Header: Elbphilharmonie, Germany, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo credit: Iwan Baan
From the vibrant streets of global megacities to the serene atmosphere of countryside villages, from Rem Koolhaas to Tatiana Bilbao, Iwan Baan‘s photography has been the eye through which we’ve explored some of the great architectural works of the early 21st century. This year, the Vitra Design Museum has welcomed Baan’s work, inviting art, design, and architecture aficionados alike to the exhibition “Iwan Baan: Moments in Architecture”, running from October 21, 2023, to March 3, 2024.
Baan’s work is renowned for the photographer’s gift to intertwine architecture and the people behind it. His photographs are quick, precise, and crisp: Baan can make a building look 5 stars while showing the energetic actors that brought it to life. Builders eating, architects looking around, and clients in awe, the photographer has always shown a deep understanding of how architecture can look both human and ethereal.
The Vitra Design Museum‘s exhibition guides visitors through Baan’s journey since the early 2000s, including film footage and rarely published photographs depicting worldwide traditional and informal architecture – from Yaodong villages, in China, to rock-hewned churchs in Ethiopia, and from self-built multi-story dwellings in Cairo to the Torre David in Caracas.
Iwan Baan has collaborated throughout his career with some of the most prominent architects of our time, like Herzog & de Meuron and Zaha Hadid. The photographer continuously applies different photography techniques to capture the exact moment he catches a glimpse of life in an inanimate structure, like helicopter aerial views, panorama shots, and intimate close-ups, which reveal the multifaceted nature of architecture. The results are spontaneous yet precise images that show buildings in their raw states and full of life and activity.
“What’s important is the story, which is very intuitive and fluid. I am not so interested in the timeless architectural image as much as the specific moment in time, the place, and the people there – all the unexpected, unplanned moments in and around the space, how people interact with that space, and the stories that are unfolding there.”Iwan Baan
Baan’s first encounter with architecture, during a collaboration with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 2004, is also the first chapter of the exhibition. Through a series of pictures depicting both the hardships faced by the workers and the process of raising shiny buildings with glossy facades in Beijing, the visitor gets to learn where Baan’s fascination with architecture began.
The second chapter focuses on Baan’s intuition to get the perfect angle and concept, which is more often than not relied on by the architects. The body of work present in this section includes Zaha Hadid’s Museum in Rome, SANAA’s Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, and Tokyo Ito’s National Taichung Theatre in Taiwan, among many others.
Call him a chronicler of the urban landscape or a global nomad, Baan’s work has taken him through megacities such as Tokyo, Lagos, São Paulo, and Hongkong, where he documents urban evolution through his lenses. His digital camera catches the moment, expected or surprising, pleasant or brutal, individual or communal, and all in a well-composed image.
Baan’s passion also sent him to the most surprising locations, where architecture comes from tradition and ingenuity. Informal buildings in the middle of nowhere-Japan, Burkina Faso, Haiti, or India are part of this chapter, and show how similar human beings are even in cultures separated by thousands of kilometres. The set of pictures shows what is perhaps the world’s largest temporary city in a Hindu festival and the squatters-seized Torre David in Caracas, among other locations that are part of a larger social study showing how raw structures can be appropriated by the community. This exhibition holds more than 600 photographs covering two decades of Baan’s journey, which earned him the Golden Lion of the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, in cooperation with Urban Think Tank and Justin McGuirk.
Supported by Rolex’s Perpetual Arts Initiative, which champions architectural excellence, and the Dutch Consulate General in Germany, the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition “Iwan Baan: Moments in Architecture” puts a new spotlight on the humans behind the structures, highlighting the connections between art, architecture, and Humanity.