Michael Nguyen has expertly captured the Masterpieces of Facade Art by Architects Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton, including iconic structures like the Munich Re in Munich, the ADAC Headquarters in Munich, the M9 Museum in Venice, the GSW Headquarters in Berlin, and the Brandhorst Museum in Munich. With precision photography, Nguyen examines the intricate details of these visual highlights, showcasing the beauty of urban architecture. Prof. Dr. Phil. Rainer Funke, founding dean of the Design Department at Potsdam University, provides his expert analysis of Nguyen’s photographic masterpieces, highlighting the intricate and artistic facades of iconic buildings designed by renowned architects Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton.
With my architectural photography, I am on the search for the aesthetic qualities of buildings in their urban spatial effect. Above all, I am interested in the visual richness of detail in its compositional diversity and its strangeness. The most unadulterated, neutral documentation of buildings for sales and presentation purposes is not part of my work, nor is the creation of marketable references for architectural firms. Nor are they photographs that depict a building in its ideal state to increase the market value of the building in question.
With my very own passion for buildings, I strive, as an artistic architectural photographer, to interpret reality and give a new soul to the appearance of buildings through love, enthusiasm, and desire. In doing so, I deliberately interpret what I photograph subjectively and situationally, having walked around a building over and over again in different weather and lighting situations. I usually spend several hundred hours on location and at the computer. Michael Nguyen– Michael Nguyen
Masquerade on the Street Stages
Article by Prof. Dr. Phil. Rainer Funke
Facades are not the faces of buildings, even if we like this metaphor, and the term itself goes back to the Italian “faccia” and the Latin “facies” (face). Almost inextricably linked to their support, building envelopes are usually far too little dynamically linked to the typicity, diversity, and liveliness of the building’s interior to communicate this to the outside like a face.
Even with glass facades, there is rarely any real transparency due to the numerous reflections and defensive strategies of the users. This is especially true of large buildings, whose closure and opening to the urban space result from the serial arrangement and variation of identical segments. The continuous change of their appearances is mainly brought about by the change of light in the surrounding space and the interiors along the seasons of the day and also by the specific enforcement of the surrounding air with differently aggregated water and suspended particles.
Not faces, but rather masks surround us on the streets: more or less statically present in front of the supporting structures and the spaces filled with life, to grasp them, frame them, cultivate them, and provide them with an overarching expression, thus creating euphony or also dissonance in the building concert of the urban space as well-defined, virtuously played instruments.
Munich Re Berliner Straße, Munich
The works on the Munich Re building impressively show the interplay of the diverse facial masks with which this building shines on the city stage.
Stacked gold ingots seem to frame the Munich Re. In Nguyen’s angled view of a section of the facade, the differently gold-colored cuboids – contrasted by regular geometric black residual forms – appear charged with their power and at the same time recall works of constructivist pictorial art from the early 20th century. Security, stability, and dynamics are associations that correspond to the claim of an insurance company. Since they are staged here as a work of art, they also refer to the promise of not only pursuing monetary goals with the insurance business but also of contributing to the culture of our society.
In the front view, the second picture of Munich Re, we are sent in search of the real spatial relationships between the gold ashlars with an alternation of extremely regular, horizontal parallels of blinds suspended on verticals and mirrored spatial width into the sky blue: grandiose orthogonal facade masquerade out of geometric perfection.
The picture of the red-framed glass fronts is completely different, in which the reflections of the unfoliaged surrounding trees form a poetic contrast to the austerity and perfection of the geometric. Here the masking lives from the mirrored nature, well captured and seemingly dominated in the segments of the glass surfaces. The bordering signal red underlines the will to culture with a visual bang.
The image of the blue is different again. Here it is mirrored distorted grid structures whose soft curves seem to be in supple motion. We are reminded of gently moving water in complete purity, gliding and flowing, that finds its counterpart in the succession of numerous shades of blue.
Color gradients from yellow to green to blue are also the theme of another photo of Munich Re. Introduced by a homogeneous blue behind grey horizontal blinds, mediated by a coarser grid of pale blue glass surfaces, a lively melody of numerous hues unfolds.
