I encountered my first mirrored structure as a teenager. Millennium Park’s “Cloudgate” in downtown Chicago, newly uncovered, showed early signs of promise. The floating kidney bean attracted tourists near and far for its “selfie”-friendly surfaces before front-facing cameras became standardized on smartphones. Still I store grainy photos of a friend and I, taken by a metallic-pink point-and-shoot camera.
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of featured, cutting-edge architecture utilizing reflective external-facing surfaces. See the samples here, there, and there. Mirrors cover everything from Art Galleries to public restrooms.
The bubbling fascination with mirror as an exterior surface repurpose the original function of the looking glass.
For generations, humans spent days analyzing our appearance for the readiness of the outside world. We look at these reflective surfaces to scrutinize and correct ourselves. When spinach nestles in our teeth, when mascara runs down our cheek, and when an outfit needs adjustment, mirrors are our guide.
And it makes me think, these mirrors on buildings could hold a key. We admire imposing structures with carved and painted ornateness because it shows craftsmanship. The everyday eye values packed charm. It pans concrete structures as pedestrian subjugating the common materials as worthy of our feet, but not our awe.
But in this new world, with mirrored buildings that bounce back an image of us, we see the world we inhabit. These surfaces cast light on what lies beyond us. The setting we stand in, its interstices, and those that move within it.
As our eyes land on mirrored buildings, it bounces our vision elsewhere. While the mirror’s original purpose found us narrowing in to critique, these mirrors stretch our exploration to notice and discover.
The Eyes we Gain
“The Bean” no longer enchants me in close proximity to capture selfies. Now, when I return to the mirrored Kidney Bean, I contemplate from a perimeter. The mirror unveils unexpected newness to familiarity. The same skyline, but with a breathing life that puts people, cars, and light in revitalizing spaces. This might be maturity, to attain perspective from a steady fixture. Wiser, older eyes.
Though, it might be something else. I posit humans behold “out there” more in difficult times. We favor our surroundings over ourselves. And these mirrored buildings only further encourage that.