One thing that I've always enjoyed about architecture is it's relationship with history. Whether it's looking backwards for new inspiration or simply the appreciation of a style that has evolved slowly over time, architecture is one of the threads that connects our past, present, and future into one moment. Relative to a building, our lives are so short. I frequently look at buildings while traveling and wonder to myself what all have they bared witness to in their lifetimes?
Built in 1407 and using construction techniques typically associated with Zen Buddhism, the Five Story Pagoda of Miyajima (first photo) is an excellent example of just how long a memory buildings have. It amazes me that, throughout its existence, it would have seen the fall of Europe's middle ages, the entire life of Shakespeare, the colonization of the Western hemisphere, the birth of the United States, and even the exploration of space, including the man walking on the moon. Yet, despite being over 600 years old, it has an energy to its form that is almost palpable in person. I framed it against the sky to emphasize the winged curve of the roof line, like a flock of cranes about to take flight. It is a style of architecture that is instantly recognizable and influences everything from office buildings to pop culture today.
The second shot emphasizes time's relativity and its relation to architecture with the Fujimi-yagura – or Fuji-viewing Tower – at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan. The name comes from the fact that Mt. Fuji was once visible from the tower, but the mountain can no longer be seen due to the high-rise buildings that have been built over time and now stand between it and the tower. It is said that during the Edo period, the shoguns could stand within the tower and look out at the majestic mountain, standing 100 kilometers away to the west-southwest. Although stunning to look at in color, I chose a black and white version to emphasize the relationship between the past and present more.
The third shot I chose for the series is that of Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, now commonly known as the Genbaku (A-bomb) dome. This building was designed and built by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, and was one of the most prominent examples of European style architecture in Hiroshima at the time. Only 150 meters (490 feet) from ground zero of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, the Genbaku dome survived in part because the bomb exploded roughly 580 meters above the city. This downward direction of the blast (as opposed to sideways) removed the outer walls of the Genbaku dome, leaving what would have been the interior of the building standing and what we see today. This was also in part thanks to the reinforced concrete construction used to mitigate earthquake danger in Japan at the time, which is also visible in the shot. Releasing the equivalent energy of 16 kilotons of TNT with a total destruction radius of about 1 mile, the bomb killed roughly 30 percent of the population of Hiroshima at the time (roughly 70,000-80,000 people) in its explosion and the resulting firestorms. The ruin was named the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. I wanted to capture the building in a way that gave it a sense of life and communicated some of this history. For this reason, I also left the framing wide to include the newer buildings that have been built since then to show how time has continued.
Its difficult, at least for me, to separate architecture from history. They are intertwined and connected by the people, culture, and technology of the time. The definition of a line is the distance between two points. Similarly, to chart a direction, you need to know where you've been. Architecture is one of the best ways that we can reach into the past and, in a very literal sense, touch something that came before us to help show us where we are going.
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