I first came across Andreas Gursky’s work when I saw two of his photographs at the Constructing Worlds exhibition at the Barbican in 2014. Before I even read the caption of “Montparnasse” (left in the image below) which explained how the picture was processed, I knew it had undergone some sort of digital manipulation. Both the human eye and the camera lens distort the image at the ends therefore the building could never be seen as perfectly square as it looks. Later on I read that one of Gursky’s firm beliefs is that: “Reality can only be shown by constructing it, montage and manipulation paradoxically bring us “closer to the truth”.


The philosophical question that inevitably comes right after is: what is truth? How do we define it and, ultimately is it really that important.

Bear with me in this seemingly unrelated mention of the Acropolis, or to be more precise the Parthenon in Athens, which has been pronounced the most perfect temple ever built since ancient times. This is mainly because of the optical corrections that the ancients invented when they realised that the eye naturally distorts what it sees, therefore no line can be seen as straight. Except if it is not straight.


In fact if the distortion is inverted, and the line is bent the opposite way of how our eyes capture it, the brain is tricked into thinking it is straight. The Parthenon looks perfect because it has no straight lines and all its components are slightly distorted. In other words perfection is achieved through deceit.


Because of my architectural training this is how I read the way that Andreas Gursky chooses to focus his interests. And it is rather obvious that I really like his pictures.

Of course their large scale which invokes a sense of awe to the viewer also plays a part. Regardless of what the curators of this exhibition say about Gursky’s work “challenging our ideas of how photography represents reality”, even if we do not choose to work our brains hard on philosophical questions, these photographs are also simply spectacular to look at.


And they do sum up in a straightforward visual manner, many issues that have to do with the environment, architecture, the concept of collective existence, art and fashion. They also deal with more politically charged issues that have to do with capitalism, mass production, pollution and deterioration of natural resources.


Finally there are images that seem more cryptic, like the ceiling of an airport or the blow-up of a grey carpet. One wonders if these photographs have been created in appreciation of geometry and texture or if they are a quasi-philosophical exploration with zen nuances.

One thing is certain: that Gursky’s pictures are very appealing because of both their scale and their themes that fluctuate between absolute simplicity and obscure abstraction.


One may choose a secondary reading into them or just enjoy their visual qualities. However architecture is very present in the majority of these photographs. Which proves the way that the man-made environment and architecture provide much more than a backdrop for life.

Through many of these pictures is clear that architecture is a product of the politics that create it and in its turn it affects deeply the people whose lives unfold within it.


Gursky has said about photography that it is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his own ideas about it. His sceptical position against impartial documentation (if there is such a thing) is proven by his very personal view of what he sees around him. A view that we are also invited to share by observing his pictures. But somehow, this very subjective view of things touches a chord in many people. It is not clear to me if this is because most people see its importance similar to what happens with classical music for example, or if it is because it speaks an easy language that is clear to most, in a way that pop culture does. Both or neither, this is an exhibition not to be missed.


The exhibition will be on until the 22nd of April 2018

Visit Hayward Gallery’s website here



The Chamberlin, Powell & Bon exhibition at the Barbican despite its small size, is worth visiting and I can attest to that as I have enjoyed it twice already. The main exhibit on display is a series of square photographs that were chosen to be featured on the seasonal greeting cards the firm used to send to its clients. The pictures are all square-shaped, similar to the hugely famous Instagram format of the social media with the same name. Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, quite ahead of their time, favoured the square frame recognizing its power.


The context of the pictures though is what is of importance. Looking at these images is like looking through an architect’s eyes. Form, rhythm and composition, shadow and the contrast of light and dark and of course, the human scale. This collection of photographs is a very good example of how architects were trained in the past. Attention to detail and great love for their labour is manifested on their handmade drawings that took months to produce.  The scale rulers, the drawing compass and the triangle on display are reminders of of the architectural synthesis process  as it used to unfold during previous decades. There is no doubt that this process is quite different to the one we have today.


