It’s been a couple of years now since I last added something to this section and perhaps only a little more recently since I addressed the notion of “distraction” at all in my work. In this period a number of other competing interests have, naturally, crept in and directed my attention elsewhere, yet despite this the concept of “distraction” in relation to the experience of architecture has never lost its allure, nor have I lost my conviction that it stands as a valuable point of critical reflection on the built environment. With this in mind, I am going to present here a follow-up to my last post on the subject and display three visual representation of European cityscapes as captured through an automated photographic process. First though, it necessary (perhaps for myself as much as the reader) to restate this notion of “distraction” in relation to architecture and rearticulate the various points of connection that led to such an understanding in the first place.
In a presentation transcript published in the architectural journal Assemblage, Stan Allen suggests the following to his audience of students and academics in 1995:
The analysis of buildings and spaces in the city often proceeds without questioning the mechanisms of their reception. Models borrowed from the languages of art history assume the attitude of the architectural spectator to be similar to that of the viewer before a sculpture or a painting. 
In the winter of 2014, struggling to define to my tutors (and partly to myself) the scope of my thesis proposal, this statement by Allen proved incredibly useful. It helped articulate and refine a general sense of concern I had towards the prevailing format of architectural criticism. One that typically proceeds according to a state of “attentive concentration”, rarely held in one’s everyday encounter with architecture. In response, I wanted to see if the alternative could be rendered; if it was at all possible to capture architecture as experienced in a state of “distraction.” As I repeated to my tutor at the time in relation to this idea: “architecture is not the artwork hung on the gallery wall but rather is gallery as the artwork itself is engaged with.” What separates architecture from art is utility, ubiquity and often unconscious engagement. This is what I felt should be reflected in its critical consideration and representation, if possible.
Some time later, I began to recognise that one of the central texts in my research would be Walter Benjamin’s famous ‘Work of Art’ essay, not merely for its help in defining these operative states of “attentive concentration” and “distraction” but also for its insistence upon the transformative potential of cinematic montage. Something that, following a deep study into the process of representation, would become one of two means by which the “distracted” experience of architecture might come to be captured and displayed. At this point, I decided for my sanity and for the requirements of a Masters Thesis that the general scope of “architectural criticism” must be reduced in order develop a sufficient depth of enquiry and so, more modestly, the “representation” of such a condition became my primary objective.
“Representation” I defined as a two-fold process. The capture, delivery or generation of the artefact in the first instance and the reception or interaction with the artefact in the second instance. I saw, therefore, my potential to “represent” the “distracted” experience of architecture on both sides: first by disrupting the conventional delineation of the (architectural) object and second by disrupting its reception by the spectator. The first method explored this through “narrative”, focusing instead on the “user” or “narrative agent” and thereby rendering, passively, the built environment as it is activated through their interaction and perception. The second method explored this through “montage.” A process that, considered by Benjamin to be analogous with the “distracted appropriation” of architecture, utilises the “shock effects” of rapidly changing images to induce a similar state in the spectator. By conditioning the visual representations of architecture with a brief temporal existence and a sharp contrast in their content, there is a state of “distraction” induced in the viewer as they seek but fail to focus entirely on what is being represented.
At the time these methodologies were considered to be useful only as separate exercises, however, as we will see in a moment, they can in fact converge and be present alongside one another to vary degrees. I concluded my thesis by identifying which method I felt held the greatest potential for capturing the “distracted” experience of architecture and in what form. I selected “narrative” as I felt that the analogue it held with the prevailing nature of architectural experience was of much greater value than that of “montage.” Which, for me, held a rather tenuous link between the state of the “distracted” user and the “distracted” spectator before montage media. The format that I felt held the greatest potential in this regards was first-person personal video footage, especially when sourced second-hand, outside the sphere of architectural representation. Thereby coming to convey a visually analogous representation of the “distracted” experience of architecture, whereby its significance is not inflated or deflated as a result of this process.
The final link in this chain came around six months after the publication of my thesis. In May 2016 I posted on my blog, thought space, an article about an ‘Imgur’ gallery I had come across online. It fascinated me for a couple of reasons but specifically because in this student’s documentation of his average day (represented through photography and narrative writing) there was a clear quality of “distracted” experience in relation to the built environment. In response, I decided that I would try to capture my environment as experienced in a state of “distraction” by utilising an automated photographic device, such as the ‘Autographer’, which would record “randomly” an equivalent visual experience to that of my own.
Following this article, I decided to use such a device to document a series of casual walks across three European cities. Finally, now over two years later, I have revised and prepared three short clips of those walks (one from each city) in a .gif format below. The following images represent only about 10 percent of the actual footage captured during these walks.
As a representation of architecture or in this case, more broadly, the built environment, these images are most unlike what we would typically expect to see. They leave the viewer with a strange, fleeting impression of their subject rather than anything concrete or tangible. Something closer to a memory or a dream than any clear expository rendering. Within these three representations there are a combination of qualities pertaining to both “narrative” and “montage” as described above. “Narrative” is present most clearly through the congenial “focus” of the images (the visual perception akin to that of the human sight) and through its “sequence” (which follows a natural temporal order of events). “Montage” is also present due in part to the substantial difference in consecutive images (taken many seconds or perhaps even minutes apart) and their fleeting presence on screen (here exposed for only 0.4 of a second before changing).
It’s important, I think, to consider the value of these images more generally and compare them to those that we might otherwise find of these cities. Following a brief Google search, it becomes clear that most of what we encounter is that of the exceptional. Exceptional viewpoints, captured at exceptional times of the day and often in exception circumstances. Here the above images stand as a stark contrast, rendering, largely through their “narrative” operation, the unexceptional… the everyday. A perspective through which the architecture is clearly not itself the object of attention but is instead revealed collaterally through a focus and temporal continuity akin to that of our everyday experience of the world. The “montage” element of the above images creates an additional layer in their reception, which I believe is responsible for this “dream-like” impression left on the viewer. The power of these images is in their ability to communicate the subtleties of the built environment: a general sense of the city as opposed to anything hard or concrete.
In the following article I intend to post, I am going to try and re-represent these images in another format and observe to what extent the “distracted” experience of architecture is communicated to the viewer. I also hope, sparing any further retelling of the ideas behind “distraction”, to reflect a little bit more on this notion today and perhaps plot a course for where it might be taken in the future.
 ALLEN, STAN, ‘DAZED AND CONFUSED’, IN ASSEMBLAGE, 27, (AUGUST, 1995), <HTTP://WWW.JSTOR.ORG/STABLE/3171429> [ACCESSED 17 FEBRUARY 2015], PP.47-54 (P.50)