Braving temperatures as low as -22°F, Iwan Baan is no stranger to shooting in the extreme. Armed with his camera, tripod, and Canada Goose Parka, the esteemed Dutch architectural photographer has produced a series on Beijing-based MAD Architects’ Harbin Opera House in China’s Northernmost province.
His work, unlike most in the industry focuses on people, not buildings. “My pictures are always very much about the users of the place,” Baan says in a film covering the shoot. “I’m not trying to create timeless images which could be in any moment in time. They always should very much have a connection to a specific place, time, people, a context, a culture and this kind of thing.”
“So people are, in that sense, a very important part,” he explains. However, despite the alternative choice of focus, his work still conveys the fluid curvature of MAD’s Harbin Opera House. Cast against a snow-white sky, the meandering white aluminum panels can be seen elegantly rising from the snow.
In this medium, the building’s intentions of emulating the sinuous nature of its marshy surroundings and adjacent frozen riverbank are well and truly achieved. Even among fading light, the opera house’s relationship with the site remains intact through Baan’s lens from both interior and exterior perspectives.
“Harbin is very cold for the most of the year, so I envisioned a building that would blend into the winter landscape as a white snow dune arising from the wetlands,” says Ma Yansong, principal architect and founder of MAD Architects.
“Opera design normally focuses on internal space, but here we had to treat the building as part of its natural environment—one outside the urban context,” Yansong adds.
Traditionally, opera house photography evokes silent spaces, that, by contrast are designed to be anything but. Here, the acoustic properties of the space embedded within the theatrical grandeur are enhanced. With his uncanny habit of seeing things differently, Baan however, captures crowds on their feet in rapturous applause. Outside he shoots tourists, dog walkers, and local ice fishers setting an enlivened scene.
Purist’s needn’t worry though, as shots without any intrusive people also feature.
In related news, MAD has released a video showcasing their Invisible Border Installation for the Interni’s Open Borders exhibition at the 2016 Milan Design Week. A descending veil, comprised of translucent polymer strips can be seen fluttering in the wind as it is loosely held in an undulating form, suspended from the Loggia of the Cortile d’Onore.