Iwan Baan. Tiébélé, Burkina Faso, 2021 © Iwan Baan


His name may not sound familiar to many, but it is rarer that his images are not familiar: almost all recent exhibitions of photography dedicated to contemporary architecture (also some at the ICO Museum) have featured works by the Dutchman Iwan Baan. He has been one of the great figures in this field for twenty years, despite the fact that his training and first steps had to do with documentary photography; The architectures were incorporated into their production in a very natural way, as a background of lives, and have gradually gained weight in their interests, but always linked to the transmission of stories, to a humanist conception of spaces and their uses.

This partial turn towards constructions was related to his contact in 2004 with Rem Koolhaas, then immersed in an exhibition project with his friend Lok Jansen (he proposed including 360º panoramics in that exhibition); It was in those years when Baan, born in 1975 in Alkmaar, detected, in his words, that architecture was a field in which he could connect all his interests and concerns. around people, places and environments; about the relationship between them and the effects of the passage of time and the human footprint on buildings once their creators have completed their work.

After passing through the German Vitra Design Museum, where it could be seen until March, it has now arrived at the ICO Museum in Madrid, as part of the PHotoESPAÑA programme, its retrospective “Instants in architecture”, which we can venture will seduce a wider audience. wider than the one who usually visits this type of exhibition due to its absolute absence of coldness: compared to the idealized compositions, often lacking human figures and taken in meticulously chosen lighting conditions, Baan's work stands out for its freshness and spontaneity, for its evocative capacity and, even, for its tenderness and sense of humor; He has often worked on commission, documenting the creations of international architects, but he has also developed his own projects around the world that make clear his attraction to ephemeral, popular, once again spontaneous constructions, and to those linked to traditions and rites whose survival Today it makes perfect sense and, at the same time, it is a miracle.

In the twenty years since the Dutchman embarked on this new path, his body of work has been enormous: for this exhibition, he proposed up to 4,000 possible pieces to curator Mea Hoffmann (only a small portion of his archive) and, indeed, the The route is dense with images, but its montage, diverse in its different sections and sometimes in the form of a collage, encourages you to forget the rush and contemplate all the constructions and urban planning collected with a philosophical and sociological perspective (it usually takes aerial views, to contextualize, before focusing on the small and the human story).

Iwan Baan.  National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar, 2019. Architecture: Ateliers Jean Nouvel

“Instants in architecture” is, above all, a photographic exhibition, and reveals in Baan a very personal style, but due to its temporal arc it is also a portrait of the architecture developed so far in the 21st century, a brief but intense period in all levels, in which we begin by praising star architects and then view the phenomenon of celebrity with a certain skepticism and defend a more participatory, collaborative or democratic conception of this profession; This last notion is made clear in the projects collected by Francis Kéré, Anna Heringer or MASS Design Group (we have also been able to get to know the first two well in this center).

Responding, in part, to a similar evolution, Baan does not alter the environment when working, but instead captures the life, dynamism and even faith around the buildings he photographs; For that same reason, he goes quite unnoticed wherever he goes and only uses handheld cameras and basic tools, no tripod. The representation of what he mutates does not require, in his discipline, great means, but rather a look. For all these reasons it is easy to understand that he avoids the label of “architectural photographer” by preferring that of photographer simply: he considers himself a visual narrator who records places where daily events or cyclical rites occur, spaces that allow themselves to be contaminated by those who inhabit them. and that respond to their most basic or spiritual needs.

Iwan Baan.  Elbe Philharmonic, Hamburg, Germany, 2017. Architecture: Herzog & de Meuron

A first section, Perspectivescollects photographs taken on request and dedicated to recent constructions by different international architects, buildings that respond to more or less consolidated canons but that are not portrayed as aseptic works of habitable art but as scenarios for enjoyment, work or daily life (among them have chosen two Spanish examples, both from the SelgasCano duo: the Palace of Congresses and Exhibitions of Plasencia and the Auditorium and Palace of Congresses El Batel of Cartagena).

The second is dedicated to his projects in China, focusing on two: his documentation of the construction process of the CCTV anti-skyscraper in Beijing, carried out by OMA, from the pouring of concrete for the foundations to the tens of thousands of workers who, For months, they lived in temporary settlements next to the works; and that of the National Stadium in the Chinese capital, designed by Herzog & de Meuron for the 2008 Olympic Games, when this country still seemed to begin a stage of opening up to the world. In this case, Baan also photographed the thousands of employees who managed to finish it on time with enormous effort and little machinery, many of them migrants arriving from areas very far from what this stadium and its innovative approach invoke.

Iwan Baan.  National Stadium, Beijing, China, 2008. Architecture: Herzog & de Meuron
  Iwan Baan.  CCTV headquarters, Beijing, China, 2011. Architecture: OMA

This broad study, open to what is usually hidden, of what a great architectural project implies, has its continuity in the two sections that culminate this anthology, in which works dedicated to construction techniques are displayed in images of different formats and videos. traditional, to informal or precarious housing born of urgency or to practices that today may seem archaic, but where they emerged they have not lost validity, unlike others perhaps more recent, because they respond to basic demands that have not become extinct.

Iwan Baan.  Moments in architecture.  ICO Museum, 2024. Photography: José Luis de la Parra

In these snapshots we will see vitality, sometimes harmony, sometimes chaos; and a lot of diversity: travel is an important driving force in Baan's trajectory. You can see images of the breathtaking Coptic churches, excavated on the Lalibela plateau (Ethiopia) eight centuries ago, created from the subtraction of material, not from its addition. They do not ascend towards the sky, like the vast majority of temples, but are located deep in the ground, and it is necessary to walk through furrows and gorges to access them.

We will also see photographs of the ephemeral constructions (made of bamboo, various textiles) that commemorate the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela, in Prayagraj (India): they make up a short city the size of Manhattan and receive tens of millions of visitors, where the Ganges converge. and the Yamuna. In use, for the storage of water and in this same country, staggered cisterns continue to be used in which the earth, the liquid element and human beings continue to enter into a close relationship. The Dutch photographer has also been interested in the adobe constructions of Bangladesh and Burkina Faso (and in all the thermal and light insulation solutions that mud provides); for the temples that are built cyclically and with careful harmony in Ise (Japan), in cypress wood and every twenty years; or because of the similarities between Rome and Las Vegas. Thousands of years separate them, mass tourism brings them closer.

Iwan Baan.  Tiébélé, Burkina Faso, 2021 © Iwan Baan
Iwan Baan.  Moments in architecture.  ICO Museum, 2024. Photography: José Luis de la Parra

Iwan Baan. “Moments in architecture”


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From June 7 to September 8, 2024

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