- Client: Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft in München
- Gross floor area: 49.900 m²
- Competition: 2009, 1st prize
- Project Years: 2011 — 2014
- Project team: Jürgen Bartenschlag, Marc Broquetas, Matthias Cremer, Ramiro Forné, Stefan Fuhlrott, Tom Geister, Cristina Haumann, Stephanie Heese, Falco Herrmann, Tarek Ibrahim, Wilhelm Jouaux, Michaela Kunze, Ilja Leda, Axel Linde, Patrick Mc Hugh, Tanja Reiche-Hoppe, Matthias Sauerbruch, Mathias Schneider, Nina Sleska, Wolfgang Thiessen. Markus Weber
ADAC Headquarters, Munich
The ADAC headquarters in Munich is also a virtuoso on this stage. Michael Nguyen shows us how elegant sweeps and large flat grid surfaces correspond with each other. Color contrasts between grey, yellow, violet, and green also provide melodic rhythms here. The rediscovery of the ornament, born out of the geometry of modern building methods, creates cheerful animation.
And again we are reminded of the classics of modernism, especially when the photographer places us in the ideal vantage point in front of a 91-segment section of the facade and shows us the sophistication of the color combination in the sequence of the basic forms, each consisting of 5 partial elements. Here, too, an enchanting rhythm emerges from the variation. Melodic rhythms, geometric ornamentation, a play of color, and cheerful dynamics, we also find all of these in the other pictures of Nguyen’s Sauerbruch Hutton buildings.
- Client: ADAC Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobilclub e.V., München
- Gross floor area: 125.100 m²
- Competition: 2004, 1st prize
- Project Years: 2004 — 2012
- Awards: Best Tall Building Europe 2013 Award of Excellence
- Project team: Frank Anacker, Jürgen Bartenschlag, Adrian Betz, Sibylle Bornefeld, Ramiro Forné, Andrea Frensch, Stefan Fuhlrott, Felix Habich, Stephanie Heese, Falco Herrmann, Tarek Ibrahim, Rasmus Jörgensen, Andrew Kiel, Ken Koch, Christian Konietzke, Michaela Kunze, Mareike Lamm, Nils Lindhorst, Andrea Ludwig, Patrick Mc Hugh, Tom Mival, Markus Pfeifer, Tanja Reiche-Hoppe, Sonja Sandberger, Matthias Sauerbruch, Tian Tian, Christian Töchterle-Knuth, Tobias Vogel, Anja Vogl, Heiko Weissbach, Andree Weißert, Juan Lucas Young, Florian Öttl
GSW Headquarters, Berlin
The GSW building is charmingly purple and turns towards the street with a slight curve. The orthogonal-vertical sunsail flags in metallic frames create a play of hues from pink to violet at different angles. Nguyen’s photographic paintings ask us to look at the details: variety in mass, shades of color arranged as if in a paint box, and canopied by something enigmatically stretched textile. We become curious about what’s going on inside the building, but the photographer denies us such insights. So it remains a doll’s house without dolls, pure aesthetic combinatorics.
- Client: GSW Gemeinnützige Siedlungs- und Wohnungsbau- Gesellschaft Berlin mbH
- Gross floor area: 48.000 m²
- Competition: 1991, 1st prize
- Project Years: 1995 — 1999
- Awards: Building Physics Award 2003; Benedictus Award 2003; Mies van der Rohe Award 2001, shortlist; German Architecture Award 2001, recognition; World Architecture Awards 2001, nomination; Architecture Award Concrete 2001, honorable mention; German Facade Award 2001 VHF; Architecture Award 2000, BDA Berlin; ar+d Award 2000, special mention; RIBA Award 2000
Stirling Prize 2000, shortlist
- Project team: Elizabeth Adams, Anna Bader-Hardt, Denise Dih, Philip Engelbrecht, Govert Gerritsen, Simon Hart, Louisa Hutton, Brian Lilley, Jens Ludloff, Nicola Murphy, Matthias Sauerbruch, Moritz Theden, Juan Lucas Young
Brandhorst Museum, Munich
The Munich Brandhorst Museum captivates with its massive, intensely colored vertical structure and contrasting backgrounds. The facades are delicately pastel on one hand and boldly oriented towards primary colors on the other. It’s funny how the windows and supporting structure peek out from behind the color grids. Nguyen pointed out this detail to us.
