Project and images by Jason Griffiths
“I on the Streets” documents every windowless street façade in Lincoln, Nebraska. It is the antithesis to Jane Jacobs’s maxim on inclusive and socially coherent urbanism, and on first sight, an abject architecture in its most characterless form. However, the anonymity of a sightless façade defers to a minority of architectural photographers who reveal something more problematic about the relationship between photography and architectural character. Despite its better intentions, the notion of objective photography is quite often and quite quickly subsumed by a broader cultural commentary (William Garnett construction science, Bernd and Hilla Becher postindustrial typologies, and so on) that leads to refined aesthetic informant of architectural design. This appreciation lies in an inadvertent allure of the solitary spaces and the sublime pleasure of “ordinary” environments.
In truth, so much significant architecture draws upon this allure (MVRDV/Andreas Gursky, Robert Venturi/Ed Ruscha, Caruso St John/Thomas Demand, Diller Scofidio/Joel Sternfeld, and so on). However, this contemplation and aesthetic consideration is only possible from a position of extreme anonymity. The kind of anonymity that allows the photographer to work unobserved (in this case by windowless façades) in an environment that would be unavailable in the socially vibrant urbanism of “Eyes on the Street.”
Naturally great architecture must be socially coherent, but its breadth is equally inclusive of an ambiguous relationship to objectivity and perhaps the more problematic allure of characterless “ordinary” architecture.
Jason Griffiths is an architect, teacher, and writer. His book Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing (Architectural Association Publications, 2011) is among his numerous award-winning projects, public art installations, publications, and competitions. He held the 2015 Hyde Chair for Excellence and is currently associate professor and the W. Cecil Steward Professor at UNL.