The Chicago Architecture Biennial’s first commission for The State Of The Art of Architecture is a photo essay on Chicago by world-renowned photographer Iwan Baan. Over the past decade, Baan has transformed the practice of architecture photography, challenging the long-standing habit of magazines and architects themselves of representing architecture in a staged condition, devoid of its inhabitants. His work investigates architecture as a stage for everyday life, capturing the details and momentary encounters that shape our perception of buildings. He has worked with today’s leading architects across all five continents, and perhaps better than anyone else he embodies the globalized nature of architecture in the 21st century: he travels incessantly, rarely spending more than a few days in any country and a fortnight on any continent.

Much as with his architectural work, Baan’s photographs of Chicago capture the city during a moment of its daily routine. Shooting from the air, he emphasizes key landmarks of the city’s architectural history, including the Hancock Tower (designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the late 1960s) or the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s interventions on the historic Illinois Institute of Technology campus designed by Mies van der Rohe, contextualizing them within the broader cityscape. He also emphasizes Chicago’s ongoing role as an industrial center, as well as its defining relationship with Lake Michigan. Like the Biennial itself, Baan’s expansive photographs interpret Chicago as a realm of architectural possibility, past and future.

With no formal training in architecture, his perspective mirrors the questions and perspectives of the everyday individuals who give meaning and context to the architecture and spaces that surround us, and this artistic approach has given matters of architecture an approachable and accessible voice. As the inaugural recipient of the Julius Shulman Institute Award for Architectural Photography, today, architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Diller Scofidio & Renfro, Toyo Ito, SANAA and Morphosis turn to Baan to give their work a sense of place and narrative.

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