The Architecture of Un-blink

futurelab default header

Over at BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh points to an interesting study that estimates that we may be missing as much as 15 minutes of a 150-minute movie through the very act of blinking. What’s even more interesting however, is the discovery that most movie-watchers tend to blink in unison – at non-critical moments of plot or action.

This leads Geoff to wonder if "there is an architectural equivalent to this: a spatial moment inside a building in which it seems safest for us to blink." And he suggests some intriguing possibilities that could be explored as a result.

It is a legitimate thought-experiment and one in line with Geoff’s ‘what-if’ philosophy – but it set me thinking if those architectural ‘blinkspots’ could actually exist – and more importantly, why are they unlikely to exist. Of course, I have the no expertise in architecture to speak of; but I am not letting that hold me back for the moment 🙂

In a time-bound, curated and predominantly mono-sensory environment like a movie, working on the blinkspots can yield benefits – indeed, as one commenter points out, a book by a leading film editor, Walter Murch’s ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’, elaborates a whole editing theory based on blinking and synchronised blinking.

But I’d like to argue that it is primarily a defensive tactic – necessitated by the bounds of show time and the human compulsion of blinking.

In contrast, the viewing time for an architectural piece varies from anything between a fleeting second to an entire lifetime – whereby the above limitations almost vanish. In fact, it’s extremely unlikely that any two people will spend an equal time looking at a building – except probably when they are on a guided tour. (Or when they are driving by something on the highway at a constant speed, in another one of Geoff’s examples.)

Faced with such extensive variations, I’d like to believe it’s impossible to anticipate ‘blinkspots’ with any precision – and unlike in a movie, the viewer can always turn back to catch a glimpse of what he may have missed. (Movie-goers can do that by watching movies repeatedly – or rewinding on a DVD – when they usually report having caught details they initially missed.)

Which is why I think great architecture eschews this defensive tactic for a pre-emptive one. By building views that compel each individual to forgo blinking for some time – to gape with open-eyed wonder.

Not only has blinking been banished for a time, this open-eyed gaping also reframes much of our day-to-day seeing to something as-good-as-blinking, where our eyes are seeing but not taking in the information present in the visual field. Before the gaping moment, our eyes were open but there’s wasn’t much to distinguish it from blinking – a state they will return to soon after.

In fact, when considering competition from other movies (both at the current box office and in time) rather than from blinkspots, some films do indeed adopt the pre-emptive tactic of architecture – by including jaw-dropping visual set pieces that last for a fraction of the movie length. A tacit acknowledgement that you can blink all you want at other points during the movie.

Or so I believe. What do you think?

[Original pic by Stuck in Customs]

Original Post: