We looked at six-foot boards on our desktop screens, zooming in on a drawing like we were walking up to the print on the wall, sticking our noses in it. We don’t have to take turns, all eleven of us “crowding” around the palm-sized detail, on account that we don’t have bodies anymore, just ten or eleven voices. Before we were forced to disperse to our separate home studios we spent well over sixty hours in the same physical space, so we know each other’s voices pretty well, each distinct from the rest. I thought of Janet Cardiff’s soundscapes, each voice and the occasional laughter bringing with it a space of its own.
I still mentally walk down the studio desks to make sure I don’t miss anybody when I send out videoconferencing invites, and whatever comes through the webcam I mentally superimpose on those workspaces still, particularly if I spy their 3D printers in the background.
But with each subsequent meeting I become less interested in what’s behind them and more focused on their faces, particularly when against virtual backgrounds. The early film theorist Béla Balázs understood the new giant faces on moving screens to be a different thing than the faces of actors on a stage; they were more like landscapes, the surface of screen and skin fused into one. I look for signs of comprehension, of ennui, of new resolve.
Eventually the conversation turns away from the work, as all good studio conversations should; architecture is, after all, something always comprehended in a state of distraction. Andrew talks about swans, Ivan wants to make a pie. Their faces (and hands) come in and out of view while mine stay up for the entire three and half hour session, sometimes talking, sometimes listening, occasionally pausing to think before responding to their questions. And all the while I’m hoping that I convey enough reassurance to hide all my well-guarded misgivings about making distance learning work for such a hands-on course like architecture studio. I found a photograph of one of my favorite places in New York and placed myself there. Onward.