Architectural Photographers: Thomas Mayer

Punta della Dogana Venice, Tadao Ando 2009 ©

This time we are presenting you Thomas Mayer, Swiss architectural photographer who works for some of the worldʻs finest architects such as Frank Gehry. He learned photography in Zurich and came to Germany in 1968 where he worked until 1974 as a specialised photographer for car advertising in studio and on location. In 1974 he started to do editorial photography for Germanyʻs finest magazines such as GEO, Stern, Merian, ZEIT-Magazin, Der Spiegel and more. In cooperation with famous designer Otl Aicher he worked for companies like BMW, Lufthansa, West-LB and started to do architecture features for ERCO Lighting from 1977 until today. A long term documentation about Frank Gehryʻs Neuer Zollhof Dusseldorf 1989 – 1999. A documentation on the development of the world heritage site Zeche Zollverein 2002 – 2007 includes the development of the Zollverein School from competition til finalisation of the building.

Thomas Mayerʻs work has taken him to many places in the world and has been published in magazines, books, exhibitions and Calenders. Besides his craftmanship and strong sense of composition, his work can broadcast a visual sense of humor. He is a storyteller who does not need to resort to pathos or trickery but finds beauty in man and structures and in light and shadow instead.

Neuer Zollhof Dusseldorf, Gehry Partners 1999 © Thomas Mayer

1. When and how did you start photographing architecture?

I learned photography in an apprenticeship with a fashion and advertising photographer in Zurich from 1964-67. After my first, 6 years long career as a car photographer (1968-74) I switched to editorial photography. Since 1974 I have worked for the best magazines in Germany as Zeit- Magazin, Merian, Stern, GEO magazine and others. 2 different situations brought me to architectural photography: first is the continuous work for ERCO lighting company since 1977 up to now in showing the daily life in architecture in the light of ERCO in their reference projects. Second was the ten years long documentation of the development of the Neue Zollhof in Dusseldorf, first with competition winner Zaha Hadid, then from 1994-1999 with Frank Gehry, documenting the design period, construction and finished buildings. After worldwide publications of this project I was established as architectural photographer.

World Trade Center New York 1978 © Thomas Mayer

2. Are you an architect?

No, but if I would have studied, it would have been architecture.

City Lounge St.Galle, Switzerland 2006, Carlos Martinez and Pipilotti Rist © Thomas Mayer

3. Why do you like to photograph architecture?

I was always fascinated by urban development and have followed with a critical eye the changes in Germany, where I live, and in metropolitan areas like Paris, New York, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and in Scandinavian countries. I was never a pure architectural photographer. I am a “reportage architectural photographer” and approach to buildings and sites in a journalistic way in showing the design and the life in it.

workshop with Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Dusseldorf 1997 © Thomas Mayer

4. Favorite architect?

Very difficult question, most of the time after visiting a new project I have a new favorite architect, but when you force me I want to name 4 architects:

  • Rem Koolhaas for his thinking in urban development
  • Frank Gehry who brought joy and fun into modern architecture
  • Peter Zumthor who works very careful, very slow, very thoroughgoing
  • Rudolph Küppers, who built our home where we love to live and work since 20 years
Brother-Claus-Field-Chapel Wachendorf, Peter Zumthor 2007 © Thomas Mayer

5. Favorite building?

Most difficult question, I could give you a list with at least 20 buildings, but beside our home I want to point out 2 favorites which are very different in design but similar in mind:

  • The Chapel Ronchamp by Le Corbusier
  • The Brother-Claus-Field-Chapel by Peter Zumthor
Zollverein School, Essen, Germany, SANAA 2006 © Thomas Mayer

6. How do you work?

I work alone and freelance since 1969, have assignments by magazines, architects, designers, advertising agencies, industrial clients and others. When doing architectural photography I like to visit first the site together with the architect, learn hers/his thoughts and develop my own view to it. Since 2004 I provide clients and the architectural press with images from my website

MARTa Herford, Gehry Partners 2005 © Thomas Mayer

7. What kind of equipment and software do you use?

As a reportage photographer I use 35mm camera on tripod, now digital (actually Nikon D3X), software is Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Cite: Saieh, Nico. "Architectural Photographers: Thomas Mayer" 09 Jan 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • PatrickLBC

    Pretty nice pics. Too bad they are tiny and watermarked.

  • shift A

    Very good photographer, and instructive interview!