A Tranquil Image of a Chinese Swimming Pool Wins 2017 Architectural Photography Award

The image, shot by architectural photographer Terrance Zhang, depicts the dramatic interior of Atelier Li Xinggang’s athletic center for Tianjin University.

2017 Architectural Photography Awards
The winning photo by Terrence Zhang depicts the swimming pool at the New Campus of Tianjin University. Courtesy Terrence Zhang/APA/Sto

Attempting to make the inert feel alive is one of the primary challenges of architectural photography. Arcaid’s annual Architectural Photography Awards recognizes images that do just that.

This year, the prize went to Chinese architectural photographer Terrence Zhang, whose powerful handling of light, volume, and composition, elevated an empty university swimming pool to cathedral-like heights.

The award-winning photo, announced at the conclusion of the 2017 World Architecture Festival in Berlin Friday, depicts the interior of the gymnasium at Tianjin University (completed by Atelier Li Xinggang in 2015). Shot using a wide-angle tilt-shift lens, Zhang captures the building at a very specific time of day, when the sunlight dramatically illuminates the structure’s rhythmic, concrete barrel arches, and casts gridded shadows across the pool’s turquoise surface. The effect is something like Tadao Ando’s cross-shaped incision in his Church of the Light.

Capturing the shot wasn’t easy. When Zhang visited last winter, the temperature difference between the frigid weather outside and the humid pool caused so much condensation to build up on his camera that he thought he had ruined it. Thankfully, the camera began working again and the “fantastic volume of light revealed itself,” said Zhang in a statement.

“I had shot many photos around the swimming pool and found the optimum spot to shoot from in order see the light spraying through the windows,” he said. “It was a magic moment—one that I had never felt or seen in my career. I stayed in the spot, waited until all students left, then captured the scene in my camera—and in my heart, too.”

Though Zhang is a professional architecture photographer by trade, he says it was his first time entering the Architectural Photography Awards. The decision worked out well for him: a second photo by Zhang also was one of the three finalist images. For winning the overall competition, Zhang received a $3,000 prize. All of the finalists will be shown at Image+Space gallery in Beijing.

“Light like that—like lights in fairy tales or as depicted in the Bible—can make people feel so peaceful and focused,” Zhang said.  “I believe that this photo is an architecture photo beyond architecture. I only wish others could have been there and experienced it too.”

View the runners-up in the slideshow below.

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