Tom Harris Uses Gorgeous Light to Chisel Out the Shapely Visual Arts Center at University of Iowa

Tom Harris Uses Gorgeous Light to Chisel Out the Shapely Visual Arts Center at University of Iowa

Project of the Week

We’re back with “Project of the Week” veteran Tom Harris! Today we’re checking out Tom’s gorgeous photographs of The University of Iowa’s Visual Arts Center designed by Steven Holl Architects.

This project is a perfect example of how the time of day and lighting conditions affect both the mood of your photograph and the appearance of the architecture itself. Let’s dive into this first set of juxtaposed photographs and explore them a bit.

Right off the bat, the first thing that stands out to me is the way the golden sunlight sweeps in on the right side of the frame. Complete with a little specular highlight, it gives the appearance of heat and warmth on the facade, which is a great contrast from the “cool side” of the building on the left. The directional light carves out the shape of the building and translates the dimensionality of the structure beautifully.

As time passes, we see the same view of the Visual Arts Center, but it feels completely different. There is a quietness about the scene that is a product of the softer, more even light, and without the motion of the students strolling across the sidewalk. What’s most noteworthy here though, are the windows and rooms that are now illuminated at dusk. This cleaver hidden feature would have slipped by unnoticed by us if Tom hadn’t come back to craft a twilight shot.

The hard shadows Tom captures create a three dimensional feel while echoing the shapes of the leading lines formed by the sidewalk. Our eyes are driven right to the door of the Arts building.

Again, at dusk we see the interior rooms light up and add a nice peppering of shapes and interest.

If you checked out our previous POTW with Tom at the Eleanor Boathouse, you’ll remember that he is a master of adding in models and figures for scale and context. This project is no different. His model here appears small amongst the architecture, and while he snags a photo, it creates a feeling of wonderment and grandeur in the space.

Tom’s compositions always show off the linear elements of the spaces he photographs. The lines and shapes here create a nice motion that carries our eyes through each portion of the image. Our attention is driven right up the stairway where the figure renders how huge of a space this is. Another great thing happening in this image is the naturalness of the exposure and color. Things feel balanced and tidy but real, which is a trait I admire in all of Tom’s work.

Back at the Visual Arts Center’s exterior, Tom gives us two tighter crops which break down some of the more interesting and intimate shapes of the building. On the left, we are able to focus in on the mixture of curves and hard angles that make up this building’s complex shape. On the left, we get a better feeling for the geometric nature of the facade. Check out the way the light streams down across the face of the building, creating a beautiful gradient of light, and the hard shadows that communicate the lines and form that make this structure unique.

Here, we get a bit more context, seeing the Visual Arts Center in relation to the site it sits on, and the other structures on campus in the distance. I love that we are really able to see the patterns and lines on the exterior, and the pattern play they create with the staggered square windows. What a beautiful set of photographs for a beautiful project!

Many thanks to our friend Tom Harris for sharing these photographs with us and the APA community. If you haven’t already, be sure to hop over to Tom’s website tom-harris.net as well as his Instagram @tomharrisphotography to drool over the rest of his impeccable work.

If you have a project you’d like to be considered for Project of the Week, you can submit it here.