- Client: Oberste Baubehörde im Bayrischen Staatsministerium des Innern Staatliches Bauamt München I
- Gross floor area: 12.110 m²
- Competition: 2002, 1st prize
- Project Years: 2005 — 2009
- Awards: International Prize for Sustainable Architecture 2011, Silver Medal; Artouro, Bavarian Architecture Tourism Award 2011; Designs of the Year 2010, Design Museum London, shortlist
Lubetkin Prize 2009, shortlist; Mies van der Rohe Award 2009, nomination
- Project team: Peter Apel, Jürgen Bartenschlag, Ramiro Forné, Andrea Frensch, Rasmus Jörgensen, Michaela, Kunze, Mareike Lamm, Marie Langen, Maria Saffer, Matthias Sauerbruch, Anja Vogl, Constantin von der Mülbe, David Wegener
M9 Museum District, Venice-Mestre
The “clinker” theme characterizes the facade of the M9 Museum in Venice, but it’s alienated by the colorful toy building blocks of the elements. These elements may remind us of screen phenomena or fabric patterns dominated by signal red and white. In the city of masquerades, we encounter a furious color spectacle that wants to pull us along in one direction or another with its horizontal flow. Despite the loudness of the colors, one can also feel reminded of driftwood.
One picture deviates from the purely artistic photographic collection of masks: three young men eating in front of the raw concrete of the basement of the Venetian M9 Museum, walking from right to left towards a cellar entrance. A narrow strip of the colorful facade hovers above them, breaking the distance and abstraction. We become aware that the photographed façades are components of living buildings in and with which people go about their trivial occupations. The masked ball is, in fact, a celebration of everyday life.
- Client: Fondazione di Venezia, in cooperation with S.C.E. project
- Gross floor area: 25.600 m²
- Competition: 2010, 1st prize
- Project Years: 2014 — 2018
- Awards: Mies van der Rohe Award 2019, shortlist; Polis Award 2017, recognition
International Urban Project Award 2019, shortlist; Premio Pietro Torta 2019
awarded an Otto Borst Prize for Urban Renewal 2020; The Plan Award 2020
- Project team: Carlos Alarcón Allen, Marc Broquetas, Giuseppe Castellaneta, Stefan Fuhlrott, Costanza Governale, Philipp Hesse, Anna Hollstein, Bettina Magistretti, Isabelle McKinnon, Tanja Reiche-Hoppe, Matthias Sauerbruch, Francesco Tonnarelli, David Wegener
About Prof. Dr. Rainer Funke
In 1992, Rainer Funke was appointed to Potsdam as the founding dean of the Department of Design at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences. He researches and publishes on design-theoretical issues from a semiotic, cultural-theoretical, and philosophical perspective and works as a design consultant for companies. He teaches design theory at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences. After studying philosophy at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, he earned his doctorate in semiotics and subsequently worked in design-theoretical research at Burg Giebichenstein – University of Art and Design Halle. Rainer Funke was the owner of a design agency, chairman of the board of the Brandenburg Design Center, and visiting professor at the University of Art and Industrial Design Linz.
About Michael Nguyen
Michael Nguyen is a multi-award-winning photo artist and documentary photographer living near Munich, Germany. He is a “publicity shy” (Merkur daily newspaper Munich) photo artist, a photographic poet who moves away from the mainstream, at the same time, blurs genres. “Most of the photos could only be taken because Nguyen has a special eye for his surroundings and gives even the mundane a second view.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) In his photography, he focuses on architectural details and urban landscapes. In his artworks, Michael Nguyen shows a wide range of styles, such as photo paintings and experimental photography. Michael Nguyen is a member of FREELENS – Professional Association of Photojournalists.
About Sauerbruch Hutton
Sauerbruch Hutton is an international architecture, urban planning, and design practice in Berlin, founded in 1989 by Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch in London and is now based in Berlin.