They let the architect dispense with the usual problem of how to treat the exterior of a structure. There's no agonising over windows and walls because in this type of building they are the same. The problem of whether to use steel, concrete, brick, tiles, or any of the dozens of other finishes is redundant - the answer is always reflective glass. Yes, the design of the glazing bars is an issue, but a small one. Maybe that's why tinted glass became the vogue - architects wanted bring more personal expression to this genre, and the use of colour reintroduces aesthetic judgement. And, as the buildings glazed in these ways have proliferated architects have sought to introduce yet more variety to prevent the same, now boring, look being repeated everywhere. Today's photograph is of one such variation. It shows the wall above the main entrance of some offices in Peterborough. The reflective glass wall angles in and out, and in so doing presents a less usual reflection of its surroundings. Downward facing angles reflect the pavement, and upward facing angles reflect the trees and sky. I noticed this as I passed, and took this photograph of the effect. I'm the person reflected in the upper band of glass!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 21mm (42mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off