Iwan Baan – Masters of Architectural Photography

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Amateuer Architecture Studio, Ningbo History Museum, Ningbo, 2008, Photos: Iwan Baan. Images courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Iwan Baan – Masters of Architectural Photography

Born in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, in 1975, Iwan Baan is widely considered one of the world’s most influential architectural photographers in history, renowned for his “human-centered” approach to architectural photography.
Baan, who studied photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and has no formal training in architecture, has developed a personal approach to architectural photography quite different from the traditional one. Pritzker Prize laureate architect Rem Koolhaas was the first to realize that Baan’s unconventional and documentary-oriented way to take architectural photos would lead to an original and novel depiction of architecture. Baan, indeed, does not focus only on buildings but creates kinds of “street scenes” in which architecture strongly interacts with people and relates to its urban/natural context.

“Baan followed his interest in documentary photography, before narrowing his focus to record the various ways in which individuals, communities, and societies create, and interact within their built environment”, from Iwan Baan’s website

Yet, in his pictures, people never look like they are posing or are “directed” by someone else; they always act in a very natural, casual way; more than just architecture photography his work might be called “architectural photojournalism”.
Such an interest in the relationship between people and architecture is particularly evident in his pictures of the unfinished Torre David in Caracas, which won the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, the Konokono Vaccination Center designed by SelgasCano Architects in Kenya, and Herzog & de Meuron’s Arena do Morro gymnasium in Brazil. (We are sorry we can’t publish images of these projects for copyright reasons; anyway, you can find them all on Iwan Baan’s official website: https://iwan.com/)

Iwan Baan portrait

Iwan Baan, Chandighar, India, 2010; photo by Sanyam Bahga (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Though technically very rigorous (you’ll hardly find a line that is not perfectly vertical in his pictures), Baan does not prepare his shots obsessively, as many architectural photographers do by waiting for hours for the perfect light and the perfect background sky; he shoots in a rather instinctive way, instead, at every hour of the day – including noon, which is usually considered the worst time of day to shoot outdoor -, he travels lightweight and alone, with no assistants, and always uses his full-frame camera handheld, without tripods. Yet, he frequently rents a helicopter to picture buildings from above and from unorthodox points of view.
Baan’s favorite equipment comprises rather standard Canon 35mm digital cameras usually coupled with ultra-wide and medium-to-super telephoto lenses. He also uses an Apple iPhone to take pictures and videos he publishes regularly on his Instagram page.

Using no tripods and hi-end medium format cameras doesn’t prevent Baan from making technically “extreme” pictures, such as the famous “The City and the Storm”, a night view of powerless Manhattan just after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which was taken by him from a chartered helicopter with a hand-held Canon EOS-1D X, and a 24-70mm lens, set at ISO 25,600, a 1/40 sec. shutter speed, and an f/2.8 aperture. After it was featured on the cover of New York Magazine, the picture was also made into posters by MoMA to support Hurricane Sandy’s relief efforts and has been awarded the “Cover of the Year” award by the American Society of Magazine Editors (you can see this image here on Iwan Baan’s website). This iconic image, together with others the Dutch photographer took in New York on the night of 29 October 2012, demonstrates Baan’s ability to turn his exceptional technical skills into expressiveness.


Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan – Zaha Hadid Architects, 2012, © Iwan Baan. Image courtesy of ZHA.

Harbin Opera House, MAD, Iwan_Baan

Harbin Opera House, Harbin, China – MAD Architects, 2016; © Iwan Baan. Image courtesy of MAD.


Danish pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 – BIG Bjarke Ingels Group; © Iwan Baan. Image courtesy of BIG.

Makoko floating school aerial, Iwan Baan

Makoko Floating School, Lagos, Nigeria – Kunlé Adeyemi NLÉ, 2013; © Iwan Baan. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

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Amateur Architecture Studio, Zhongshan Road Renovation, Hangzhou, China, 2009, © Iwan Baan. Image courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

China Wood Sculpture Museum MAD 15

China Wood Sculpture Museum, Harbin, China, MAD Architects, © Iwan Baan. Image courtesy of MAD.

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