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City and Structure by HG Esch - Critic's Choice

A rather generic book of micro-details and megacities only half excites Andrew Mead

I’m in two minds about architectural photographer HG Esch’s book City and Structure (Hatje Cantz, £33), because it promises more than it delivers. Buttressed by brief essays on the history of architectural photography and on the emerging megacity, the book’s substance comes in two sequences of photographs. One, rather misleadingly entitled ‘Structure’, features details of facades of buildings from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo. They are mostly curtain walls, which the camera turns into semi-abstract grids, though the Sydney Opera House (1973) and New York’s Chrysler Building (1930) make fleeting appearances. We’ve seen countless photos like these.

Much more interesting and visually striking are the double-page spreads of cityscapes in the other photo sequence. These are oblique aerial views that are not at such a distance that the city becomes a diagram, but are instead right in the thick of things, as in the image of Hong Kong below. The problem comes with the choice of cites, 16 in all, which seems to be completely haphazard. Though Asia dominates, there are detours to America (New York, Chicago) and Europe (Berlin, Frankfurt, Prague), and you sense that these are just places Esch happens to have visited while working on other assignments. With a more systematic approach, this material could really start to mean something. For now, he only gives us a tourist’s-eye-view. Admittedly, a tourist who can shell out for a helicopter trip, but a tourist nonetheless.

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