Iwan Baan – Masters of Architectural Photography


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

Iwan Baan – Masters in Architectural Photography

Born in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, in 1975, Iwan Ban is widely regarded as 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-winning architect Rem Koolhaas was the first to realize that Baan’s unconventional, documentary-oriented way of taking architectural photos would lead to an original and new depiction of architecture. Baan, in fact, does not only focus on buildings but creates sorts of “street scenes” in which the architecture interacts strongly with people and relates to its urban/natural context.

“Baan followed his interest in documentary photography, before focusing on recording the various ways in which individuals, communities and societies create and interact within their built environment”, on the Iwan Baan website

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

Portrait of Iwan Baan

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

Although technically very rigorous (you will hardly find a line that is not perfectly vertical in his photos), Baan does not prepare his shots obsessively, as many architectural photographers do by waiting for hours for the perfect light and the sky in the perfect background; he shoots rather instinctively, on the contrary, at all hours of the day – including noon, which is generally considered the worst time of day for outdoor photography – he travels light and alone, without assistants, and uses still its full-frame portable camera, without tripods. Yet he frequently hires a helicopter to photograph buildings from above and from unorthodox vantage points.
Baan’s favorite gear includes rather standard Canon 35mm digital cameras, usually paired with ultra-wide and medium-to-super telephoto lenses. He also uses an Apple iPhone to take photos and videos which he regularly posts on his Instagram page.

The absence of tripods and high-end medium-format cameras didn’t stop Baan from shooting technically “extreme” images, like the famous “The City and the Storm,” a nighttime view of powerless Manhattan just after the Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which was taken by him from a chartered helicopter with a handheld Canon EOS-1D X and a 24-70mm lens, set to ISO 25600, a 1/40 sec. shutter speed and an f/2.8 aperture. After being featured on the cover of New York Magazine, the photo was also made into posters by MoMA to support Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and was awarded “Cover of the Year” by the American Society of Magazine Editors (you can see this image here on Iwan Baan’s site). This iconic image, along with others the Dutch photographer took in New York on the night of October 29, 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, 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 Branch, Iwan Baan

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

Louisiana-museum-Wang Shu-Zhongshan Rd-7872

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

China Wood Carving Museum MAD 15

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

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