On this episode of Project of the Week, we head to the Seattle waterfront with former Aidlin Darling architect-turned-photographer Adam Rouse. We’ll be looking at Adam’s photographs of The Prow on the Expedia campus. Adam directed The Prow while at Aidlin Darling Design, and has so much insight to share about the structure’s design and how it influences the photography. You’ll also see gorgeous landscape work by Surfacedesign Inc. , and hear about Adam’s approach to photographing everything from macro elements like The Prow’s surroundings, to micro details down to the stone in the outdoor spaces. He has a lot of great insight to share, so I’ll let him take it away!
Adam sets the scene by telling us about his relationship with Aidlin Darling Design and the conception of his career as an architectural photographer. He starts, “In my Pre-Covid life I was an architect at the office of Aidlin Darling Design for over 15 years – the vast majority of my professional life. The Prow was one of the last projects I would direct for the studio, taking the project from schematic design to what you see now in the [photographs]. After the project was completed in January 2020 there was a period of time we were going to wait to allow the landscape to grow in. Of course then, as we all don’t need to be reminded of, the world shut down in March 2020. Advance to the summer of 2021, and I was honored for the studio to approach me to professionally shoot the project, having since transitioned into full-time professional architectural photography.”
He continues, “A bit of a back story regarding why there was some merit to approaching me to shoot the project: I earned what I would call a ‘soft’ minor degree in photography in parallel with my architecture degree at university. I say that because it was not an official minor degree, but I spent enough time in elective photography classes whenever I could that it seems like an apt term (as anyone going through an architectural degree program can attest to, there is not much marginal time for anything else).
Fast forward to my time at Aidlin Darling Design, and I was given the early opportunity to capture some projects that they were either not able to have a professional architectural photographer access, or they were too small to warrant the fees associated with hiring someone. Through this, I slowly built up my portfolio and then a project I shot for the studio won an industry award (AIA) with my name noted as the photographer, and work started coming from other local studios. I did this extracurricular work on the side until it became busy enough that it would be untenable to keep doing both. Enter the life-evaluation-period of the pandemic, and here I am on the other end as a full-time professional architectural photographer.”
“Being intimately involved with the project since it was a flat piece of land transforming into the final building, I saw the site and weather conditions for over a year as I made site visits every 3-4 weeks from San Francisco to Seattle to monitor construction. This allowed me to search out the best locations the project would read well from in a formal sense, but also on how to capture the macro adjacencies of the city skyline, industrial waterfront structures, and the distant mountains for the broader establishing shots.
So in essence, I had a very unfair amount of time to scout the project.,” he says.
This next image was the one that immediately stuck me when viewing The Prow. I love the geometric and graphic feel. There’s an excellent use of negative space. His composition is just perfect!
Adam goes on to tell, “The shoot was scheduled as a 3-day shoot in late August, as Seattle weather is quite fickle. The first day was essentially a wet cement marine layer overcast sky, the silver lining of which allowed for a full day of scouting angles, setting up a shot list, and then an early night to wake up first thing the next morning to get dawn coverage.
The next two days were beautiful, beginning with 4 a.m. wake-ups and late-night hotel arrivals – exhausting but incredibly exhilarating.”
“Not surprisingly, I learned that people do not like drones flying over them,” he shares in his takeaways from photographing this project. “As the project straddles both the private campus grounds of Expedia, and the adjacent public waterfront and pedestrian/bike path, flying the drone over the building was a dance of framing up a shot while apologizing to people for the drone noise and reassuring them I was simply taking photos of the work of architecture. I also coordinated the drone flight time with the campus security so they did not zap it out of the sky. There also was a flight path ceiling above for sea planes which made the flight boundaries complicated to navigate – but in the end we got the angles we were looking for.”
Adam says, “Having an architectural background, I appreciate a well-executed detail and know intimately well the exorbitant amount of time and energy it takes to get it right, and then for it to be built the way it was intended to be built. That is why I always make a concerted effort to take detail shots as the shoot progresses.
If I see something that strikes my eye as a potential detail or vignette shot, I have a separate camera that I can pull up and quickly frame a moment that adds to the story without moving the principal technical camera that is setup for an overall shot. It keeps me in rhythm with the cadence of the shoot. For The Prow shoot, this is evident in the tight shots of the rock-work in the set that were captured in stride with the movement of the shoot through the day.”
“I knew that the massive grain silos to the southeast of the project would cast a long morning shadow across the building, which mid-morning would quickly move over the roof and into the foreground so I needed to be on that side of the building setup to get a series of shots as that dynamic phenomenon unfolded.”
“Aside from weather-related coordination, the pandemic was still very much present and work-from-home in full effect,” he says. “For a building meant to be a hub of activity on the new Expedia campus, we essentially had to shoot it empty with a few people available to us every now and then from the client side, which was difficult to address specifically for the interior shots.
We discussed this and shifted to a more introspective photographic approach, having a single person sitting and working to respond to the contemplative and creatively inspiring aspect of the space. If given a chance to go back for a second round of photography, it would be incredible to shoot it during a lecture or a campus event that spills out onto the deck to really capture the energy the space was also designed to harness.”
Adam’s thoughtful compositions and excellent camera height show off The Prow’s beautifully sharp shape. The scene is full of triangles and strong lines that create movement and appealing shapes.
He tells “In an odd counterpoint to the silos’ morning shadow, at dusk, floodlights on the silos illuminated its adjacent staging yard which would spill light out onto the landscape and building. This actually ended up being beneficial for one of the main dusk shots as it gently lit up the tall grasses in the foreground of my dusk shot, gave some light to the building facade so you could see definition in its materiality, and allowed for a long enough exposure to get the dusk light in the sky behind the building with the stars coming out. It ended up being one of the most striking shots of the set, and became the cover shot for its first periodical publication. This ended up being my favorite shot of the shoot.”
A huge thank you to Adam Rouse for sharing his experience designing and photographing this gorgeous building!
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