Exploring And Editing The American Vernacular

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Architect, Photo-Manipulation, Photography

Exploring And Editing The American Vernacular

Eric Randall Morris


What began as a photo study of the houses and neighborhoods that surrounded me, shifted into a serial exploration of the oddities, peculiarities, and perversions of American vernacular architecture. Beginning as an effort of pure documentation, these edits started to transform into more uncanny and unfamiliar representations of what I was photographing. As the the work developed, priorities shifted, and I realized the story I was telling was not about my surroundings or the streets I walked, but it became an exercise in visual storytelling; translating daydreams into the various architectures I was photographing.


The post-production process became the my storytelling device; I was able to translate thoughts and stretch truths. Architecture itself relies on inherent deceit, and these images operate within that zone of fact and fiction, mixing the (sub)urban sceneries with part wonderland / part nightmare – the pursuit of a hyperreality.



Who influences you graphically?

Atelier Bow-Wow and Pezo von Ellrichhausen right off the top of my head. Both firms engage graphics and architecture in such unique and inspiring ways. Digital artist Mike Winkelmann, widely known as Beeple, who renders surreal retro-futuristic scenes, and Polish artist Jakob Rozalski who creates science-fiction inspired works set in rural Eastern European countrysides, both heavily influence my work and imagination with their ideas + compelling imagery.

Mike Winkelmann 2

Mike Winkelmann

Mike Winkelmann

Mike Winkelmann

I’m also continually influenced by my peers, friends, and past professors; a colleague of mine Galo Canizares runs a design office, office ca, out of Cincinnati, OH and his aesthetics / graphics push boundaries.


What is your work process in terms of idea development from photograph to manipulation?

My process begins before I even take a photo, my mind is already categorizing “good” buildings versus “bad” buildings; I look for the shots with the right shadows, opportunities for alignment, minimal amounts of obstacles or interference. In between the shot and the manipulation, there’s usually a sketching phase, where I’ll doodle possibilities for the edit: vectors, diagram reflections, and tessellation techniques, etc.


Bringing the image into the computer is where the fun is had. After correcting and straightening the perspective, I play between the drawing, the computer, and the imagined reality. I focus on the process, more so than trying to arrive at an image I’m satisfied with; it’s more of an intuitive process, where the transformations are informed through the architecture’s inherent qualities. I find the most fun is in the making (!)


What defines the various manipulations? from repetition to distortion etc.

The buildings define the process for sure. While there is a degree of irreverence towards the original photo, the transformations are nearly always informed from the characteristics of the original (e.g. regularized grids become expanded, linear elements bent or kinked). All the parts and systems of the facade come into play when determining the design direction. The uniqueness of certain architectures has also driven me to develop new editing techniques, and other times there may only be one good window or structural bay to play with. But you make it work, and soon you have a new strategy and a new graphic.



Where do you see this project going?

A next leap for this project would be to travel to more cities. I’ve been titling this project as “An American Hyperreality” but it’s a little disingenuous considering I’ve just hit the East and West coasts. The dream would be to index as many types of vernacular architectures and continue the re-interpretations. This project is about simulacra and simulations, copies and their originals, fact and fiction, and I want to keep blurring the line between real and hyperreal.

Other than that – I see this project going and going and going. I’m not looking to end this any time soon, but looking to see where these investigations take me, see what types of dreams and nightmares emerge.


How important is the notion of story-telling for the architect?

A narrative is crucial to a project, and communicating that is the job of the architect. A building is discussed, drawn, modeled, felt, analyzed, etc. – Without story-telling, the viewer is left to fill in the blanks and inform their own perceptions based on their past and present experiences, and the architect is left forsaking their agency. Story-telling is how we’ve always communicated, and it should be a priority for architects to discover their voice through design.

How does your work as an architect influence how you operate as a graphic designer and vice versa?

Immersing myself into graphic design has made me much more fun of an architect, and architecture has made me a much more rigorous graphic designer. These fields have had really complementary effects on on my design ethos, both pushing and pulling on my sensibilities and instincts. I think working in these parallel design streams has given me a flexibility and agility that wouldn’t have emerged otherwise.

How important is the medium of photography for you?

It’s really everything. A good building can be drawn well, but a great building can be photographed well. Photography also becomes a design tool for architects, just imagining a camera lens snooping around every corner of your building is enough to bring out the perfectionist in you. Photography has made me an inspector of space, it’s made me investigate buildings and their surroundings in a completely new way. Since incorporating photography in my daily life, I see the world with more detail, I feel like an active participant rather than a casual observer.




Eric Randall Morris is a published, award-winning designer living and working in San Francisco. Formally trained as an architect, he holds a a B.S. Arch from Georgia Tech (’11) and an M. Arch from MIT (’14) and has been engaged in the art and architecture realm for the past 10 years. His graphics began as an attempt to catalogue an index of contemporary American Vernacular architecture(s) – which transformed into a continually evolving visual exercise of the elevations and facades of cities + suburbs around him. His work is about actualizing daydreams, and fabricating these surreal new worlds through two dimensions.


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