Constructing Worlds:
Photography and Architecture
in the Modern Age

Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, UK
25 September 2014 – 11 January 2015
Media View, Wednesday 24 September
10am – 1pm
This exhibition is part of the Barbican’s Constructing Worlds Season
Supported by: The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and part of the SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015

Since the very first photograph, architecture has proved to be an enduring subject matter for photographers. Constructing Worlds looks beyond the medium’s ability to simply document the built world and explores the power of photography to reveal wider truths about society. The exhibition brings together over 250 works – some rarely seen and many shown in the UK for the first time – by 18 leading photographers from the 1930s to now, who have changed the way we view
architecture and think about the world in which we live. It opens at Barbican Art Gallery on 25 September 2014.

Constructing Worlds takes the visitor on a global journey of 20th and 21st century architecture, with highlights such as Berenice Abbott’s ground-breaking photographs charting the birth of the skyscraper in New York; Lucien Hervé’s subtle evocations of modernity as found in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier; the luxury lifestyle of Julius Shulman’s images of California’s residences; the moving nature of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum as seen by London based photographer Hélène Binet; the recent dramatic growth of Chinese urbanisation recorded by Nadav Kander and the devastating effects of war in Afghanistan as expressed in the poignant images of Simon Norfolk.

Artists include: Berenice Abbott, Iwan Baan, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hélène Binet, Walker Evans, Luigi Ghirri, Andreas Gursky, Lucien Hervé, Nadav Kander, Luisa Lambri, Simon Norfolk, Bas Princen , Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore, Julius Shulman, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Guy Tillim. The exhibition is curated by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone and designed by the internationally recognised Brussels architecture firm, Office KGDVS, led by Kersten Geers and David Van Severen.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican
, said: “Photography and architecture have a long and shared history and yet amazingly this is the first major exhibition in London to throw light on this relationship. Featuring leading photographers who between them have represented some of the most important architecture of the 20th century, the exhibition brings together two key strands of Barbican Art Gallery’s programme. It is a must see for anyone interested in how we understand architecture and equally the dramatic global shifts in society in the post-war period.
Since its inauguration in the early 1980s the Art Gallery has championed photography through important thematic and solo figure exhibitions including
American Images: Photography 1945-1980 (1984); William Eggleston: Ancient and Modern (1992) and more recently In the Face of History: European Photographers in the Twentieth Century (2006); and Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s (2012). Our passion for photography continues unabated and we greatly welcome this new opportunity to showcase such an array of stellar photographers.”

Organised both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition opens with Berenice Abbott’s photographed project Changing New York (1935-1939) that captured the transformation of New York into a modernist metropolis, focusing her lens on the dramatic changes the city was undergoing with towering skyscrapers replacing older low-rise buildings. At the same time, Walker Evans was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration photographing the vernacular architecture of the Deep South which bore witness to the adverse consequences of modernity. In contrast, Julius Shulman’s photographs of the Case Study Houses programme (1945–1966) capture the experimental architecture and ideal modern lifestyle encapsulated in California in the 1950s. Le Corbusier quickly gauged the power of photography to communicate the essence of his architectural vision which was perfectly expressed in Lucien Hervé ’s cinematic documentation of Chandigarh – a modernist symbol of a newly independent India.

Reflecting on the legacy of Walker Evans’s objective documentary style and interest in vernacular architecture, which influenced a generation of photographers across the USA and Europe during the 1960s and 70s, the exhibition goes on to consider the works of Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore and Thomas Struth. Combining the cityscape of Los Angeles with the vernacular, Ruscha’s photobooks Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967) communicate a particular urban experience whilst the decaying industrial European landscape is the focus of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s comprehensive archive of arcane industrial archetypes. Stephen Shore’s explosive colour photographs from Uncommon Places (1973 – 79) and Greetings from Amarillo, “Tall in Texas” (1971) and the unsentimental street scenes of Unconscious Places by Thomas Struth all reference Evans’s nascent documentary approach, whilst reflecting on the repetition and banality which modernity can incite.

Considering photographers’ interpretations of and their response to architects and iconic buildings of the modern age is the focus of a section of the exhibition that reflects on the symbiotic relationship between photography and the architectural subject. Providing layers of narrative and injecting ancillary meaning to the physical space, these photographs offer a way of understanding the architects’ intentions in relation to the lived reality, as exemplified in Luigi Ghirri’s lyrical response to Aldo Rossi’s architecture; Hélène Binet’s studies of fragments of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, Berlin; deliberately blurred photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto of iconic 20th century architecture; Luisa Lambri’s exploration into the reality of inhabiting and living a modernist lifestyle in domestic Modern architecture; and the response to the impersonality of individual works of architecture in Andreas Gursky’s monumental photographs.

