Category Archives: Architecture

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, 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.


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.


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


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


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


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

Japanese Architects at the Heinz Architectural Center


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.


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.


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.


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.

Tezuka Architects: Artist Talk, October 7


Tezuka Architects design with daily life in mind. In an era when many architects, especially those termed “starchitects,” seem interested in strange form for strange form’s sake, Takaharu and Yui Tezuka are responsible for buildings that provide optimal space for activity with strategic use of material. Their work reinforces progressive ideas of health, community and social gathering.

This year the 2013 Carnegie International includes architecture for the first time. As part of The Playground Project, a key component of the International, Tezuka Architects have designed an installation titled run, run, run in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center. Through cinematic images and sound, the installation evokes the architects’ Fuji Kindergarten in suburban Tokyo. The kindergarten consists of an oval roof deck accessible from an open court used by children year-round. The children run energetically about this deck yet also enjoy moments of quieter play, frequently in the shade of mature zelkova trees.


Sketch for installation of run, run, run; Courtesy of Tezuka Architects

In addition to Fuji Kindergarten, the Tezukas have recently built kindergartens in Miyagi Prefecture, for communities devastated by the 2011 tsunami, and a medical facility near Kobe for children undergoing chemotherapy. Each project communicates a faith in the possibility of architecture to aid people’s lives.

Join us for an artist talk on Monday, October 7, at Carnegie Lecture Hall, where Takaharu Tezuka will describe the vividly social buildings realized by his practice. Co-sponsored by the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, the lecture is free and takes place at 6:30.

White Cube Goes to Yale

White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes has traveled from the Carnegie to Yale School of Architecture where it is on view through May 4. I was delighted to discover this banner (below) prominently displayed on the School’s exterior at the intersection of York Street and Chapel Street in downtown New Haven. The banner uses an aerial view by photographer Iwan Baan of a key project in the exhibition: Tadao Ando’s Chichu Art Museum on the Japanese island of Naoshima. Special thanks to Dean Robert Stern for bringing the exhibition from Pittsburgh to Yale and to Brian Butterfield for coordinating its installation in that remarkably different space.

Iyalenaugurated in 1963, the Yale Art + Architecture Building was designed by Paul Rudolph, then Chair of the Architecture department. It is one of the most inspirational yet controversial buildings of that era, with a blunt exterior of bush-hammered concrete and lateral expanses of glass, and with a complex interior containing multiple levels or “trays.” The building was damaged by a mysterious fire in 1969 at the height of political unrest and the simultaneous flickerings of postmodernism. This tough, iconic structure, now known as Paul Rudolph Hall, has recently been elegantly restored and adapted to contemporary code and environmental requirements.

Among the twenty objects from our permanent collection now on view in the Heinz Architectural Center’s anniversary show, 20/20, the perspective below by Rudolph depicts the Yale Art + Architecture Building on its corner site. Inspired by both Frank Lloyd Wright and the Baroque, Rudolph (1918–1997) was a formidable draughtsman. In this ink perspective with cellophane overlays, we see the interplay of robust vertical and horizontal elements. The former contain services, elevators and stairs and physically hold the entire structure in place. The latter house open studios, office “trays”…and the gallery currently hosting White Cube, Green Maze.

Paul Rudolph, University; “Yale Art and Architecture Building,” New Haven, CT; [exterior perspective], c. 1958–1962, ink on card with cellophane overlays, Purchase: gift of Henry J. and Drue Heinz Foundation