Chamberlin, Powell & Bon were all teaching architecture at Kingston Polytechnic when they entered and won the Golden Lane Estate competition which is situated right next to the Barbican. Golden Lane was and still is a Council Housing project. Since it is often said that with this project the architects developed and tested the ideas they eventually used on Barbican, the latter has often been confused as a social housing project itself. This naturally brings harsh criticism upon the Barbican as it is a known fact that the prices for an apartment in the complex are truly sky-high. You can have a look here.


The Barbican was never meant to be a social housing project. It was supposed to encompass however many concepts that Le Corbusier and other modernist architects developed which definitely did not only have to do with aesthetics. Their goal was to reinvent urban living: to entwine private and public space, to provide cultural spaces and events, gardens and athletic facilities within in the same building complex. That was Modernism’s social agenda that brought humanitarian meaning to architecture for decades. The Barbican will always be an architectural monument for modernism and its galleries and performance spaces will continue to provide high quality cultural services. Still its most amazing feature is Barbican Centre’s spaces which are open to the public. Many times I go there and bring my computer along with my lunch to spend time writing next to the lake or in the foyer. The free wi-fi is much appreciated by many people who come here to work or study as friendly spaces where you can sit without having to buy and consume something are getting fewer by the minute.

chamberlin powell bon 6

Left Instagram by architect Irena Mavromati

Unfortunately the extraordinary humanitarian ideas of architects that dreamt post war urban utopia are fading faster than ever. The Barbican is stuck in limbo between the idea of free-for-all-quality space and the luxury overpriced apartments that only incredibly rich people can afford. Therefore it is not only a unique brutalist monument but also a symbol of the architectural dream of creating a better life for all and not only for the few privileged. The current situation of overpriced housing in London, along with gentrification, privatisation and reduction of social housing prove it without a shadow of a doubt.

This little exhibition that will remain open until the 17th of May though is a modest reminder of architectural ideals in their original form. The penetrating visual observations of architects that naively chose to dream of a better future.

Architecture has been a favourite subject for artists throughout history. One of the obvious reasons is that it is very static and geometric but I find this to be too shallow of an explanation. Anything that qualifies as architecture constitutes the man-made part of our environment and as such it materializes its social structures and politics. However it also carries multiple layers of symbolism referring to the human condition. Still -as the curators of Constructing Worlds exhibition Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone have eloquently mentioned- it is extremely challenging to translate its material and sensorial aspects in a two dimensional image. This collection of images demonstrates with an interesting variety of styles of photography how this obstacle can be overturned into an asset. The very personal and ultimately subjective point of view of each photographer, highlights qualities that make up for the loss of the third dimension.

Left: Berenice Abbott Night view, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Right : Berenice Abbott Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Left: Berenice Abbott Night view, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. Right : Berenice Abbott Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932 © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

The photos on display at the first floor where the exhibit begins are more or less objective in documenting their era. Downstairs on the contrary the photographs are more subjective and artistic. The images are organised in a chronological order so the first artist one comes across is Berenice Abbott who is famous for her breathtaking 1930’s New York photos. This old-school depiction of the city which architects will always be fascinated with, is spectacular. Artistically and compositionally, the photos are perfectly balanced but most importantly they somehow manage to capture the frenzy of innovation that New York embodied at that time. Its aspiration for expansion and the hope of a new world are encompassed in them and therefore they are eternally modern.

Left: Walker Evans Frame Houses. New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008060-E] © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Right : Allie Mae Burroughs (Source Wikipedia)

Left: Walker Evans
Frame Houses. New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008060-E]
© Walker Evans Archive,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Right : Walker Evans : Allie Mae Burroughs (Source Wikipedia)

While Abbott is known for zooming out and looking from afar Walker Evans is very famous for a series of pictures that he took to document the devastating effects of the Great Depression. In order to do so he zooms-into the lives of people in an almost voyeuristic way. He looks at every detail of their houses, in fact he looks close into every detail of their faces concentrating more on the personal aspect of architecture which reveals also a lot about the collective.


