(Partially inspired by Andrew over at Exquisite Struggle‘s recent posted on study abroad programs, here’s my “personal statement” for an application package for a program in and around Vienna next June and July.)
Certain architectural theoreticians have argued the proliferation of image-based culture and the rise of a global news-media are forces that have rendered the architectural “grand tour” obsolete. These critics find that the true experience of architecture – contemporary or ancient – is now through the projective image, not through direct phenomenological experience. These critics dismiss the architectural study tour as a frivolous luxury, since the essence of an architectural work can be gleaned from the glossy renderings and detailed line drawings in contemporary journals and magazines.
While it may be true that the preconceived effects of a work of architecture may be realized through images and paragraphs of theory, the collateral effects of a work are often more instructive to the student of architecture than the intentional. A theoretical understanding of architecture can be assembled through the study of images, plans, and text, but in order to truly appreciate the effect various architectural techniques have, physically, on a human body in space, one must be present.
As a second-year graduate student, I feel confident in my ability to read plans, diagrams, and study photographs and renderings. My studies here and my earlier degree in mechanical engineering allow me to analyze buildings and their various systems in great detail. What I lack is that crucial link that will allow me to truly appreciate how a plan on paper translates into three dimensions. This connection is only made through the rigorous study of building documents, coupled with the direct experience of visitation.
No work of architecture exists in a vacuum, and it is important to consider the cultural, political, and social framework in which a building is constructed. One could read volumes and volumes of history books, travel guides, and websites, but before one can gain intimate knowledge of any locale, one has to travel there. To truly appreciate both the physical effects and the cultural implications of a work of architecture, there is simply no substitute for direct experience.