It’s all in the details

Sophie Lewis

O2 Arena (Photo: Flickr)

When it comes to design, the attention to detail that artists, designers and architects put into their work can sometimes be missed in the grand scheme of things.

A prime example is the work of costume and set designers in the theatre.

The V&A are currently displaying some of their extensive Theatre & Performance Collection, giving everyone the chance to explore the history of the theatre and get up close with the sets, costumes and props which are often too far away for the audience to truly appreciate. You focus on the actors and their performance rather than the set and the costumes – so you wouldn’t be blamed for not realising that many of the smallest details are carefully thought out. Within the V&A exhibition, there are a number of costumes from Victorian-based plays, yet when you look closely you can see how, despite being set in the same era, each costume differs in small ways to reflect the particular decade in which the play was performed. From silhouettes to sleeve design, these little details are carefully considered to perfectly merge popular designs of the day with the age it is trying to portray.

But it’s not just in the theatre where there are little details which go amiss. The same can be said for the buildings that surroundus in the City of London.

Many iconic buildings and structures that we recognise in an instant have details within in them which are bordering on genius when you learn about them.

Take the O2 Arena for example. Originally built to mark the Millennium, it has multiple references to time ingrained into it: the 12 supports visible from the roof which represent each month of the year; the dome is 52m high, matching the number of weeks in a year; and the diameter is 365m, one for each day of the year (if you ignore leap years).

Blackfriars Bridge is another such example – have you ever noticed that parts of it are designed to look like pulpits in reference to Black Friars?


Blackfriars Bridge (Photo: Wikimedia)

There are countless details that go unnoticed around us. But once you start to look closely at things you begin to realise just how much time and through designers, architects and all manner of creatives put into their designs, and it’s really quite remarkable.

60 seconds with architectural photographer Peter Landers

Antonia Dixon

Why did you decide to become an architectural photographer? Is it something you have always loved?

I trained as an architect and then spent seven years working in the architectural visualisation industry, which in effect is reverse engineering the architectural photo.  Photography, especially architectural photography, is something I have always loved but it was primarily a hobby. Five years ago I made my hobby my career. I spent eighteen months travelling and building my portfolio which enabled me to experience a range of architecture.


Who is your biggest influence? (Not necessarily a photographer, but in terms of your photography)

I wouldn’t say that there is one particular influence on my work. I spend a lot of my spare time keeping up to date on the progress of various architectural projects around the world. It’s inspiring to see buildings take shape and see an architect’s vision become reality. I also always keep an eye out for what other photographers are doing, it’s fascinating to see how different people cover spaces.


What is the most challenging project that you had to photograph?  (and briefly why)

Every project is a challenge for any number of reasons, small spaces, large area, scale, weather, people, obstructions, terrain or traffic. Therein lies the fun in the job, how am I going to get the shot that I think will work the best and truly capture the space.

001_PLP_ImageClockwise from top left: College Road – Russian For Fish. John Lewis Partnership Heritage Centre – FSP Architects. Narrow House  – Sanei Hopkins Architects. Calvin Street  – Chris Dyson Architects

 What would be your dream project to shoot? (and briefly why)

A commission to shoot the National Theatre is top of the list, it’s my favourite building in London. Brutalist architecture lends itself to dramatic architectural photos, the texture and juxtaposition between heaviness and light. I like a challenge so would enjoy capturing a performance space. It’s tricky trying to capture that atmosphere.


What separates an iconic image from the rest? i.e. angles, colour, composition, shock factor?

It nearly always has to be a combination of everything – composition, colour, tone, subject, light etc. Some of the most iconic architectural images convey the use of the building using people and their movement. A well placed set of characters and a subtle suggestion of movement or activity can tell you so much more about the building. Having said that a crisp clean empty standalone building highlights its form and materials. Shock factor isn’t really something associated with architectural photography but drama plays a big part and that can be captured through light, colour or characters.


What difference is the digital landscape making to the world of architectural photography – and even to architecture itself?

Whilst I still enjoy using film cameras the flexibility and the speed digital photography provides an unrivalled work-base for architectural photography. The ability to shoot so many images means each image can be continually honed and perfected. When you’re on site you want to nail the shot in one, but exterior elements often prevent this, instead you have to be thinking about what the image can become when you’re back in the office. I.e. what digital assets do you need to make the best photo? This could be traffic and people removal, bracketing for extreme exposures or extra photos to make a stitch. Particularly when it comes to people you might have to pose them on site, now you can grab people from the same composition at different times and use them together to enhance the photo. For each tripod position I like to have a rough plan of how the photo will be built and think about what the image could become.