Left : Julius Shulman Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig) © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10) / Right : Julius Shulman Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig) © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Those who have studied architecture or its history should be quite familiar with the Shulman photos than come up next in this exhibition. The legendary case study houses, naïve as they may seem in showing-off post war luxury and picture-perfect families, are considered historically important. The Eames and Koenig houses are design prototypes that haunted generations of architects who tried to follow their example.


Left :Lucien Hervé High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 Photograph by Lucien Hervé. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41). © J. Paul Getty Trust With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris and Judith Elkan Hervé. / Right : Lucien Hervé High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955 The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41). © J. Paul Getty Trust With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier,

Lucien Hervé was not only admired for his unique talent but also for the opportunity he had to be Le Corbusier’s chosen photographer in documenting his iconic work. He travelled to Chandigarh to witness the construction of the High Court of Justice and the Secretarial Building. The images reveal the dramatic chiaroscuro that is created by the concrete and India’s sunlight and are works of art in their own right.


Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Bernd & Hilla Becher installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Bernd and Hilla Becher have contributed the photographs of 21 water towers displayed in a rectangular grid formation. Sculptural and monolithic as their subjects are reveal the contradictory beauty of industrialisation that most contemporary architects are drawn to.


Left : Stephen Shore Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1974 Image courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London © 2014 Stephen Shore / Right : Stephen Shore Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 Image courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London © 2014 Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore’s photographs document the environment where pop culture occurred. They depict everyday spaces, back streets, garages and fire escapes but their vibrant technicolor palette along with examples of design like cars or characteristic fonts on street signs, unmask the very specific age that they derived from.

In the downstairs part of the exhibition where the work of more contemporary artists is displayed things get much more personal. In fact the images at times seem almost psychoanalytical revealing more about the actual photographers than about the buildings and their architects.This does not mean that architectural photographers of previous decades did not have a personal point of view. True to their time though their opinions were more subtle and sought to highlight the buildings more than their own perceptions of them. Contemporary photography is less detached and objective. It is actually the exact opposite: involved and engaging and by putting the photographer’s interpretation forth it speaks of an artist’s dreams or nightmares but also of politics, social structures and conflict.


Left : Hiroshi Sugimoto World Trade Centre (Minoru Yamasaki), 1997. Courtesy of Hiroshi Sugimoto / Middle: Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hiroshi Sugimoto installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hiroshi Sugimoto installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

One of the exhibits I liked the most was of Hiroshi Sugimoto. He chooses architectural icons such as Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Yamasaki’s Twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The photographs are out of focus and simple as this idea might be the effect is spectacular and the possible interpretations can vary. These buildings need no introductions they are historic lampposts and as such they hold actual or symbolic memories for most.


Left : Hélène Binet Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, Untitled 9, July 1997. Courtesy of Hélène Binet / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Hélène Binet installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Hélène Binet has photographed Daniel Libeskind’s famous Jewish Museum in Berlin during construction. The play of light through the dramatic windows of a building that is considered a sculptural monument on its own, seem even more interesting as rough slits in the wall. Without glass panes and finishes weirdly imply that they could have remained like that, unfinished.


Left : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Andreas Gursky installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images / Right : Constructing Worlds: Architecture and Photography in the Modern Age Andreas Gursky installation images Barbican Art Gallery 25 Sept 2014 – 11 Jan 2015 © Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Andreas Gursky chooses to alter architecture through digital manipulation. This as a method is largely used in our days although the effect is not always so blatantly outspoken. In Gursky’s work the goal is to make a very specific social commentary about the way societies are structured and how these structures are reflected on the built environment.


