Why Iwan Baan’s TED Talk Was Right

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Iwan Baan’s recent TED talk on ingenious informal settlement ‘architecture’ became instantly popular, clearly striking a chord with people across the globe. The lecture has been called everything from heartwarming to condescending, but for Parsons graduate students Meagan Durlak and James Frankis it was reaffirming. Durlak and Frankis have spent time working in Sao Paolo’s favelas and understand that finding a balance between the good and the bad is key to the revitalization of these settlements. This article, originally published in Metropolis Magazine as “Response to Iwan Baan’s TED Talk,” journals some of their experiences working in South American slums, and why we need to stop treating those slums as a blight. 

Meagan Durlak and I were excited to see the by architectural photographer Iwan Baan on the ingenuity found within informal settlements. In his presentation he walks us through a range of communities across the world, capturing many such settlements, including houses above a lagoon and a repurposed office block.

Baan’s view of informal settlements resonates with our own work; it’s an under-told story that we very much applaud. He shows an overview of people’s lives and their unique methods for adapting to difficult conditions. Perhaps as interesting as his film are the reactions to it from viewers. Many found the innovation in informal settlements to be inspiring and heartwarming; others claimed that this talk is just a life affirming story for the rich 1% of the world, perpetuating inaction for areas which need immediate aid. The two sides of the argument reminded us of our own work and the battles we have gone through in trying to wrap our heads around the systems of informal settlements, as well as the difficulties we have had in explaining their hidden properties to others.

Iwan Baan on Light and the Louvre Lens

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Most architects are familiar with the work of Iwan Baan, the eminent photographer who has documented some of the most famous buildings of our time. But what you may not know is that Baan had not originally intended to photograph architecture. Had it not been for a chance meeting with Rem Koolhaas, things may have turned out quite differently. 

In the video above, Baan speaks with ERCO at the Louvre Lens, a SANAA-designed offshoot of the Paris Louvre located in a small mining town in the north of France. As he traipses around the museum’s campus, he speaks about everything from his approach to (one that is less wrapped up in architecture than you might think) to the importance and transformative properties of light . 

TED: Ingenious Homes in Unexpected Places / Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan’s curiosity for the built environment has led him to be one of the world’s most preeminent photographers whose skills are in constant demand by architectural elites worldwide. Constantly on the move, Baan has found himself documenting fascinating testaments to human ingenuity. From the informal vertical community of Torre David in Caracas to the floating Niagara of Makoko, Baan’s encounters with thriving communities in some of the most unexpected places has led him to believe that there is “no such thing as normal” and humans can truly adapt to anything.

Watch TEDCity2.0: Dream me. Build me. Make me real.

Live Stream

Calling all urban innovators, organizers, stewards and builders: Today, September 20th, from 9am to 5pm EST, curators Chris Anderson, John Cary and Courtney Martin will kick off TEDCity2.0: Dream me. Build me. Make me real. The day-long event, which will be live-streamed for free, will share stories of urban ingenuity and interdependence from across the globe, while featuring an unexpected mix of over 20 speakers, including walkability expert , world renowned architectural photographer Iwan Baan, and several 2012 City 2.0 Award winners. View the event program for more details.

WORLD PHOTO DAY: The 13 Architecture Photographers to Follow Now

© Leonardo Finotti

In honor of World Photo Day, we’ve rounded up the 13 architectural photographers who have been impressing us most in 2013. From industry heavyweights, like Iwan Baan and , to relative new comers, such as Miguel de Guzmán and , these photographers have traveled the world, getting the architectural shots we only dream of. See all 13, after the break…

Photography: Toyo Ito by Iwan Baan

Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture ©

“Whoever reviews Ito’s works notices not only a variety of functional programs, but also a spectrum of architectural languages.” — From the 2013 Pritzker Jury’s Citation

Toyo Ito has just been announced the winner of the 2013 Pritzker Prize. To commemorate this master architect, we’ve reached out to Iwan Baan, architecture’s premier photographer, and assembled a retrospective of some of Ito’s greatest works (all photographed, of course, by Baan) – including the Za Koenji Public Theatre, Toyo Ito’s Museum of Architecture, Silver Hut – TIMA, Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum, Yaoko Kawagoe Museum, Suites Avenue Hotel, Huge Wineglass Project, Mikimoto 2, Tama Art University Library & White O. See them all, after the break…

Tama Art University Library / Toyo Ito by Iwan Baan

Once again, Iwan Baan shared with us another impresive photoset. This time, we are presenting the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, Japan, by .

