WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME someone made you a portrait? The portrait has many forms. It may be a doodle by your little son, as he starts to scribble your family; or it can be the photo you use on social networks, the most professional one taken for business purposes or the most informal one, even casual, that you choose to present yourself to friends. The portrait is one of the oldest practices of communication that art history knows. In a portrait, four eyes meets each other: the ones of who, depicted, reveals something about his own being through his glaze; the ones of who, depicting, investigates the glaze of the other. And when the portrait is no longer static, but becomes a moving image, everything is amplified. The outcome is more than a mere relationship between glazes. Body movements, facial expressions and voices amplify the result.
"Siza Sings", THE PORTRAIT OF ALVARO SIZA by Fernando Guerra, is a small reveal on a great inner life. We imagine that in that small piece of sheet on his desk, Siza is giving life to some beautiful spaces. We admire his self-confidence in dealing with a blank page. We almost crave for that condition of suspension which is probably only for a few fortunate ones, and so far away from the daily routine of the majority of architects. We see spontaneousness, calmness, tranquillity which we imagine as something acquired with the passing of time, years marking the face. A one-minute long snapshot, taken informally with a smartphone, and a good soundtrack are enough to remind us that design can be a pleasure and a great adventure.
Informality is the key word that we can use also for William Alsop if we observe him in the video "Birdhouse" by Squint/Opera, the group based in London that is always on top of things when a storyboard needs to be conceived. "Birdhouse" is not meant to work as a real videoportrait of Alsop. It is more like a clip that presents one of his projects. But through it we anyway get a portrait of the designer's character: by seeing him perched in a tree tweeting with birds, we understand how he enjoys being involved in an unusual condition, one that subverts the main codes and norms of communication. Rayner Banham defined Cedric Price as a "creativity facilitator". How much of this attitude did Alsop get while he was working in Price's office? How much of the fertile confusion that wound in the environments of the Architectural Association did Alsop retain even after the years of his training? "Birdhouse" may help us answer those questions.
The architect Carlos Arroyo is a quieter presence in the video "OostCampus", by Miguel de Guzman, presenting the project of the City Hall of Oostkamp. Arroyo helps us to experience the space. He is a discreet and silent cicerone, but he doesn't go unnoticed.
Also in the video "Hands On", the architects appear next to their works. In this case OLGGA involved Artefactory to produce a clip to be shown during the 2010 edition of the AJAP exhibition and introducing the group. In that context, it was important to depict not so much the daily life in the office, but rather focus on the most intriguing aspects of the architect's work: sharing ideas, clarifying concepts, turning ideas into designs. In a sequence of out of scale images, shifting between recordings made in the office and others related to the building, we see a hand moving and assembling volumes. A sort of quotation of the famous hand assembling the modules inside the structural grid of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation.
BUT LET'S GO BACK to the portrait itself, where the architect is the main and unique protagonist. Siza was so quiet and calm. The opposite can be said of Bjarke Ingels in "Worldcraft", where he has the vehemence of the young designer that supports in every way the consistency and reliability of his ideas and reaffirms the need of his own role, as an architect. Perhaps we can't embrace the point of view of the Danish designer, but we appreciate the way he tells his ideas and makes them visible with great immediacy and ease. In his very personal research path, projects are related one to the other in one single discourse that is not lacking ambition at all: "to turn pure fiction into hard facts."
THIS IS JUST A CONCISE SUMMARY of the many ways architects choose to be portrayed in video. Depending on their personality and on the way filmmakers observe them, we get a portrait which can tell a lot about the architects' way of thinking and the life in their offices. And if we look carefully, even when a filmmaker twists the script or brings his videoediting towards unexpected outcomes, a video portrait often confirms and completes what we already know about an architect, the things we learnt about him from the pages he writes, from the interviews he releases and from the projects he completes.