Architecture: The Interior Shell Tells its Own Story, Part One

05 April 2012


1. Inner Shell through Window, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

2. Bones, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

3. Exterior Corner Walls, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

4. Underpinnings, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

5. Top of the Building, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

6. Pipes, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

7. Black and White, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

8. Shadows on Completed Brick Wall; March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

9. A Neighboring Building, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Let me know which photograph from this series is your favorite.


Sometime you want to kick yourself for waiting, putting off that photo shoot. Finally, I took my camera and telephoto lens to explore the architectural elements of a building under construction at my alma mater.

It’s a massive science research lab, which covers almost an entire block. The building’s skeleton creates an image of great work to be invented and completed, of people sifting through a maze of classrooms, of labs and lecture halls, of faculty and students being fully electrified by the discovery process and the unknown.

I was drawn to this particular structure, because of the colorful array of materials. As construction progressed over months and months, the interior elements seemed  aesthetically rendered. This re-creation of an architect’s plan provides an inner foundation that will hide itself, but also holds a key to the building’s totality.

Historically, photographers and photojournalists have been documenting cityscapes and partially-constructed sites for centuries. While most are known for their perspectives on the final construction, others followed a project’s evolution from ground breaking to  completion.

Architectural photography is part of the archives of what we create, our habitats, our public spaces, our private dwellings. It details an epic tale of our metamorphosis as humans animals. It also demonstrates our cleverness and inventiveness. Our rise to glory as creative creatures.

Many known, not-so-well-known and anonymous photographers took their turn at architectural photography. Think: Lewis Hine, Balthazar Korab, Julius Shulman, Eric Stoller, Andrew George. Here are examples:

"The Worker, Man on Girders, Empire State Building," ca. 1931 by Lewis Hine

Julius Shulman's "Bay Bridge Under Construction, San Francisco," 1934

"Utah State Capitol," ca. 1912-1916, by Shipler Commercial Photographers

"CCTV Building Under Construction," Beijing, 2005-2008, Unknown Photographer

These photographers document not only the architecture of human creativity, but also record the history of material culture. These materials are the stuff of our existence, giving us a timeline about our ability to alter the spaces around us (for the good and the destructive).

When a commercial, private or public space is built, a number of phenomenon transpires. Each stage of the building’s progression witnesses a composition and a layering. Among the agents of change is a continual play of light and shadows, which is especially apparent in my photographs 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9 in the Lens section.

One of the results of the photograph’s job is its ability to give a 2-D impression of a 3-D design. Photographs are still images as schema for the buzz of life. It’s a strange combination of the visual through innovation, interpretation, observation, tradition, technology, and documentation.

But there is so much more to the narrative of the newly built. It exudes a redefinition of the physical space, and the project over time gives onlookers a chance to adjust or protest. In an economy gone sour, a partial construction can hang in the lurch. Then the space is defined by a structure’s incompleteness upon the landscape; its interior shell telling yet another story.

With their Pantone-colored walls and gleaming pipes the raw materials, which compose the grid and guts of the interior, are eventually covered and sealed from view. They are place holders for our culture’s history. But they also bare more than the usual descriptors for the functional and utilitarian. Often they exude a silent design element that borders on something more than they seem: a certain kind of beauty is their name, and I’m sticking to my opinion.

Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of this blog. If you want to read a few fabulous architectural magazines, do get Dwell and Metropolis. They make your senses dance with joy.

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8 Responses to Architecture: The Interior Shell Tells its Own Story, Part One

  1. I can’t choose between photos 2 and 9. I like them all – well spotted.

  2. Thanks for helping me seeing the beauty of these unfinished structures! I pass them daily and never really look. Your photographs help me really see and appreciate what’s there.

    • It’s the story of the human condition. The number of times we (me included) pass the same spot, and suddenly see what has been right in front of us. Photography helps to see the unseen. Thanks, Sally

  3. "Occam Blade" says:

    I like #9 because of the “contretemps” of that graceful, green plant vying for attention against the green “glass” structures. Bravo, plant, bravo! I agree that many architectural works can represent some of humankind’s highest level of creative expression and engineering. I must say that the unsung photographers specializing in that genre are heros as well.They must understand not just exposure and composition, but spatial relationships to the film plane, re; the Scheimplug Principle. I am sure I would learned so much more using a 4×5 view camera, but I would’ve had to stand on my head to focus on the ground glass. Hmmmm….

    • I really enjoyed your response to my post. And I’ll be finding out momentarily about the Scheimplug Principle. Yes, I agree that unknown photographers are our cultural heroes too. Thanks for your comments, Sally

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