The above image that I came across at one of the social media channels grabbed my attention immediately. The frameless large transparent wall, the door which seems to be unattached to anywhere, the waves and the horizon under a yellow sky are all captured skilfully in a one-point perspective frame. Further research revealed the building as the Seashore Chapel in Beidaihe, a seaside town east of Beijing. It is designed by Vector Architects. Depending on the tide levels, Seashore Chapel changes its aspect: on a low tide, a shelter appears underneath the structure, while the tide is high the building is submerged and starts separating from land, lake it would be floating.
Further research led me to a different set of images of the chapel which is unlikely. Usually, architects want their buildings to be photographed just after completion. That’s quite understandable since they want to capture their works in their best conditions, unspoiled by alterations and ageing. (Although I’m attracted to capture the ageing conditions of the buildings, that’s another topic to discuss) After the photos are captured and distributed to the press, architects usually focus on their next projects and forget to look at back their old projects. Unfortunately, it’s not very common to see a building professionally photographed twice or more especially after a certain period of its completion. In most cases, budget issues also restrain architects to document their projects by different eyes at different times.
However, the Seashore Chapel is a lucky building that has been photographed by at least two professional photographers, James Florio and Chen Hao. Here are two photographs from the same angle but during different weather conditions.
Usually, good weather (bright sunshine, no mist or fog, blue sky etc) is preferred by architects as in Chen Hao’s photographs. However, a building is designed and constructed to serve all types of weather conditions. Unfortunately, the tradition to capture the buildings under the blue sky avoids us to see the buildings in many beautiful and different atmospheres. Personally I’m more inclined to shoot the buildings in overcast days that yields subtle contrasts hence textures like James Florio did here in Seashore Chapel. He was also lucky because on the day of the shooting a distant sandstorm turned the sky into a warm filter that delivered a spectacular background for the building.
Chen Hao’s photographs are perfect, capturing the texture of the surfaces and shadow of volumes with harsh sunlight. However, I find Florio’s approach more pleasing and suitable to the project. This is a chapel designed to appreciate the sea, the horizon and the waves. Florio’s photographs masterfully capture the essence of the project where the surfaces almost blend with the air yet all the details and textures are still visible. Though, it’s unfortunate that both photographers missed a high-tide opportunity which is one of the major reasons the building is designed on piloti. Maybe it would be a good opportunity for a third photographer.
Florio’s portfolio includes Sea Side Library which is designed by the same architect on the same beach. Another set of visually stunning photographs of a very fortunate building at a spectacular site.