Another fine mesh

‘There’s a sense of potentiality and imagination in the half-finished building in a way that runs counter to the finished one’s defined categorisation or aesthetic’

Beach Road Singapore by Foster and Partners.
Beach Road Singapore by Foster and Partners. · Credit: Dennis Gilbert

For a photographer who has spent decades chronicling the time and tide of architecture, there’s a poetry to the fact that Dennis Gilbert has developed a fascination with capturing buildings in the process of construction rather than their post-completion glow. But on the rare occasions that architects have commissioned him to document buildings as they were going up, he was always struck by the relationships of scaffolding and ancillary structures to the building and the landscape beyond; adding complexity to the image and demanding engagement from the viewer in the way a finished shot simply doesn’t.

Gilbert believes these images of partial construction have palpable formal qualities of their own. ‘There’s a sense of potentiality and imagination in the half-finished building in a way that runs counter to the finished one’s defined categorisation or aesthetic,’ he says, feeling there’s liberation for the photographer here too – that there’s no pressure to represent the building as more than it might be. Gilbert concedes he’s shot his ‘share of carbuncles’ in his time, but firmly believes that good architecture is by its very nature photogenic. It might take his best skills to make a mediocre building look as good as possible, but in the end it will never resonate with the viewer. His concern is not this, however – it’s a far bigger indictment of the built realm. ‘As photographers, we’re shooting the top 20% of buildings – most of the stuff out there hasn’t even been thought through.’