Left : Bas Princen ‘Mokattam Ridge’, (Garbage Recycling City), Cairo, 2009 Courtesy of Bas Princen / Right : Bas Princen Cooling Plant, Dubai, 2009. Courtesy of Bas Princen

Another photographer who creates truly haunting images is Bas Princen. His work is focusing on five cities Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, Beirut and Dubai. He is interested mostly in urbanity and the way that cities by expanding reveal a lot about the social fabric that creates them. I stayed quite a while in front of the photo of Mokattam (Cairo) where every inch of open space in the area depicted is covered with trash as the city’s economy is based on recycling. I felt similar awe by looking at the image of the cooling plant in Dubai. Sleek, megalithic and soul-less brought to my mind the black slate surrounded by apes at the beginning of Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey.


Guy Tillim Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, 2008 © Guy Tillim. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg (Diptych)

A similar feeling of abandonment is evoked in the photos of Guy Tilly. Late-modernist post colonial blocks in decay speak eloquently about the false promises that were given to Africans. Decay is also one of the central themes in Simon Norfolk’s photographs but this decay is inflicted suddenly on the cities that he visited because of war. Sadness but weirdly also irony is the message that he seems to convey, especially in the images of vibrant natural sunset colours.


Left : Simon Norfolk A security guard’s booth at the newly restored Ikhtiaruddin citadel, Herat, 2010 – 2011. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk / Right : Simon Norfolk Former Soviet-era ‘Palace of Culture’, Kabul, 2001 – 02. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk

The large format pictures of Nadav Kander who has travelled in China to document activities and structures across the massive Yangtze River portray a country that is extremely contradictory. Traditional but modernised, communist but expanding with capitalist aggression. Vast but densely populated.


Left : Nadav Kander Chongqing XI, Chongqing Municipality, 2007 © Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery. / Right : Nadav Kander Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006 © Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery.

Iwan Baan photographed Torre David, the Centro Financiero Confinanzas in Caracas, Venezuela. A huge tower block that due to the 1994 financial crisis was left unfinished and empty for a decade. Eventually it was squatted by no less than 3000 inhabitants that transformed it slowly but efficiently until it became habitable. Their apartments and communal activities are displayed in these images which document an impressive collective venture that seemed to have worked wonderfully for a number of years. The housing shortage which is a global problem and a possible solution are both mentioned here along with Torre David’s unfortunate ending when its residents were evicted in the summer of 2014.


Left : Iwan Baan Torre David #2, 2011 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. / Middle : Iwan Baan Torre David #10, 2012 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. / Right : Iwan Baan Torre David #1, 2011 Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Architectural photography has changed a lot throughout the years and this exhibition follows its transition. The photographers portray the buildings and the history of the people who created them because undoubtedly in observing architecture closely one is actually looking at humanity and its ways of inhabiting the world. This collection of images reveals a lot about political history and art history as well. We see clearly how artists true to their time crossover from a hopeful but also clean-cut way of being to a deeper, quasi- psychoanalytical manner of looking at society and its material creations. Uncomfortable as it might be, our world seems to be getting increasingly unfriendly and with more conflict than ever and it is no coincidence that these artists choose to highlight that.

If you are in London until the 11th of January do not miss the chance to catch this exhibition.

Find the exhibition website here

Read more information about the photographers at the exhibition here

Find a podcast of curators Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone discussing the photographers’ work here


Ordinary beauty is quite an interesting title for this exhibition because these photographs are not very ordinary at all. Smith’s editing eye and the way his compositions are chosen are truly remarkable. The angle of the frames, the light and of course his strategic choice of introducing objects that refer to the human body. In doing so, regardless of the fact that people are usually absent in his photographs, the human presence is always implied. I believe this potentially derives from his architectural training. Usually in architects’ drawings and illustrations the human scale is evident but actual human bodies are absent. Architects are poetic this way. They are trained to be sensitive to peoples’ needs which are supposed to be their priority, however more often than not human bodies are absent in their representations.

