Category Archives: Architecture

Barns of Western Pennsylvania, Revisited


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Isenberg Barn, Alexandria, Pennsylvania, 2005

As a professional photographer, my experience with architecture is not so much the history or study of as it is one of practical knowledge. You need to learn the hallmarks of the different genres to speak with some intelligence to various clients. Before working as an architectural photographer for Carnegie Museum of Art in 2004, I really only knew of Frank Lloyd Wright and a handful of other names, but of course still could pick out visually interesting buildings and enjoy the differences between eras.

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Come see Architecture + Photography at the Heinz Architectural Center, closing May 26!
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In spring 2005 I was asked to take photographs for an exhibition titled Barns of Western Pennsylvania: Vernacular to Spectacular. It would be the first time the museum would contract a photographer to do an entire exhibition for them in this manner. I was excited, as most photographers would be—barns are cool subjects to photograph. I admit that I knew almost nothing of the various genres of barn architecture! I was soon immersed in the various types of structures that dotted the landscape in the area. I grew up in the area, so I was surprised to find out that there were unique building styles that defined western Pennsylvania. No longer was a barn just a barn. I had been in a few of course, but I did not grow up on a farm, so there was a steep learning curve.

Boscy Barn

Boscy Barn

The approach was to be about the style and construction, not so much about use or who and what inhabited them. The list that curator Lu Donnelly had put together was pretty extensive, covering from the western edge of PA to near State College, and from Erie to just north of the Maryland border. I started with the two closest to me, both very much Pennsylvania type barns. I tried to contact the owners via phone but did not get an answer nor did they have answering machines. So I just took a chance and drove over.

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Brunch at Alter Barn

At first, the Alter Barn did not look like much. I did realize its structure now as a forebay barn, a multilevel designed to accommodate the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I went to the farm house and rang the bell. I was ushered into the kitchen to meet with the owner. He was not working the farm himself anymore due to age and ailment. He began to tell me the history of the farm and who was using the barn for a few horses and cows. I knew I needed to go and photograph but was getting a living history lesson of the farm and its use. He said go ahead and do what I needed to, just watch your step—for the obvious reason as well as some of the floorboards in the barn may not be as secure as possible. I assured him I’d be careful and went about my business.

I was first greeted by the smith who was shoeing one of the horses being kept there. I had never seen it done, so my education was beginning in earnest. I walked around the barn and did a lot of exterior photos. Again, it did not look like it was in stellar condition. I then pushed one of the large doors open. Light and sound changed instantly. Everything became softer. Sound was muffled yet you could hear a creak from the other side of the barn as if the offended plank was right beside you. The smell was of earth, the wood, the hay, all had a quieting effect. The light was warm and diffuse, streaming in between the siding, breaking up then reconfiguring itself to illuminate everything in a unique way. I started climbing around the hay, looking at all the aged farm implements at rest but still looking like they had a job to do. One of the first photos that I did inside that day continues to be one of my all time favorites (below).

Alter Barn Hayloft

Alter Barn Hayloft

As I worked through the afternoon and kept finding wonderful shot after wonderful shot I realized that this was a different kind of architecture. It was alive, it was active. I began to realize that it had a life and a story all of its own. It was intertwined with its owner like no other building I had ever been in. It was open to the elements yet was shelter.

I also realized that showing all of this was actually my job! I went down to the lower levels that house the animals but none were to be found. They were outside grazing and doing what cows and horses do. As I started shooting all of this, the inhabitants did begin to come up to the building. They did not seem to mind me too much, but I did get a few looks from the cows that made me wonder a bit.

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Take a picture, why don’t ya?

I became intrigued with their lives within this structure. I realized how much a barn is designed to facilitate man and beast together in their daily activities.  Not many other places are designed with that in mind.

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Neumeyer Barn

The second farm that I approached (Neumeyer) has what is called a stone end Sweitzer barn. It too housed a few interesting characters. I walked to the the farm house again. This time I was greeted by three dogs on respective chain runs that made plenty of noise, but I could walk past them to the house. The farmer came to the door and I introduced myself and what my purpose was. He was aware that I was coming but not when. He was very guarded and was not at all trusting of me. He said that I could do all I wanted outside but to not go into the barn. He mentioned injury and insurance as the reason and was not going to sign any release forms. Didn’t like people that needed a piece of paper to have an agreement. I agreed not to trespass and added that I believed his dogs would keep an eye out for me. His response was priceless.