Constructing Worlds culminates with an exploration of cities experiencing dramatic changes, where the contemporary experience of the urban built environment is conveyed through Guy Tillim ’s exposé of late-modernist-era colonial structures in Angola, Congo, and Mozambique in the series Avenue Patrice Lumumba (2008); Simon Norfolk’s Chronotopia (2001) and Burke + Norfolk (2010) series, which show how the scars of the past are revealed in the architectural present; Bas Princen’s documentation of the urban transformation in the Middle East in Refuge, Five Cities (2009); Nadav Kander’s portrayal of the impact of colossal modern construction; and though the Torre David series by Iwan Baan, which captures an example of contemporary usurpation, adaptation and repurposing of architecture.

Building on the legacy of the Barbican’s iconic architecture and pioneering approach to curating photography, the Constructing Worlds season presents a constellation of projects that celebrate the interplay of photography, architecture and life – as well as creating new portraits of the Barbican for our time. With the exhibition exploring photography’s special relationship to architecture as its catalyst, the season also comprises a new commission in the Curve by the internationally acclaimed artist Walead Beshty; a dedicated film strand City Visions, focusing on the energy and complexity of global city living and follows our 2013 acclaimed Urban Wandering season; a brand new film commission and residency by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, best known for their now legendary take on Rem Koolhaas’s Maison à Bordeaux, and the first of a changing series of displays devoted to the history and life of the Barbican.


Notes to Editors

Press Information

For further information, images or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Ann Berni, Media Relations Manager

+44 (0) 207 382 7169,

Ariane Oiticica, Media Relations Officer

+44 (0) 207 382 6162,

All press releases, images, and videos are available for download from the newsroom:

Public Information

Barbican Art Gallery, London, 0845 120 7550,
Opening hours: Saturday to Wednesday, 10am – 6pm
Thursday & Friday, 10am – 9pm, Bank Holidays: 12noon – 6pm
Ticket prices: £8 - £12, Under 12s: Free


Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is organised by Barbican Art Gallery. The exhibition is curated by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone and designed by the Belgian architecture practice OFFICE KGDVS – architects Kersten Geers and David van Severen. It is supported by Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and part of the SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015. After the Barbican the exhibition will go on show in the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design, Stockholm from 20 February to 17 May 2015.

The exhibition is accompanied with a fully-illustrated catalogue published by Prestel with essays by Alona Pardo, Associate Curator at Barbican Art Gallery; Elias Redstone, curator of Archizines and author of Shooting Space: Architecture in Contemporary Photography; and writer and curator David Campany; as well as texts on all 18 photographers in the show. Price: £35, ISBN: 978-3-7913-6207-6

Shooting Space: Architecture in Contemporary Photography
, by Elias Redstone (Phaidon, September 2014) showcases work that asserts a critical relationship between photography and architecture. It presents a broad spectrum of approaches it to considering architecture in contemporary photographic practice - from Annie Leibovitz’s celebration of the construction worker to Nadav Kander’s documentation of immense infrastructural projects in China.

Barbican Art Gallery Shop

A wide range of design products, original camera equipment, stationery and books - many rare, out of print or limited edition - inspired by the exhibition are available from the Barbican Art Gallery Shop. Highlights include a new exclusive Barbican Tower range featuring the iconic Shakespeare Tower; Decode London’s concrete desk lamps; and Berenice Abbott’s The Unknown Abbott, a limited edition of 2,000 copies in five extensive volumes.


The exhibition is accompanied by a rich programme of events, running from September 2014 to January 2015. Highlights include a series of ‘In Conversation’ events, including Stephen Shore and Gerry Badger; Guy Tillim and Mark Sealy; Simon Norfolk and Julian Stallabrass and others to be announced; as well as a series of exhibition tours with the exhibition curators and experts in the field of photography and architecture such as Owen Hatherley, David Campany, and Rachel Stevenson.

Also featured in the programme is Run, Jump, Shoot, a half-day workshop with a hands-on session led by freelance photographer Andy Day investigating the iconic architecture of the Barbican Centre through the photographic lens and professional parkour athletes. Architecture and Photography in Post-War Britain brings together curators Justine Sambrook and Valeria Carullo for an exploration of the varied strands of architectural photography in post-war Britain. See full events listings here

Constructing Worlds season

Constructing Worlds is the centrepiece of a Barbican wide visual arts focus on architecture, photography and the Barbican itself. The season include Walead Beshty in the Curve, a new film commission by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, a foyer display celebrating the Barbican and City Visions, a cinema season exploring the growth of cities across the globe.

