There is a difference between seeing and perceiving. Le Corbusier, travelling in Belgium, was amazed by the enormous pyramids he saw through the country. When he noticed that, in fact, they were slagheaps of mining spoil, his enthusiasm waned ‘… suddenly I measure the abyss that can open up between the appearance of a thing and the quality of thought that it evokes’
The gaze holds hidden experiences, knowledge and expectations. Perception is not neutral; we continually compare what we see with situations that we have previously met and assimilated. This is what makes the scientific observations of perception precarious and ‘Gestalt’ laws incomplete.
That holds true as well when we only perceive a fragment or when this figure charged with meaning is blurred. We do not see what we see but what we expect to find. We need these expectations because our memory acts on our perceptions and influences our judgements beyond ‘objective’ truths.
X-ray where we see only a general image composed of dark and light areas. A student of architecture learns to perceive consciously the appearance of landscapes, towns and buildings. He develops an aptitude for seeing and recognizing signs in the environment which enable him to distinguish more sharply, to judge between order and disorder, proportion and disproportion, balance and imbalance, homogeneity and hierarchy, solidity and fragility, significant forms and forms that are accidental or devoid of meaning.
Visiting Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoie or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kaufmann house (Falling Water), he will assess the methods and details which have contributed to the exceptional richness of these works which take on more easily for him than for the layman, a figure-character.
Moreover, the architect cannot limit himself to seeing buildings by means of their visible enveloping planes. He sees the invisible, his vision anticipates the hypotheses that he will be able to make on the interior organization, thickness, structure, space and all that follows.
Being capable of seeing what few others perceive straight away, the architect bears a great responsibility. We can build what others are hardly capable of seeing, we can erect something that shocks or something that pleases. We can speculate on the fact that one day the public will discover at least part of our intentions by incorporating them it its memory. Whatever happens, through his schemes the architect plays a public role. His ‘didactic’ role can help others to perceive and enjoy the built environment with greater subtlety.