Yesterday in the architecture galleries of the V&A, I found myself looking at a painting by Charles Robert Cockerell called A Tribute to Christopher Wren, from 1838.
The image is a spatially overwhelming lamination of various buildings all designed by the legendary English architect; in a way, it’s an early predecessor of today’s total city renderings by firms like Foster & Partners and OMA: a complete metropolis designed in one fell swoop by a master architect.
What first came to mind, though, when seeing Cockerell’s image, was something that I’ve mentioned on the blog before – as recently as in the interview with Jim Rossignol – which is that the era of the architectural monograph is over: perhaps we will soon enter the age of the architectural videogame.
In other words, what if Charles Robert Cockerell had not been a painter at all, but a senior games designer at Electronic Arts? His “tribute to Christopher Wren” would thus have looked quite different.
The architect’s buildings would still be visually represented, all standing in the same place, but thanks to the effects of immersive digital media and not the intensely beautiful but nonetheless materially obsolete techniques of a different phase of art history.
Might we yet see, for instance, A Tribute to Sir John Soane, complete with scenes of zombie warfare beneath the arches of ruined bank halls, released by Joseph Gandy Designs Corporation
When it comes time to release a major monograph, MVRDV instead releases a videogame.
Bjarke Ingels has already released a comic book – the game, as another narrative medium, as simply another option for architectural publishing, can’t be far off.
Learning about the buildings of Erich Mendelsohn… by hurling virtual grenades at them.
Until then, here are some more or less unrelated close-up views of another of Cockerell’s works, the otherworldly pyramids, domes, and steeples from The Professor’s Dream (1848), courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Gaming our way through the future of architectural history.