Iwan Baan

by Christa van Vlodrop

1. Background

Studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. In October last year I received the first Julius Shulman Photography Award with Diane Keaton who received the Julius Shulman Communications Award. This award was presented at the Woodbury University in Los Angeles by the Julius Shulman Foundation on the occasion of the celebration of the anniversary of the birthday of the renowned architectural photographer, 100 years ago.

2. Why are you fascinated with
architecture / urban development?

My interest in photography has always had to do with people and urban space. After art school, I dealt mainly with documentary photography, I worked in between Amsterdam and New York with a publisher and was still looking to find my own direction in photography. By chance I met Rem Koolhaas six years ago, and proposed to do the photography for one of his projects. That gave my work, from day one, a radical twist and since then I try to capture what is being built all over the world, but still using my documentary approach to photography.

3. Best city

It's hard to choose ... I live in a suitcase and plane, every 2-3 days I'm somewhere else in the world. Amsterdam, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Mexico City, Los Angeles, all the cities give me a feeling of 'coming home', because I know people in all these places and I’m there every few weeks or so.

4. Most beautiful building

Also difficult to choose when you see so much. For me it is important how a building works in the context and the environment. Rem Koolhaas' Seattle Public Library is still one of my favorites, I discover something new every time and always come back with a new series of photographs. Or the CCTV building in Beijing for the Chinese state television, that I have been documenting from the start of construction for OMA during the past six years. I am still fascinated by the scale, how projects of this type are built in China and the constantly changing city and surrounding community.

5. Most beautiful park or square

At the moment it’s the HighLine in New York that I have documented extensively in recent years for the architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. An old ‘elevated railway’ that runs through New York which has been converted into a public park. Especially the new section that opened three months ago and runs between the New York high-rise, gives you a different perspective on the city. One minute you ‘float’ between the buildings and the other it shows the beautiful views of the city.

6. Best public facility / urban infill

In recent years I have documented the re- building of the city of Medellin in Colombia. What was nine years ago one of the most dangerous places in the world, has now become an example of how a city can be transformed. In the slums around the city that were all ‘no-go areas' and belonged to Pablo Escobar and the drug mafia, the former mayor together with a big police force came together to eradicate crime, started a competition for architects to design schools, libraries, parks and public facility. Now you find in the favelas in the city and the surrounding area architecture by young architects who have transformed the place from a criminal melting pot into a model of how the favelas should be handled.

7. Best 20th and 21st century innovations

For me that is the Internet. This ensures that I can work this way. I live in hotels and airplanes, always somewhere else in the world, sometimes only once every two months in the Netherlands where I still officially 'live'. For me the Internet is the tool that I can work with anywhere, and that I don’t need a permanent place.

8. Next groundbreaking innovation

I hope something is found for our energy-hungry society. I certainly realize that through my work and interests I have a large carbon footprint, and hope that alternatives are found for our use of oil and nuclear energy.

9. About the future of cities

What is interesting is that after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, energy consumption in Tokyo fell by 30%. Everyone was encouraged to save energy, to buy energy saving bulbs, using the air conditioner less etc. This allowed the country, without significant problems for life, to keep the city running. An example of such a huge disaster can have a positive effect on dealing with our scarce resources.

10. Personal contribution to urban development

I try to make a record of what major construction projects are happening around the world. I think we are living in an extraordinary time in which almost anything can be built, that we imagine. I try to show the extremes, of special places in Africa where a group of people really can help and have an impact on a city, the people or the environment, to the great design ‘icons’ in the world.

11. Guerrilla in the city?

Three months ago I was back in Caracas, Venezuela. A city where 70% of the population live in favelas or slums. I was taking photographs of an office building that was built in the late eighties before Venezuela went bankrupt. The building is 45 stories high, but before construction was finished, the bank also went bankrupt and left standing was a concrete frame with no format or rooms, no elevators, no running water. The tower has now been taken over by some 3,000 people who have built their own houses, as in the favelas. It is now the largest vertical slum, a kind of ‘wall street occupy’ in real life. We are making a book and documenting how people take over such a place without any help or intervention from government, architects and planners, they are building there own city in the sky.