Za Koenji Public Theatre / Toyo Ito by Iwan Baan

Once more, Iwan Baan shared with the Za Koenji Public Theatre by Toyo Ito in Tokyo, . An impressive black volume in the middle of the city of Suginami in Tokyo and managed by Creative Theatre Network (CTN), a non-profit organization led by president Ren Saito.

You can see the complete photoset on Iwan’s website.

Iwan Baan: ‘The Way We Live’ Exhibition

#1, 2006, Digital C-Print, 54 x 36 inches (137.2 x 91.4 cm) / ©

Opening tonight, February 20, at 6:00pm PST at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in Los Angeles, Iwan Baan‘s ‘The Way We Live’ exhibition features captivating large-scale images of urban, architectural, and home environments that capture Baan’s singular vision. Baan’s artistic practice examines how we live and interact with architecture, focusing on the human element, which brings buildings, intersections, and public gathering places to life. Running until April 13, this is Baan’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. More information after the break.

Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities / Urban-Think Tank & Iwan Baan

Torre David, a 45-story skyscraper in Caracas, has remained uncompleted since the Venezuelan economy collapsed in 1994. Today, it is the improvised home to more than 750 families living in an extra-legal and tenuous squat, that some have called a “vertical .”

Urban-Think Tank, the authors of Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities, spent a year studying the physical and social organization of this ruin-become home. Richly illustrated with photographs by Iwan Baan, the book documents the residents’ occupation of the tower and how, in the absence of formal infrastructure, they organize themselves to provide for daily needs, with a hair salon, a gym, grocery shops, and more.

Iwan Baan: The Way We Live

The City and the Storm, 2012; © Iwan Baan, Images courtesy of Perry Rubenstein Gallery

Iwan Baan‘s name may ring a bell for all those following Hurricane Sandy’s devastation across City and New Jersey’s coast.  The photographer’s iconic photograph made headlines when it was featured on New York magazine’s front page days after the storm, showing lower Manhattan in complete darkness, set against its vibrant counterpart uptown, as the United States’ east coast was recovering from the extensive damage left in Sandy’s wake.  The image not only brings to mind the absolute helplessness that New York City faced during the storm, but also lends a hand in a social commentary that is notably pervasive in Baan’s work.

Starting February 20th, 2013, The Perry Rubenstein Gallery in Los Angeles will feature the Baan’s work in his first, two-month exhibition entitled The Way We Live, honing in on the images that encapsulate the world of architecture, urbanism and human engagement.

More on Iwan Baan: The Way We Live after the break.

Iwan Baan vs. Sandy: The Story Behind That Iconic NYC Shot

Photo: for Magazine

We got in touch with Iwan Baan to ask him how on earth he got that incredible aerial shot of a Sandy-struck New York City for New York Magazinehe told us what it was like to face the frenzy and fly into the storm itself. Read his incredible story, after the break… 

Venice Biennale 2012: Torre David, Gran Horizonte / Urban Think Tank + Justin McGuirk + Iwan Baan

© Nico Saieh

Last year, thanks to a photo essay by architecture photographer Iwan Baan featured in the New York Magazine, the world became aware of a dramatic urban context in Caracas, Venezuela, the result of a lack of available housing: The Torre David (David Tower). The tower, built as the headquarters of the Confinanzas Group during the economic boom of the 90s, was left unfinished after the company went bankrupt in 1994, placing the building in a murky legal void where its ownership was put into question. Since 2000, the tower has suffered looting and decay; the public take-over culminated with the occupation of the tower by more than 2,500 people in 2007.

For over a year, Urban-Think Tank studied how the tower’s mixed-use occupation worked, with improvised apartments, shops, and even a gym on the terrace. The community operates under the strict rules imposed by the informal tenants, who have been accused by many Venezuelans of being nothing more than criminals.

