Doha Museum of Islamic Art

Photographer Morley von Sternberg loves IM Pei's obsessions with the platonic geometries of the triangle, square and hexagon

Doha Museum of Islamic Art by IM Pei photographed by Morley von Sternberg.
Doha Museum of Islamic Art by IM Pei photographed by Morley von Sternberg. · Credit: Morley von Sternberg

Morley von Sternberg can be considered one of the UK’s Old Guard architectural photographers. Truth be told, he had been moonlighting as a photographer during his stint as a project architect for the likes of TP Bennett and 3-D Reid until the early 90s, before deciding to carve out a career photographing buildings rather than designing them. But his time in practice is what gives him insights into the profession that go beyond the view through the lens. And, he says, it’s not just the technology that has changed, but the whole photographic approach. ‘I was schooled in former AR editor Peter Davey’s way of looking, where people never appeared in shot,’ he says. ‘It seemed like an unwritten rule that the image of the building bore no relation to real life.’

While that aspect has changed over time, how architects manifest their identities has not. Von Sternberg’s shot them all, and whether it’s Rogers, Hopkins, Alsop or the more commercial firms, over the years he’s seen a commonality of form develop in their distinct architectural outputs. 

While studying architecture, von Sternberg loved the post modernism of Charles Moore but he confesses he’d always had an enduring fascination for Islamic architecture; which makes his choice of IM Pei’s 2008 Doha Museum of Islamic Art a no-brainer. ‘Pei’s always been photogenic, with his obsessions with the platonic geometries of the triangle, square and hexagon; classic themes that have always run through his work,’ he says. But it’s hard geometry always tempered with humanity: von Sternberg is one of the few people to have been in Pei’s only UK building, his private pavilion at Oare House in Wiltshire – an indulgent modern-day folly in the tradition of Versailles’ Petit Trianon. It turns out it has a similar feel to it. ‘It’s geometrically formal, but is in fact an incredibly relaxing place to be,’ he concludes.