Bernd and Hilla Becher

I am sitting in my office in a rare cloudy and rainy day in Boulder.  The flat, whiteness of the cloudy sky reminds me of miserable drippy days in Chicago, cold, damp walks to the subway in Boston and strangely enough, the photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Most any architect coming of age in the 1980’s and 90’s is familiar with the stark and beautiful black and white photographs of industrial architecture taken by the Bechers over many decades.  Their frank and almost shadowless images were a revelation, depicting working landscapes and the functional beauty of structures made without affectations.  As an architect I am still fascinated by these images and their books sit on my bookshelf directly across from my drawing desk.  Although these images are of heavy industry and its buildings, they are a far cry from the aesthetic-driven “industrial” look of the late 1980’s with its exposed fasteners, fakey diamond-plate steel, and tricked-out handrails, stairs, and especially furniture.  The Becher’s images are often quite soft, of curving forms and the gentle weathering of time and delayed maintenance.

What is also so notable in these photographs is the blank whiteness of the skies in almost every image.  It makes these industrial, mechanistic objects placeless and timeless, not located on a world with a sun or human beings, not really participants in the world of humans but as the remnants of man’s desires.  Or, the sun is maybe blocked out by the processes and products created by these dreadful and beautiful machines.

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