Invited by curator Justin McGuirk, Urban-Think Tank recreated ‘Gran Horizonte’, a restaurant in the Torre de David, at the Arsenale of the Venice Biennale. The restaurant serves the same traditional food as the original, while photos by Iwan Baan reveals tenants’ day-to-day lives, immersing visitors into the tower.

The installation explores how the informal settlement works in ways the building’s architect never would have conceived, and posits that the informal dynamics found in emerging countries could serve as a vital source of innovation and experimentation for urban problems in our hyper-urbanized world.

The project has been highly controversial among the Venezuelan architecture community, as shown by the letters and articles in local newspapers reproduced at the installation, and on the Internet. Most of these letters’ authors claim that the project supports the illegal occupation and depicts a distorted image of Venezuela’s reality. But, on the other hand, the Venezuela Pavilion at the Biennale showed only cheerful paintings and images of propaganda, avoiding its purpose: to critically observe and stir debate. The controversy between the two visions only further highlights the current polarity in Venezuelan society, particularly on this issue of urbanization.

For this project, Justin McGuirk, Urban-Think Tank, and Iwan Baan were awarded with the Golden Lion by the Biennale’s Jury.

More from the architects after the break:

House NA / Sou Fujimoto Architects

© Iwan Baan

You may remember Sou Fujimoto Architects radical House NA from this video we shared with you last November. Designed for a young couple in a quiet neighborhood, the 914 square-foot transparent house contrasts the typical concrete block walls seen in most of ’s dense residential areas. Associated with the concept of living within a tree, the spacious interior is comprised of 21 individual floor plates, all situated at various heights, that satisfy the clients desire to live as nomads within their own home.

Continue after the break for more images and information on House NA.

Kilden / ALA Architects

© Iwan Baan

Architects: ALA Architects
Location: Kristiansand,
Completion: July 2011
Competition Team: ltd, Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki, Janne Teräsvirta, Samuli Woolston
Project Team: ALA Architects ltd / Helsinki, Kristians
In Collaboration With: SMS Arkitekter AS / Kristiansand
Client: Teater- og Konserthus for Sørlandet IKS
Photographs: Iwan Baan

More photos of Wang Shu’s work by Iwan Baan

Zhongshan Road | ©

From Iwan Baan‘s website we are bringing you two more projects by 2012 Pritzker laureate, : The Ceramic House (Coffee House) in the Jinhua Architecture Park, where Ai Wei Wei, working as the curator, brought together 16 architects from around the world to create a pavilion-city along the banks of the river Yiwu; and the Zhongshan Road renovation in Hangzhou.

Some more photographs after the break, and the complete photoset on Iwan’s website.

Auditorium in Cartagena / Selgas Cano

© Iwan Baan

Architects: Selgas Cano
Location: , Spain
Project Architect: Jose Selgas, Lucía Cano
Project Team: Lara Resco, José de Villar, José Jaraiz, Lorena del Río, Blas Antón, Miguel San Millán, Carlos Chacón, Julián Fernandez, Beatriz Quintana, Jaehoon Yook, Jeongwoo Choi, Laura Culiañez, Bárbara Bardín
Architectural Assistant: Antonio Mármol, Joaquín Cárceles, Rául Jiménez
Completion: 2011
Site Area: 5,628 sqm
Total Square Footage: 18,500 sqm
Budget: 34.5 Euro
Photographs: Iwan Baan

Synagogue / SeARCH

© Iwan Baan

Architects: SeARCH
Location: Amsterdam,
Project Design: Bjarne Mastenbroek & Uda Visser
Assistants: Remco Wieringa, Ton Gilissen, Louis Toebosch, Stefano Tropea, Thomas van Schaick, Wesley Lanckriet, Marie Louise Mejlholm, Laura Álvarez Rodríguez, Pedro Carvalho dos Santos, Alexandra Schmitz
Client: Liberaal Joodse Gemeente Amsterdam
Contractor: Bouwbedrijf M.J. de Nijs & Zn. B.V
Project Area: 3400 sqm
Project Year: 2010
Photographs: Iwan Baan