My first impression when I entered this exhibition was that the quality of these photographs was superb. Which actually did not explain the fact that I was slightly bored and not very excited to write about them. It took me a whole month I believe to get around writing this article.


Still I cannot deny that I liked quite a few of the subjects depicted. For example the bench with the plants growing through it stayed with me because even though Smith was a trained architect he shows a lot of respect, or one might even say awe, for nature and its ability to take over human creations. In fact in some ways Smith shows he is not that into the man-made environment even though architecture seems to be the centre of his attention. Ultimately architecture seems to be almost a necessary evil in these images when what actually prevails is nature and the decay it brings, which is inescapable.


Undeniably all artists have their own private obsessions. The subjects that speak to them, are their inspiration and what they choose to depict. For Edwin Smith the underlying subject in his photographs is the past or rather a world that is destined to disappear. Hence his pictures are always filled with nostalgia and intense emotion. As I have already mentioned the compositions are great and he is unique in revealing all that is poetic in things that otherwise would have been seen as mundane and unimportant. However there was something in this whole collection of pretty images that did not agree with me.


Probably it had to do with the fact that this overall sentiment of nostalgia is not very exciting. When people start reminiscing too much about the past and glorify it by saying that things were much better then than now, you know that they are growing old. And it is a known fact that feeling old has nothing to do with age. Being in the present and anticipating the future is young, while being nostalgic and resentful of change is old. People can be young or old at any age. If they are old in a young age a possible way to describe them is conservative.


This is what I did not like in this exhibition. Smith is supposed to be one of the most iconic British photographers and actually the one that represents Britishness better than most and indeed he has done an amazing job in focusing on history and its importance. He has also done a great job in producing a body of work that is ultimately a “memento mori”, a reminder of human mortality. This is achieved through the importance that is given to the power of decay and the way in which it is implied that nature is destined to destroy whatever man has created.


However there are some things that are very intrinsic to Britishness that are totally left out of these images. Eccentricity, novelty, innovation which all have one foot already in the future and look forward to change. Smith’s images focus in the past and whatever is destined to disappear and die. Naturally death is always present within life and truly there are no new beginnings without something being lost or left behind. There is always pain over the loss but the pain is partly overtaken by the joy of the anticipation of the new. Here the new is not even implied. This very conservative way of looking at things is most definitely not what speaks to my heart. Still this exhibition is very much worth seeing.

The exhibition will be on until the 6th of December 2014

Find out more on RIBA’s website here

hawksmoor-somerset1Hawksmoor’s architecture is truly inspired and has managed to remain contemporary even though it was created a long time ago, specifically at the beginning of the 18th century. In a previous article written about a Hawksmoor exhibition at the Royal academy about a year ago, I mentioned that a halo of mystery surrounds his work. Strange and often obscure characteristics have been attributed to both him and his churches. I believe that the dark tales that have been spread around him mostly have to do with his unique talent that makes his work stand out centuries after it was created. His buildings do not demonstrate any aesthetic obsessions or recurring formal patterns. Many talented architects have partaken in collectives or schools that dictated certain styles or a degree of uniformity in their aesthetic. However each of Hawksmoor’s churches seems to have a ‘life’ of its own, unique, complete, inspired and inspiring. This is I believe where all the mystery derives from: the fact that he cannot be categorised. His work is too free and society has disliked its free spirits as often as it has glorified them.


These buildings have aged gracefully and visiting any of them, one experiences the rich quality of space they create both in their interior and in the street they are located in. They are known for their spires which bear very few similarities to each other. St.Luke’s in Old Street for example has a most unusual vertically striped obelisk for a spire. St. George’s in Bloomsbury has horizontal ribbing and King George’s statue on top surrounded by sculptures of mythical creatures at its base.

Christ Church’s (Spitalfields) analogies with its portico and stairs and most importantly its location that renders it visible from a distance, has an individuality, a presence. I am not exactly sure of how I can describe it but it stands its ground with a sort of pride. In fact all of Hawksmoor churches stand their ground with pride and act as landmarks and centres of orientation.