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Neumeyer Milk Stall

“Don’t worry about the dogs. Watch out for the Goat! He’s a sneaky one.” He walked with me and began to explain how his goat liked to come up to people all innocent like, then begin to chew their clothes, and when you tried to get away it would head butt them. As I approached the barn the goat showed his face out of the side door and began to walk up to us. He seemed rather comical as we approached. Only one eye seemed to focus on you. The other pointed in another direction entirely. The farmer reiterated “Don’t let him fool you.” I told him that he was the first person I ever met with a “Watch Goat.” He seemed to like that comment and began to tell me about the farm. The more we talked and the more questions I asked the more he began to show me around. To this day I feel that because I was wearing a hat and not a suit, something he commented on, he felt he could at least trust me a little bit. I wore a hat to every farm after that.

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“Don’t worry about the dogs. Watch out for the goat! He’s a sneaky one.”

He eventually gave me a tour of the entire barn, both inside and out. I was shown how an old fashioned dairy farm works. Told how he was the third generation to use the barn but would be the last. He didn’t want his daughters working as hard as he had. I heard stories from him growing up here and how he had swung from ropes and beams off of the rafters as a teenager. The barn had been added to over the years to facilitate growth, new types of animals, and whatever farming techniques are being used at the time.

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Neumeyer Hayloft

On the outside, the barns have an “overworked” look I like to call it. They have stood for a long time with minimal repair. Inside, they take on a whole world unto themselves. sparse light, yet still a bright atmosphere. Hard work is done here no doubt about it, yet almost serene in feeling. All manner of creatures are in there, but just living, not competing.

To me, the architecture and design was more about the heart of the farm than about the actual structure. This is architecture with a life and a life story. Some soaring and grand. Some with a “How did this stay up so long?” look to it. All with a character not found in any high rise. Every corner used—nothing wasted.

Architecture + Teenie Harris


Charles "Teenie" Harris," Dramatic sky seen from Penn Avenue near Homewood, c. 1943,  gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1996.69.224 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dramatic sky seen from Penn Avenue near Homewood, c. 1943, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1996.69.224 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Teenie Harris is perhaps best known for his ability to photograph people and capture their spectrum of expressions as well as truthfully document their life events. He was surrounded by family, friends, and a large community who seemed to be drawn to him and offered their trust to his lens, as well as frequently “photobombed” the margins of his frame while he was on assignment.

But Harris also had a keen eye for architecture and the urban landscape—he was known to have a deep love for the city of Pittsburgh, and at times it seems as if the city itself was another member of his community. His landscape and architectural images show the same intimacy and the deliberate and careful composition that he used when photographing children playing in the street or a family being evicted from their home.

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Come see Architecture + Photography at the Heinz Architectural Center, closing May 26!
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He quit school after the eighth grade, had no formal photographic training, and likely did not visit major exhibitions of photography outside of Pittsburgh. He saw thousands of images created by photojournalists in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and magazines such as Life. Yet many of his architectural images echo elements from the Modernist movement in photography that took place in the few decades before his own work. As the Heinz Architectural Center’s Architecture + Photography exhibition closes next week, I wanted to take a quick look at Teenie’s contributions to the field.

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Garage, possibly Achermans Auto Service, with two wooden doors, signs advertising Champions spark plugs, and oil can on ground, c. 1938-1945, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14084 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Garage, possibly Achermans Auto Service, with two wooden doors, signs advertising Champions spark plugs, and oil can on ground, c. 1938–1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14084 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Garage, possibly Store entryway with mannequins modeling furs and broken door window, c. 1940-1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38338 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Garage, possibly Store entryway with mannequins modeling furs and broken door window, c. 1940–1945, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38338 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Brick building with Pepsi and "Meats" signs in window and corrugated metal awning, street no. 622, c. 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.50618 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Brick building with Pepsi and “Meats” signs in window and corrugated metal awning, street no. 622, c. 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.50618 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Window set in brick wall at construction site, with brick building in background, c. 1950-1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.42032 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Window set in brick wall at construction site, with brick building in background, c. 1950–1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.42032 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

The largest portion of his architectural images was taken for documentation purposes.  He photographed the buildings that housed businesses—and often over and over, as one business replaced another—for advertisements or Pittsburgh Courier work. It is possible that some of the pictures he made of residencies were freelance work for his studio.  And he documented poor housing conditions, fires and accidents, new construction, and demolitions for the Courier.

