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Building site as a thing of beauty

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Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Young photographer Fred Howarth captures Battersea Arts Centre in a moment of transition

At 26, Fred Howarth is the youngest photographer we have featured. Having worked at Haworth Tompkins in his year out after his degree at Oxford Brooks, he pursued a Masters in Architecture at Westminster in a film-based unit. The interest in photography had its nascence long before, however, when he and a university colleague started with a grand tour of Europe’s architecture and ended up processing the shots in a blacked-out bathroom in their student digs.

Haworth Tompkins encouraged his interest and, while making use of visualisation skills honed during his studies, it also let him pursue photography by doing the practice’s site shots. Howarth returned to Battersea Arts Centre more than 20 times during its construction. ‘Once the building is finished the process shots are forgotten, but I’ve always loved them,’ he tells me. It’s ironic he chose this project, because given the firm’s penchant for stripping back and revealing, there’s a sense that the finished building might not look much different – but Howarth begs to differ. ‘That day an operative was laying insulation and the dust that was thrown up caught the light in an amazing way. It was a fleeting, incidental moment that won’t be repeated. It was lovely to capture.’

Perhaps not as lovely as Zumthor’s Kolumba Museum in Cologne, which he is keen to shoot in the future, and definitely not as lovely as Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1924 precast concrete Ennis Brown House in Los Angeles, which, it seems, Howarth has a life aim to photograph. ‘It features in the 1959 film House on Haunted Hill and there’s a reason for that. Taken in the wrong light it’s as intimidating as a Mayan temple but on a sunny day it’s impressively light in feel. Film’s like that. It changes buildings.’
And maybe not just buildings but cities. Howarth is deeply fascinated with LA. In film, Toronto is frequently used as a stand-in for New York, he tells me, but LA has a singular quality all of its own: ‘No other city can play LA in films. It only ever plays itself.'