The Somerset House exhibition on Hawksmoor churches that I visited examined closely each building. Architectural photographer Hélène Binet, with her beautiful large format photographs shared her attentive and very penetrating point of view. Zooming out she observes the churches from far away documenting how they affect their surroundings. Then coming close, she looks at the details and discovers the very visible traces of time on them. Elegant wire structures held resin scale models of the spires giving a 3D perspective to the experience.


Going through the rooms and looking at these photos I was struck (once more) with the realisation that some architecture is so unique that remains timeless and should be rediscovered again and again as we never stop learning from it or appreciate it. A talented photographer’s point of view when it is as poetic, reveals new sides to familiar places.

Looking at these pictures brought to mind Jean Cocteau’s quote from A Call to Order (1926) (Le Rappel a l’ ordre) :

“Such is the role of poetry. It unveils, in the strict sense of the word. It lays bare, under a light which shakes off torpor, the surprising things which surround us and which our senses record mechanically”


Exhibition’s web site here

Hélène Binet’s web site here

More about Nicholas Hawksmoor here

Previous article on Hawksmoor from Architecture as here

I first started to figure out why I found architecture so appealing when I was still a student. It was because of the way it combined art with science. Science counterbalanced art’s arbitrary vagueness and art gave meaning to science’s dry strictness. Naturally I was not always successful in balancing the two but I nevertheless respected them equally. The last few decades however, aesthetics have been much more favoured and in the words of Franco LaCecla from his book ‘Against Architecture’, architects are increasingly ‘selling’ themselves as public artists. It seems that the mystic bond of art and science is broken, or at least severely damaged.

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

Thus a new kind of over-designed architecture has emerged and it is one that seems to be lacking in substance. Or is it that consciously the majority of architects choose to turn a blind eye to both practicality and social issues and instead obsess in a neurotic manner over colour palettes and high-tech finishes? Whatever the reason it is impressive that we increasingly overestimate aesthetics but still manage to let architectural art gradually slip further and further away. Of course discussing architecture as art is rather dangerous as it is highly subjective. Especially since there are so many other factors involved in its evaluation, like functionality, social and political impact and so forth.

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

Regardless of architecture’s complexity and multifaceted nature there is no doubt that it is an art and besides its ability to affect people’s lives in a very literal way, it can also have a strong emotional impact on them as well.

Again in my student years I remember coming across Le Corbusier’s famous quote:

“You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work.
But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: “This is beautiful.” That is Architecture. Art enters in“.

What Le Corbusier describes here is something that happens secretly and its mechanism is not easy to grasp nor copy. It is fleeting and vague but also strong and pervasive.

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

Geraldo de Barros, Fotoformas, 1948-50

The photographs that Geraldo De Barros took throughout his career somehow manage to sum up everything that moves me about architecture. Geometry, axes and vectors and the casting of shadows. Penetrating magnifications of seemingly irrelevant structural details. The human scale. The vastness of nature and the way that architecture manages to tame it by providing cosy shelters.

Of course it is people who are emotional not buildings, but people live their lives in buildings and they get attached to their surroundings because this is the way they dwell, by getting emotionally involved. Years ago I read a book that explains that this happens because of crypto-religious tendencies*. Our primitiveness reveals itself each time a space acquires special meaning by association to our own personal life-story. Spaces get appropriated symbolically, a street corner is scary to me because it will forever remind me of a bike accident I had there and a particular cafe will seem depressing as it will always be the place where a lover broke up with me etc. Regardless of the fact that I partly agree with this theory, I cannot disregard the fact that it diminishes architecture’s ability to evoke emotional responses on its own, which I most definitely believe in as well.