Walead Beshty, The Curve

9 October 2014 – 8 February 2015
The latest Curve commission sees London-born, Los Angeles-based artist, Walead Beshty transform the space by covering the vast 90-metre curved wall of the gallery from floor to ceiling with more than 12,000 cyanotype prints. Each cyanotype is produced using an object from the artist’s studio – which is placed on a porous surface (such as discarded paper or cardboard) that has been coated with UV-sensitive material and exposed directly to sunlight, producing the object’s silhouette against a cyan blue background.

The process began in Beshty’s LA studio in October 2013 and culminates in London, where the artist is in residence for two months during summer 2014 creating the last group of cyanotypes with materials sourced from the Barbican and its surrounding area. The installation is presented in chronological order, allowing the work to be read as a year-long visual diary, providing clues about the artist’s physical and temporal location, about its making and creating an imprint of the world around it. The exhibition is accompanied by a public programme featuring an artist’s talk and cyanotype-making workshop for families.

City Visions

Thu rsday 25 September – Wednesday 8 October 2014
Urban life and modern cities across the globe are richly depicted in City Visions - a season of films, talks and debates that both celebrates the freedoms and energy of the city and reveals memorable images of urban decay and deprivation. The season will engage with key conversations around architecture, urban planning and globalisation and opens with a special preview screening of Cathedrals of Culture the new six part 3D film project directed by Wim Wenders, Michael Glawogger, Michael Madsen, Robert Redford, Margreth Olin and Karim Aïnouz which offers startling different responses to the question: “if buildings could talk, what would they say about us?

Bêka & Partners film commission

Acclaimed French filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine have been commissioned to make a new film about the life of the Barbican. They are best known for Koolhaas Houselife (2008), an intimate and humorous view of Rem Koolhaas’s famous Maison à Bordeaux, as seen through the eyes of the housekeeper, Guadalupe Acedo. Their Living Architectures series now also includes films about the refectory designed by Herzog & de Meuron on the Pomerol vineyard in France, Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church in Rome, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and three buildings by Renzo Piano. Lemoine and Bêka are resident at the Barbican for the month of July, during which time they are producing a daily diary documenting their experience. The film will be premiered in the autumn with a special Screentalk event on Tuesday 28 October.

The Barbican Exhibition:
Chamberlin, Powell & Bon Architects

As a celebration of the Barbican’s architectural legacy, this new series of changing foyer displays delves into the site’s heritage, explores hidden facets and offers special insights into the iconic building. The first presentation will reflect upon the architects who designed the Barbican Estate: Peter ‘Joe’ Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell and Christof Bon. As a complement to the Constructing Worlds exhibition, a large part of the display will be given over to the photographic work of Geoffry Powell, giving a unique insight into the visual sensibility of one of Britain’s leading twentieth century architects. The display opens in the Barbican foyers on 25 September 2014.

Barbican Art Gallery

One of the leading art spaces in the UK, Barbican Art Gallery presents the best of international visual art with a dynamic mix of art, architecture, design, fashion and photography. From acclaimed architects to Turner prize-winning artists, the Gallery exhibits innovators of the 20th and 21st centuries: key players who have shaped developments and stimulated change.

About the Barbican

A world-class arts and learning organisation, the Barbican pushes the boundaries of all major art forms including dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts. Its creative learning programme further underpins everything it does. Over 1.5 million people pass through the Barbican’s doors annually, hundreds of artists and performers are featured and more than 300 staff work onsite. The architecturally renowned centre opened in 1982 and comprises the Barbican Art Gallery, a second gallery The Curve, Barbican Hall, the Barbican Theatre, the Pit, Cinemas One, Two and Three, foyers and public spaces, a library, Lakeside Terrace, a glasshouse conservatory , conference facilities and three restaurants. The City of London Corporation is the founder and principal funder of the Barbican Centre.

The Barbican is home to Resident Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra ; Associate Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra ; Associate Ensembles the Academy of Ancient Music and Britten Sinfonia , and Associate Producer Serious . Our Artistic Associates include Boy Blue Entertainment , Cheek by Jowl and Michael Clark Company . International Associates are Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam , New York Philharmonic , Los Angeles Philharmonic , Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and Jazz at Lincoln Center .

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