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Car parked in front of La Salle Beauty School, 2107 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1938-1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3231 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Car parked in front of La Salle Beauty School, 2107 Centre Avenue, Hill District, c. 1938–1940, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3231 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Small house with block and brick foundation, and small wooden porch and stairs, on lot surrounded by trees, c. 1950-1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.40378 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Small house with block and brick foundation, and small wooden porch and stairs, on lot surrounded by trees, c. 1950–1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.40378 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Construction of IBM Building (later United Steelworkers Building) with McManus Heating & Refrigeration truck in foreground, Stanwix Street, downtown, c. 1961-1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.13760 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Construction of IBM Building (later United Steelworkers Building) with McManus Heating & Refrigeration truck in foreground, Stanwix Street, downtown, c. 1961–1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.13760 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris," Demolition of Bethel AME Church with crane on left, Wylie Avenue and Elm Street, Hill District, July 24, 1957, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4054 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Demolition of Bethel AME Church with crane on left, Wylie Avenue and Elm Street, Hill District, July 24, 1957, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4054 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Wabash Terminal under demolition, with AMOCO Gas sign on right, corner of Fourth Avenue and Ferry Street, Downtown, c. 1946, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.10988 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Wabash Terminal under demolition, with AMOCO Gas sign on right, corner of Fourth Avenue and Ferry Street, Downtown, c. 1946, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.10988 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Some of his architectural images have the same grandeur and monumentality of early photographs of ancient sites and buildings.  And in fact, he was capturing the monuments of his city and its buildings and places especially important to the African American community—including places that were the landmarks of his own life or the neighborhood’s—as well as their destruction.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Exterior of Kay Boys' Club, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1940-1945, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3408 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Exterior of Kay Boys’ Club, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1940–1945, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3408 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Exterior of the Loendi Club, 83 Fullerton Avenue, Hill District, July 1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3415 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Exterior of the Loendi Club, 83 Fullerton Avenue, Hill District, July 1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3415 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Clark Memorial Baptist Church, 1301 Glenn Street, Homestead, c. 1945-1950, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4026 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Clark Memorial Baptist Church, 1301 Glenn Street, Homestead, c. 1945–1950, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4026 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Crystal Billiard Parlor, with clock reading 2:25, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1941-1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.2235 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Crystal Billiard Parlor, with clock reading 2:25, Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1941–1946, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.2235 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Billiard Parlor being razed, 1400 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1958-1961, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9080 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Crystal Barber Shop and Billiard Parlor being razed, 1400 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, c. 1958–1961, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9080 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

But much of his architectural photography still contains people.  He used building elements and their shadows as framing devices, included figures to increase the emotional impact or perhaps show scale, or showed how others interacted in the built spaces of his city.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of men and women, including two women holding canes, gathered in front of Rodman Street Baptist Church, East Liberty, 1964, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.20919 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of men and women, including two women holding canes, gathered in front of Rodman Street Baptist Church, East Liberty, 1964, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.20919 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Groom Roland M. Sawyer, and bride Aileen Eckstein Sawyer wearing long sheer train, posed on steps of The Thimble Shop, 5913 Bryant Street, Highland Park, another version, August 1938, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38923 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Groom Roland M. Sawyer, and bride Aileen Eckstein Sawyer wearing long sheer train, posed on steps of The Thimble Shop, 5913 Bryant Street, Highland Park, another version, August 1938, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.38923 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, University of Pittsburgh students Edith Johnson, Mary Louise Wray Stewart, Esther Dalton, and Mary Jane Mitchell Page, on steps of Cathedral of Learning, with Pearl Johnson Hairston, Geraldine, and Jacqueline Ford in background, c. 1945-1948, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4754 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, University of Pittsburgh students Edith Johnson, Mary Louise Wray Stewart, Esther Dalton, and Mary Jane Mitchell Page, on steps of Cathedral of Learning, with Pearl Johnson Hairston, Geraldine, and Jacqueline Ford in background, c. 1945–1948, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4754 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Two girls in front of brick row houses with wooden porches and stairs, c. 1949-1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6511 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two girls in front of brick row houses with wooden porches and stairs, c. 1949–1960, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6511 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Three boys, including one pointing, in field with Bedford Dwellings housing project in background, Hill District, c. 1940-1950, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.36007 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Three boys, including one pointing, in field with Bedford Dwellings housing project in background, Hill District, c. 1940–1950, black and white: unknown safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.36007 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

