Advanced Topics Studio with Heather Roberge

M.Arch.I, Third Year


"Rather than erect another hierarchy, it may therefore be more useful to acknowledge the plurality of scopic regimes now available to us...We may learn to wean ourselves from the fiction of a “true” vision and revel instead in the possibilities opened up by the scopic regimes we have already invented and the ones, now so hard to envision, that are doubtless to come."

- Martin Jay, Scopic Regimes of Modernity

Studio Problem:

Visual perception is rapidly transforming as a consequence of changes in field of view. What is field of view and how does it relate to architecture? Field of view is the extent of the observable world that is seen at a given moment. This term applies to a scene captured by any type of lens: the static human eye, a binocular lens, a fish-eye lens, a microscope eye piece, etc. and changes with focal length. Shaped by these lens, the contemporary scopic regime is at once panoramic, immersive, and magnified. Today the camera-outfitted drone, the go-pro camera, google cardboard, and oculus rift are expanding the limits of human perception. FPS (first person shooter) video games, in vehicle navigation systems, rear-view and 360 cameras, google earth, and google street view are other agents of change. These technologies, when considered together, effectively expand the possibilities of perception by redefining, multiplying, and collapsing fields of view. While our bodies are all too often bound to grounds, our vision, and with it our bodies, are increasingly liberated from them. Has the cultivation of architectural experience transformed in response or has our desire to engage these fields of view been satisfied by the camera lens, the screen, the airplane window, and the cursor? While we now commonly see objects and environments from different vantage points, how might these new vantage points transformed how we conceive of architectural constructs? This studio considers these questions, invents forms of representation to operatively engage field of view, and in so doing, speculates on architecture’s response to existing and emerging scopic regimes.

A Brief Introduction to the Evolution of FOV:

The quarter will begin with a close reading of Martin Jay’s text, Scopic Regimes of Modernity. In it he introduces three scopic regimes of modernity: Cartesian perspectivalism, the art of describing, and baroque opticality. In 1402, Brunelleschi rediscovered linear perspective locating the subject at a fixed vantage point removed from the environment of description. This method of translating the knowable was, according to Jay, “the allegedly objective optical order” conceiving of space “as geometrically isotropic, rectilinear, abstract, and uniform.” It was the manifestation of western civilization’s scientific determinism removing the dispassionate gaze of the subject from the natural world it depicted. The monocular eye “was transcendental and universal.” The art of describing emerged with Dutch painting replaced the narrative art of Renaissance painters with naturalist description depicted on the flat canvas. Here the subject’s position and the frame are arbitrary merely clipping a scene from an indifferent, natural world. The scopic regime associated with the baroque implicates the subject’s body by deploying illusion, ambiguity, and contradictions between surface and depth. Jay describes the baroque “as painterly, recessional, soft-focused, multiple, and open.” Twenty five years ago perception was transformed by digital description allowing a dynamic, unstable vantage point through which the architectural object was viewed. From the fly through to the turntable view, the object’s scale and orientation were destabilized. Digital description dismantled the boundary between real and virtual allowing one to augment the other. The potential of these cominglings is best explored by the developers of cinema and video games. We will explore how these industries have incorporated emerging fields of view into their production and in so doing altered the experiences they choreograph. 


Heather Roberge