Clockwise from top left: Gasholders Marketing Suite – Wilkinson Eyre Architects. C-Space – Buckley Gray Yeoman Architects. New North Road – Cooke Fawcett Architects. Mast Brothers

If a client informed you of their desired publication before you shot their project, would that alter the way you photographed it and how? In other words, what qualities differentiate a Dezeen image, House & Garden image and an AJ image?

With a Dezeen or and AJ image you’re generally looking to capture the architecture and the activity within it, these images would be more in line with what you might refer to as a ‘classic architectural shot’. House & Garden on the other hand might lean a little more to the ‘lifestyle’ type image which is not only about the architecture and design but the things within it and a focus on the people that live there.


St Martin’s Lofts  – Darling Architects

Do you prefer to see your images in print or online and why?

It’s always nice to see my images featured anywhere, but I do still have a soft spot for seeing them in print. There’s something appealing about having a physical record of your work, especially looking back to earlier projects.



Wapping Pierhead – Chris Dyson Architects

And lastly, if you could have dinner with a stranger (celebrity or a professional role model) who would it be and what would you most like to ask them?

Had he still been alive I would have to pick Julius Shulman, a man who many consider to have defined architectural photography as its own art form. If nothing else the comparison of modern day and old techniques, approach and equipment would be fascinating.

IMG_5997-Edit-200516_Profile_PLP-Large (2)Peter Landers


The Rewards of Awards

Alice Fawke

What is the real value of an award to a design practice? Undoubtedly there is benefit. Over the years S&R has asked developers and end-user clients how they decide which architects to approach and it seems that awards positively influence their decision as it suggests outstanding ability and informed third party endorsement.

But the exact value of awards is difficult to quantify. There are many factors to consider, including cost of entry and time required to compile the submission (a further cost). There is also a tendency for awards programmes to announce extensive ‘shortlists’, raising the question of whether there has been any filtration process at all. But does this matter? The commercialisation of awards could be mutually beneficial – organisations encourage entries and revenue by as good as guaranteeing your chances of being shortlisted, but when you post ‘XXX Award shortlisted’ on your website, no one reading it, except perhaps your peers, knows that the criteria for shortlisting is the following: enter the award. Maybe it’s win – win.

A lot depends on who your audience is. If you are targeting clients familiar with design and architecture, they are likely to know that the Gravy Train Award for Colour In Office Fit Out is not up there with an RIBA, Civic Trust or AJ Award.  For architects who are seeking to position themselves as design leaders it would be detrimental to highlight a fistful of mediocre awards. For a practice with different ambitions working in a less informed marketplace, the Gravy Train Award could provide useful endorsement.

If you are in doubt as to whether to spend the money or commit someone to preparing the award entry, here are some pointers to help you:

  1. Who is on the judging panel?

A good judging panel would ideally include the Editor of a notable publication, a developer, an industry influencer, a top architect, a corporate end-user (if relevant) and so on. These are people you want to see your work directly, who will refer you and spread your practice name in the right circles, even if you don’t win.

  1. What are the promised promotion tactics for shortlisted and winning entries?

Apart from being able to use the award logo on your marketing material and website, look into what the programme will do to show off your project. It is helpful if the award is run by a reputable magazine publisher as they can guarantee a certain amount of exposure. If it’s not, check who the media partners are and what coverage has been agreed. If there is an Awards Dinner, do you get free tickets if you are up for a prize? Will it provide useful networking, or a client entertainment opportunity?

  1. Don’t assume that the award will attract lots of additional media coverage

It is a mistake to think that an award – unless a Royal Gold Medal or The Stirling Prize – will attract media attention other than in the publication that owns the award, or through a media partner. There are hundreds of awards and thousands of winners each year, and news pages would feature little else if all awards were covered. On the other hand, local newspapers are sometimes keen to publish awards won by local practices or local projects.

  1. Is the competition UK only or international?

A double-edged sword. It is important to remind yourself who is your target market. Entering international awards offers the potential to be promoted on an international stage. It also means entry numbers will likely increase and your chances of winning are decreased. Again, check who the media partners are and consider where your project would be visible if you did win. Who is on the judging panel? If there is an awards ceremony, can you afford to go in order to benefit from networking opportunities?

  1. Which projects and practices have won in previous years?

The acid test. Firstly it indicates the quality of the award. If well-known and respected practices have entered and won previously, you can usually assume the award has clout or will gain traction in future years. Secondly, and most importantly, it allows you to review your chances of winning. Compare your own project with those that have won previously and you could be onto winner if the comparison is favourable… or save yourself a lot of money and time if not!

Good luck!