 

 

 

The Spittin’ Image of Architecture


I was recently looking at some of the photographs in the exhibition Architecture + Photography with curatorial assistant Alyssum Skjeie, who co-organized the show with me, when I saw an image that was so familiar it felt like I’d been transported back to an art history class. The photograph shows the vestibule and staircase of the Laurentian Library (or Biblioteca Laurenziana) in Florence, which was designed by Michelangelo and constructed by him and others in several “campaigns” between 1524 and 1559. The staircase is dramatic and idiosyncratic—it’s been described as looking like a lava flow—and the photograph here is a version of the “money shot” that’s shown in virtually every source on Renaissance architecture. Seeing that image again evoked the same kind of feeling I experience when looking at photographs from trips I’ve taken.

Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Laurentian Library vestibule and stairway (1525–1571), gelatin silver print

Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Laurentian Library vestibule and stairway (1524–1559), gelatin silver print

My reaction isn’t unique or remarkable: a great deal of what we know or remember about the world is what’s been captured by us or for us through images. It’s fair to say that this is especially true of the constructed environment—the buildings and other structures we humans build for ourselves. Most of us don’t get to literally travel the world to see its architectural wonders, and not even the highest-resolution, largest-scale photograph can provide the physical experience of space that’s so crucial to truly understanding a building or site. So we rely on pictures—and have done so ever since photography was invented. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, one of the medium’s two principal founders, originally trained as an architect, and buildings were a favorite subject for experimentation in the field’s early days.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838. This image possibly shows the first people to be photographed in the lower left (a customer having his shoes polished by a bootblack).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838. Although the focus here is the landscape of buildings in Paris, this image by Daguerre shows what are possibly the first people to be photographed—in the lower left you can see a customer having his shoes polished by a bootblack. The scene was most certainly filled with many other Parisians walking along the boulevard, but the long exposure time Daguerre would have used for the photograph only captured the stationary figures.

This points to the central proposition of Architecture + Photography: the mere fact that a building appears in a photograph doesn’t mean that that image is about architecture. In other words, it’s not necessarily “architectural photography.” For example, the pictorial content of Richard Stoner’s Why We Fight, September 18, 1990 (1990) is obviously the oil tanks in the lower left corner and the huge, somewhat agitated and ominous sky that looms over them. But does the picture aim to elucidate ideas about oil tanks as architecture? The title certainly suggests otherwise. (Titles: another great topic for dissection!)

Richard Stoner, Why We Fight, September 18, 1990, 1990, chromogenic print; The Carnegie Museum of Art Purchase Award: 81st Annual Exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

Richard Stoner, Why We Fight, September 18, 1990, 1990, chromogenic print; The Carnegie Museum of Art Purchase Award: 81st Annual Exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

By contrast, the subject of Ezra Stoller’s work is, unequivocally, buildings. One of the top architectural photographers in the twentieth century, Stoller shot many of the most iconic images of modernist postwar American architecture. He was keenly aware of the photographer’s ability to shape viewers’ understanding of architectural imagery and attempted to communicate through a two-dimensional medium the experience one might have of a building or place. An example is this somewhat enigmatic photograph of the McMath Solar Telescope (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1962) at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona: Stoller doesn’t show the entire structure, but instead focuses on its colossal scale and extraordinary setting. You can easily place yourself in that photograph, sharing the sensations we imagine the man in the photograph having.

