Selecting and combining visual examples
As you look for suitable visual examples, consider how you will justify your selection. Adding an explanation of why you have selected particular material enhances your argument. You may make aesthetic decisions without thinking about them, but endeavour to note your choices. If you like something, ask yourself why? To focus on justifying your selection, consider the following questions:
- Does it have characteristics or techniques that fit a particular style or movement?
- Does it have unusual characteristics?
- Did it influence other practitioners?
- Is it significant in other ways? If so, why?
- How is your selection a good example of the idea you are discussing?
How you select and combine visual examples impacts your answer to the essay question, and how well you complete the assignment.
Below are some examples of image combinations and essay text that relates to the images. These images and text examples are in response to the essay question: Can the legacies of modernist architecture be seen in today’s built environment? Consider these examples and apply similar criteria when you make your selections.
Group one, comment:
|These three modern villas share characteristics of geometry and simplicity. They prompt interesting comparisons about use of glass and their relationships to the site. Villa Savoye (fig. 1), an archetype of modernist domestic architecture, flaunts its lack of ornament and the ribbon windows are a prominent feature. It does not look like the design takes the site into account – it could be anywhere. Eileen Gray’s villa (fig. 2) shares similar characteristics to Villa Savoye, but nestled on a hillside amongst shrubs, it looks more like it belongs on the site. Johnson’s use of glass, the entire pavilion-like facade (fig. 3), expands the type of view ribbon windows afford. Windows reflect and refract, and thus visually integrate the site.||Good Practice: These three examples are good to compare because they are all domestic buildings, i.e. roughly the same size and function, but they have distinctive relationships to their site.|
Needs Improvement: The student needed to include an example of a similar villa built recently to use as evidence supporting their argument that the influence of modernist architecture can be seen today.
Comment: The main argument, which answers the essay question, could be that the influence of modernist architecture can be seen today. However, unlike Le Corbusier’s archetype, and more like Grey and Johnson, architects now give consideration to the site.
Group two, comment:
|A post-war International Style office building and a contemporary skyscraper, both share the vertical reproduction of space, a key modern technical development. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Lever House (fig. 4) represents a prominent commercial building type for urban areas in the decades after WWII. Its key characteristics are verticality, simplicity, glass and steel. Its appearance is masculine in fitting with the dominant corporate culture. Jeanne Gang’s Aqua (fig. 5) is a skyscraper in Chicago. It uses glass and steel, and thus, it is similar to Lever House. However, the appearance is more gender balanced. Ripple-shape balconies create an effect of pools from reflected skylight across its facade. This style is prominent today. For example, ARM Architects’ William Barak building in Melbourne uses the same balcony device to generate a portrait of the Wurundjeri elder.||Good Practice: These two examples are easy to compare because both are skyscrapers and they both represent the style prominent in their period. They show the changing style of architecture and there is ample evidence – other similar buildings – to support the argument.|
Comment: The main argument, which answers the essay question, could be that the approach modern architects pioneered still has relevance today. However, as a result of more women working in the industry, today architects are overcoming some of the inherent biases the modernist legacy entails.
Note: Curate your research
Carefully consider your selection and combination of visual material. You can use visual material to exemplify particular periods, movements, themes and styles of art, design and architecture. Comparing and contrasting characteristics of visual examples enables you to elaborate on styles and their historical significance. Your examples need to have some similarities to make their differences meaningful. By selecting and combining visual examples, you are curating your research.
Selecting suitable material, and being able to justify your selection, is a strong foundation for your essay. Good examples make it easier to research and write a sophisticated response to the question. Relevant, engaging and significant visual material gives you plenty of ideas to write about. Examples that are not suitable can leave you with nothing much to say. Consider if examples are relevant, engaging and significant.
- Relevant: select visual examples that make a connection to your topic by depicting it, alluding to it, framing it, or being indicative of it.
- Engaging (to you): it will be a better experience writing your essay if you choose examples that inspire you.
- Significant (meaning well-known and respected): selecting significant visual examples helps ensure you have enough resources to develop and support your argument. Significance isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for choosing examples, but it makes finding resources easier.
How do you know if visual material has these qualities? If you feel as though the combination of formal elements is coherent, or the meaning makes sense, then you are on the right track. Think critically as you consider images you might select, but use your intuition too.
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