Until March 3, 2024, the Vitra Design Museum hosts “Iwan Baan: Moments in Architecture”, the first major retrospective on the work of the Dutch photographer who portrays architecture and the lives that animate it

Iwan Baan is considered one of the leading contemporary architecture and city photographers: a compulsive traveler and genuinely curious about ways of inhabiting and sharing the space of people in different cultures, Baan always manages to bring out life, the real one, from his shots.

Moments in Architecture - says Mea Hoffmann, curator of the Vitra Design Museum - is not just an exhibition on Iwan Baan's work, but an empathetic look at the evolution of the inhabited environment and human conditions in places of urban transformation".

Read also: the new Sydney Opera House, told through the images of Iwan Baan

The first impression you get when entering the white walls of the Vitra Design Museum and approaching the images on display is that Baan's photographic projects are macro stories capable of hosting countless micro-stories.

There is the building, protagonist of the work (often commissioned) there is the building, taken step by step in its growth starting from the foundations and the structural skeleton. Around us, in the meantime, the gaze broadens and notices the actions or reactions of the people in the face of the growth of the construction site. Often, for example, huts are created where you can rest, spontaneous refreshment points or playgrounds for children's entertainment. Mea Hoffmann, introducing the exhibition, explains how Iwan Baan is "always deeply interested in telling not only architecture, but the life of people in cities".

The meeting with Rem Koolhaas

Iwan Baan began to be interested in architecture in 2004 following a meeting with the architect Rem Koolhaas and it is from the photographs of a project by the Dutch architect in Beijing that the exhibition begins, in the room dedicated to China.

China in those years was very open - explains the photographer - and for me it was a fantastic opportunity to create connections not only thanks to the projects in progress, but with many young architects who arrived to observe them from near completion. In the first section, therefore, we encounter two monumental projects: the CCTV headquarters, designed by Koolhaas' OMA architecture studio (2002-2012), and theOlympic Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron(2003-2012).

Points of view and perspectives

After the first collaboration with Rem Koolhaas, over the years, Iwan Baan has worked with several internationally renowned architects: Herzog & de Meuron, Francis Kéré, Sou Fujimoto, Tatiana Bilbao, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, SANAA, Toyo Ito and many others. His task was and is to document the evolution of their projects and to do so Iwan Baan captures the character and context of a building by combining aerial shots taken from a helicopter with a series of different perspectives ranging from panoramic views to close-ups detail plans. The majority of architects trust his photographic intuition and leave it up to him to choose the subjects and angles for the perfect shot.

Globalization and local communities

City is the theme of the third room of the exhibition: “I focused my experience on cities - says Iwan Baan - and on their development. I like to show how this is different in various countries around the world, but, at the same time, contains several similarities. When I observe people, how they are dressed and how they behave around the Trevi Fountain, I realize how similar they are to those you meet in Las Vegas".

Iwan Baan observes idiosyncrasies and continually addresses current issues such as urban growth, the legacy of modernity, globalization and local communities. He approaches cities that are symbols of modernity such as Brasilia or Chandigarth with the same interest with which he focuses on the Dakar International Fair, designed in 1975 by Jean-François Lamoureux and Jean-Louis Marin, or on the endless suburbs of Los Angeles.

Housing practices

In the last rooms, thanks to a layout that is not only two-dimensional, the exhibition offers the possibility of also crossing informal and traditional buildings.

In fact, the photographer's curiosity for the ability of men, in any living situation, to create functional domestic environments even in the total improvisation given by poverty is evident.

One of these projects, for example, documents what is presumably the largest temporary city in the world: a tent city that is set up every twelve years for the Hindu religious festival Maha Kumbh Mela, when 50-80 million of pilgrims immerse themselves in the waters of the river in Prayagrai, India. Another is dedicated to the Tower David in Caracas, Venezuela: the city's residents occupied the empty building, which remained unfinished. Furthermore, Torre David is the photographic series that earned him the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale together with Urban ThinkThank (Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner) and Justin McGuirk.