Ezra Stoller, Kitt Peak, 1962, gelatin silver print; Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust

Ezra Stoller, Kitt Peak, 1962, gelatin silver print; Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust

The Laurentian Library, along with Stoner’s and Stoller’s images, are but three points on the spectrum of photographers’ intentions in presenting architectural imagery in their work. Come see the show while it’s open (through May 26)! We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For information on Frances Benjamin Johnston, a featured photographer in Architecture + Photography, see Alyssum’s blog post

Frances Benjamin Johnston in Charleston


Frances_Benjamin_Johnston,_full-length_portrait,_seated_in_front_of_fireplace,_1896

Frances Benjamin Johnston, self-portrait, in her Washington, D.C., studio, 1896.

I recently spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, researching and revisiting sites photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston. In the Heinz Architectural Collection there are 25 photographs by Johnston, an early female photojournalist and later in life a documentary photographer. Johnston’s interest in photographing buildings was mainly for preservation purposes. Her goal was to document the buildings should they be torn down, but also to inspire communities to preserve or restore the historic edifices if possible. The photographs in our collection represent houses, storefronts, and architectural details around the historic downtown Charleston area. The set was displayed in 1937 at the Gibbes Art Gallery, now the Gibbes Art Museum, and will be on view in the Heinz Architectural Center in the upcoming exhibition Architecture + Photography.

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, 148 Queen Street, Charleston, S.C., 1937, gelatin silver print. This image is one of the thousands of photographs taken by Johnston in the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

Johnston donated most of her archive to the Library of Congress. Part of the archive includes the original photographs of the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, a multi-year endeavor to photograph buildings from Maryland to Louisiana.

During my research trip I revisited the sites in Johnston’s photographs in an attempt to recreate the scene as much as possible. Many of the buildings in our set of 25 photographs are still standing, but a few are empty lots, or are completely unrecognizable. Below are some comparisons between Johnston’s images from 1937 and some from the recent trip.

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Market Hall, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Doorway at 32 Charlotte Street, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Parish House, Congregational Church, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Town Houses, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

Japanese Architects at the Heinz Architectural Center


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Tezuka Architects’ run run run, from the 2013 Carnegie International; Photo: Greenhouse Media

As part of the 2013 Carnegie International, Tokyo-based Tezuka Architects designed an installation titled run run run for the largest gallery of the Heinz Architectural Center, the architecture department of the Carnegie Museum of Art. This temporary installation consists of a flowing curtain, almost elliptical in plan, onto which film is screened from multiple projectors. The films depict children at play at the Fuji Kindergarten, an innovative structure recently realized by Takaharu and Yui Tezuka in the Tokyo suburbs. For the Pittsburgh installation, balloons and a padded floor surface augment an atmosphere of play and interactivity.

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Shigeru Ban’s Paper Loghouse, from the exhibition Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life

This gallery has in fact hosted several installations and exhibitions of work by Japanese architects, reflecting Japan’s significant contributions to contemporary architectural culture. Japanese architects have been awarded the Pritzker Prize, the world’s most prestigious prize for architects, on five occasions, including Tadao Ando in 1995 and the team of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 2010; only the United States has had more Pritzker laureates. Furthermore, Japan has produced seminal new talents each decade: Shigeru Ban and Sejima/Nishizawa in the 1990s, Tezuka Architects in the 2000s, and most recently, Sou Fujimoto and Junya Ishigami.

In 2003, as part of Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life, the Heinz Architectural Center accommodated an entire house. Made from cardboard tubes and resting on Kirin beer crates, Paper Loghouse was designed by Shigeru Ban as emergency housing in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

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Models by Toshiko Mori, from the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Renewing the Legacy

In 2005, for Frank Lloyd Wright: Renewing the Legacy, the Japanese-born architect Toshiko Mori displayed models of her competition-winning proposal, now completed, to build a visitors center next to Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York.

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Installation view of White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes

For 2012’s White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, dramatic new structures on islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea were presented in our largest gallery. Projects on Naoshima by Tadao Ando were represented by large topographic models and drawings by this Osaka-based master. Four maquettes made from household materials revealed the design process of Ryue Nishizawa for his enigmatic Teshima Art Museum, a collaboration with the artist Rei Naito. An adjacent space was occupied by a transparent model of Seirensho, the re-working by Hiroshi Sambuichi of a former copper refinery on Inujima.

It may be a simplification to draw direct connections between the works of these outstanding Japanese architects presented here in Pittsburgh. Nevertheless each operates in a cultural continuum that values materiality, space, lightness, and communication with nature.