Charles Holland

What Next?


Over the past few months I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes an idea in architecture. Ideas are something that get discussed a lot in architectural teaching. Students look for or struggle to find the right idea for their project. Tutors reflect on whether they have had good ideas or whether their project somehow embodies an idea that they are meant to be investigating. In practice, architectural ideas are spoken about a lot less. Very rarely do clients ask what the idea is. Architecture in this sense is deemed to be something that responds to a problem through a variety of practical ways that may or may not be beautiful or aesthetically pleasing. But it isn’t about ideas, at least not overtly. Ideas aren’t the same as buildings which are not reducible to single concepts.

I have been thinking about this during Lockdown when I have offset long hours spent in online meetings and in front of a computer screen with walks and cycle rides. As someone incapable of abstract exercise – that is exercise for its own sake – cycling is the perfect answer. Every ride has an ulterior motive which is normally to seek out and discover a building or a place that I am interested in. So I plot my rides and longer walks around a destination. Some are hard to find, some less so and some are buildings I have passed many times and always wanted to investigate further.

The buildings are part of an evolving interest in architecture in a way that is increasingly about a deep pleasure in the visual character of buildings. I was tempted to write ’simple pleasure’ but that would be completely wrong. There is nothing simple about looking. For me this is where the idea lies. Buildings are part of wider systems of ideas and cultural meaning for sure. But they also contain ideas in the way they are assembled, composed, built. There is an idea in the decision to place a circular window in a facade of rectangular ones. Or to sweep a roof down so the it almost touches the ground. Or to place a building so that it can be seen from a particular viewpoint. These are visual, material ideas, rather than concepts. They are linked to style and historic period, but they are not about liking old buildings more than new ones or preferring Georgian to Victorian architecture. This way of exploring architecture is about the pleasure of looking at things and of trying to work out the patterns and decisions and ideas that lie within them.

The photographs are a few picked from these trips. I am under no illusions about the quality of the images themselves. They are taken on an iPhone, from the side of the road, often quickly and sometimes when other people are waiting for me to catch up, exasperated by my habit of constantly photographing old buildings.