For Benjamin, architecture was experienced in a state of distraction.
A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction.
Against works of art which demand specifically directed attention (the dominant tradition of art, according to Benjamin), architecture epitomises the art of distraction. There is a frontality implicit in the gallery situation: we are confronted with a work. The belief that art should provoke aligns with this, as do more traditional ideas of art that emphasise expression or presentation. In each case, art is assigned a frontal, even facial role. Film ‘meets this mode of reception halfway’. Although the audience are placed ‘in the position of the critic’, no attention is demanded of them. Architecture, however, in comparison to its ubiquity, is rarely looked at. It is used, but it rarely becomes the subject of an explicit, directed attention. Even when it does suddenly intrude on our awareness, it often does so in part: it is the doorframe, or the reflection off a window, or the shakiness of a handrail, rather than any cohesive architectural unity that arrests us. Architecture occupies the peripheral vision. It is also noteworthy that architecture does not present itself to the individual, but to the mass: architecture as a shared peripheral experience.