Geraldo de Barros, Sombras, 1996-98

Geraldo de Barros, Sombras, 1996-98

Geraldo de Barros somehow manages to distil the essence of this bond between people and spaces without being graphic by referring to specific stories. This is why his photographs are truly poetic. A poet shares an image that resonates with feeling but rarely reveals the exact information that brings on the emotion. De Barros is considered a very important artist in Brazil though unfortunately he is not that known in the rest of the world. However he lived in Europe at the beginning of his career and he was very much influenced by that era’s artistic schools and movements. This is evident throughout his work, especially some of the Fotoformas reminded me a lot of Bauhaus photos of buildings or Moholy-Nagy’s photograms. The photographs on display at Photographers’ Gallery are either produced at the very beginning or the very end of his career as in the middle he was not that interested in photography. Apparently for quite a few years he was a successful industrial designer and he owned his own furniture company.

Geraldo de Barros, Sombras, 1996-98

Geraldo de Barros, Sombras, 1996-98

Looking through someone’s lens is as close as one can get to looking though their eyes. De Barros saw space and understood its geometry as intensely as he understood its symbolic possibilities. I believe he was moved by spaces the same way that architects are. He communicates his understanding of the world by the use of an architectural language that is stripped of mundane elements and thus is elevated to a higher level. The images resonate like music, they tremble and shake with feeling and beauty.

Geraldo de Barros, top left untitled from Fotoformas  and bottom right Self-portrait from Fotoformas 1948-50 / top right and bottom left Sombras, 1996-98

Geraldo de Barros, top left untitled from Fotoformas and bottom right Self-portrait from Fotoformas 1948-50 / top right and bottom left Sombras, 1996-98

*Mircae Eliade (1959), The sacred and the profane, London: Harcourt

The exhibition will be on at The Photographers’ Gallery until the 7th of April.

See more about it at the Gallery’s website here

Geraldo de Barros website here

Coming across this exhibition I was very intrigued. The press release explained that: “Homeless settlements exist as liminal spaces” and naively I was interested in the way identity and home are defined by limited means  within precarious environments.

Ben Murphy, Homes of the American Dispossessed

Getting to the AA I was confronted immediately with an absolute contradiction: the highly privileged university decorated by images of poverty and misfortune. It was as if this very contradiction secured even more everyone’s position. The exhibit was displayed at the cafe where no one was sporting anything less than the latest mac. Students, teachers and visitors were having their coffee or tea, working and contemplating their possibly privileged future while all around them the photos were documenting lives of people with a difficult present and most probably very little aspirations for the future. A student was having a tutorial and her tutor was visibly giving her a hard time because she was crying her eyes out. I guess her almost priceless architectural education was breaking her heart, while exactly over her head was a picture of someone’s possessions, thrown in the dirt, attempting to create a home.

That image was enough for me and I walked out of the building to get some fresh air. This incident was as much hypocrisy and conscious blindness as I could take for the day. It makes one wonder about ethics when poverty is examined as a matter of aesthetics.

Franco La Cecla in his very interesting book “Against Architecture” states that “it is terrifying to use the misery of the world just to demonstrate how up-to-date and ahead of everyone ‘archistars’ are. He also says that ‘the world as a problem has the right to enter upper-class drawing rooms and insider studios’ in order for the fake sympathisers to wash their hands from any responsibility for its state.

I am not sure of the photographer Ben Murphy’s agenda in taking these pictures. This article is mainly referring to the decision of having  the exhibition in one of the most expensive and exclusive architectural universities in the world, the Architectural Association. After all, the architectural trend of looking at humanity’s pain pretending to care is undoubtedly in fashion. However the built products of the ‘archistar’ practices attest the exact opposite and prove Michael Sorkin statement* : “branding is merely another excuse for power’s concentration at the top.”

*Michael Sorkin “Brand Aid;the Lexus and the Guggenheim (Further Tales of the Notorius B.I.Gness), Harvard Design Magazine 17

Ben Murphy’s work to be found here

AA exhibition information to be found here

photo via

%d bloggers like this: