Photographer Hélène Binet captures the razor-fine lines, geometric illusions and striking angles of Zaha Hadid’s iconoclastic fire station on the Vitra Campus in Germany. Binet first documented the building when it was unveiled as Hadid’s stunning debut in 1994, ten years before the Iraq-born architect became the first female to win the Pritzker Prize. Recently revisiting the structure, Binet’s recontextualized vistas include a new sculpted piece commissioned by Swarovski, aptly titled “Prima,” a nod to the building’s status as Hadid’s first. “Hadid is a unique architect with a definite sense of freedom,” explains Binet, who has also worked closely with Daniel Libeskind and Peter Zumthor. “Her freedom is expressed by the feeling of continuity in the lines of her buildings and how everything is born out of something, and evolves into something else.” Since 1981, German design company Vitra has invited the most distinguished architects to create buildings on its Weil am Rhein campus, from the Herzog & de Meuron designed Vitrahaus; the company’s flagship store, to a bus stop completed by Jasper Morrison in 2006 and a Frank Gehry designed museum completed in 1989. NOWNESS spoke to Binet about her engagement with architecture and why she thinks Hadid’s buildings are so photogenic.
How was it seeing the fire station 20 years on? Is it how you remembered?
Hélène Binet: I was there right from the start and it was very different—mainly in that it was Zaha’s first construction, so it was a totally new way of building; there was nothing to compare it to. Going back now, I see it more as a tiny jewel from which many things have grown and evolved. Of course, now the building is also no longer used as a fire station, but it’s in good state and is the start of Zaha’s history.
Do Hadid’s buildings lend themselves to the lens?
HB: Her style gives you freedom as a photographer; you feel you don’t have to depict certain classical elements as you do with other buildings such as the windows or doors. You can forget about normal rules and play with lines and curves; you can go back and see her sketches. Of course, her buildings might just be photogenic but this is perhaps too simple!
Is it possible to represent architecture accurately with photography?
HB: It is, but it’s tricky. There is that sense of impossibility that has been my challenge for past 20 years. It’s difficult to capture that three-dimensional quality with photography. For example, sometimes it’s the tinier details that make certain photographs good, not the perspective. Sometimes pictures of buildings can be silent, and what I try to do is evoke some sort of a dream in the photo that can take you back to the reality.