Photography as a design tool
How to re-imagine a 20th Century architectural landmark? Drawing on the Smithsons’ interest in understanding how buildings and spaces change over time, as well as on our historical and grounded research, we used photography as a tool to research the evolution of the Economist Plaza and guide our project for the ensemble's restoration.
Working on the Conservation Framework for the Economist Plaza, in conversation with academics and the Smithsons’ family too, we uncovered that the Smithsons had conceived the three buildings as elements of the townscape, “fragments of the city” to be experienced kinetically.
Having catalogued historical photographs, we attempted to map the original patterns of movement within the Plaza, the public space at the heart of the ensemble; "the space between". As a comparison, we set this speculative reading against studies of more recent movement paths, and discovered that the space's original "urban choreography" had been subtly eroded by subsequent changes. As a result, the Plaza had become less vital, more a cut-through than a place to dwell. This research, along with the Smithsons' writings demonstrating their intention to bring vitality to the ensemble, reinforced our aim to make its public space more welcoming and accessible to a wider audience. As such our scheme sought to restore the lost dynamism and to define an urban choreography more attuned to the 21st century.
While researching the project, we came across the work of Michael Carapetian, who, in 1964, took the most iconic picture of the complex: “The Man on the Economist Plaza”, possibly one of the most significant images of history of architectural photography. Rejecting conventional colour photography of empty buildings basking in the sun, Carapetian chose to capture the project in the rain, revealing "the materiality of the building, the sensitivity of the materials used, scale of the elements and how well they fitted in with the context”. His radical approach to photography spawned a whole new approach to recording architecture.
In 2018, DSDHA and Tishman Speyer commissioned Michael to return to the Plaza and capture it once again in his photographs after the complex’s recent restoration.
Photography: Michael Carapetian