John Gollings is arguably Australia’s best known and highly regarded architectural photographer, whose work has been published in some of the world’s most prestigious architectural journals and monographs. We spoke to John about his views on modern Australian architecture and what makes for a great architectural shot.

What do you think defines the modern Australian building?

A confident international style that is responsive to local conditions but not attempting to be ‘regional’. Beyond that are critical issues of style and design criteria which vary from state to state. The best of these buildings I would describe as ‘timeless and innovating’ in their use of space. The worst are slave to fashionable shapemaking, made of fragile materials and have ‘look at me’ decoration. Often I see a practice producing work that is strong on the theoretical underpinnings of a design but incomprehensibly obtuse to the viewer and impractical to the user. You can be pretty but not beautiful! Equally, too many modern Australian buildings are ‘value managed’ to the point of being ugly, impractical or short lived. Many of our high rise apartments are in this category and will bring economic and social problems for future generations.

In 30 years of documenting progress in Australian architecture, what have been some of the key changes that have taken place in that time?

Style change in the buildings and technical change in the documentation. Especially with public buildings you can track periods by style change, 60’s Brutalism, 70’s Post Modernism, 80’s neo classical modern, 90’s theory based shapemaking, 00’s computer complexity in design and manufacture.


In terms of design, what do you think it takes for a building to leave an impression on a user? And how do you capture that as a photographer?

The user is very different to the viewer. For a user it has to be comfortable and efficient and occupying it should be energising with attractive spaces and new ways of collaborating. The viewer wants stimulation and maybe shock. A good design should entertain, visually, emotionally and intellectually. It should make you proud of its achievement and satisfy your visual appetite. Capturing that, especially with one image, requires an angle that best shows as much of the design as possible in one go, at a time of day that doesn’t lose detail in the shadows and with a composition that has a simple memorable strength. Sometimes it is a simple as a wide angle lens, in elevation at dusk to fill all these criteria.


What do you think are the most important elements of a good architecture image?

That the photograph is ‘efficient’. By this, it contains the most information in the strongest composition to enable the quickest reading by the viewer. It must show the whole building and it should offer some context and be devoid of any photographic artifice.


What do you think are currently the strongest influences shaping the future of Australian architecture?

– Parametric design which enables complex briefs to be satisfied rapidly and in innovative ways;

– Climate change and reduced energy usage through Green Star rating requirements;

– Changing demographics which favour high rise apartment living close to urban centres;

– An increasing awareness by governments of the value of good design to build tourism, economic growth and general satisfaction with the populace.

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