Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age

Buildings, according to photographer Thomas Struth, have the power to “express pride, anger, ignorance, love – everything that humans are capable of expressing”.

Thomas Struth Clinton Road, London, 1977

Source: © Thomas Struth

Thomas StruthClinton Road, London, 1977

When we see buildings captured through the equally expressive medium of photography, there’s a whole new level of magic and emotion.

It’s this marriage of the disciplines of architecture and photography with humanity and sentiment that is displayed so exhaustively and beautifully at the Barbican’s new show, Constructing Worlds.

Berenice Abbott Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932

Source: © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Berenice AbbottRockefeller Center, New York City, 1932

The exhibition showcases more than 250 images by 18 photographers, arranged chronologically and by theme from the 1930s to the present day.

The scope, breadth and global reach of the show means we’re taken on a stunning visual journey not only across continents, but into people’s homes (including that of Ray and Charles Eames), garnering insights into the way people lived throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

The studies of buildings show not only bricks and mortar, but insights into what was going on in the worlds, from the devastation of the war in Afghanistan – and it’s subsequent, surreal, Disney-like rebuild projects in the world of Simon Norfolk; to Nadav Kandar’s recordings of rapid urbanisation in China.


As the Barbican’s head of visual arts Jane Alion points, out, these images challenge the ideas of “architectural porn” we’ve become accustomed to in recent years thanks to the proliferation of design blogging and the democratisation of photography owing to the digital revolution celebrated in the Barbican’s previous show.

Alison adds that the show, curated by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone, shows the capacity for the urban landscape to exhibit  “beauty and horror; utopia and dystopia.”


Constructing Worlds has been designed by Brussels–based architectural practice Office KGDVs, and the layout merges traditional displays with large-scale prints, pacing the viewing of what amounts to a huge number of works.

Ed Ruscha Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., 1967/1999

Source: © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

Ed RuschaDodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., 1967/1999

Each of the selected photographers has a very distinct style, viewpoint and approach, with some of the most unusual pieces on show created by Helene Binet.

He´le`ne Binet Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, Untitled 9, July 1997.

Source: Courtesy of He´le`ne Binet

He´le`ne BinetJewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, Untitled 9, July 1997.

Discussing photographing architecture, Binet says: “You could compare it to the pas de deux in ballet. The total image is made out of two bodies; you can’t separate them. For me, that is photography of architecture: one final new shape is made out of the interaction between camera and building.”


Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age runs form 25 September –  11 January at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

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