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Yao Li's Beautiful And Sombre Architectural Photography
Architectural photography is becoming ever more powerful as the digital age continues, as it presents an opportunity to share projects with billions of people all around the world. It is both an advert for the architect firm, and a relatively open creative outlet for photographers and architects to express themselves. For economic reasons many schemes are photographed in similar ways. They use blue skies, daytime or dusk timeframes, and specific lenses to emphasise extreme geometries or give the impression of a large footprint. Whilst this approach is suitable in the vast number of cases, a completely different approach was required for The Exhibition Hall of Crime Evidences in Harbin, a museum dedicated to highlighting war crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during their occupation of the Manchuria region of North-East China from 1931-45.

The scheme is located on the site of a ruined army barracks that was used by Unit 731, a sector the of the Japanese Imperial Army who killed and incarcerated thousands, using them for medical experiments and biological and chemical weapons testing. When speaking about the project the architect He Jingtang referenced the bare and sombre nature of the site, which he attempted to reflect and respect with his fragmented and sunken charcoal grey design. To me, the sensitivity yet subtle unease of the final outcome is a perfect echo of the narrative.

Coupled with the fantastic design, Yao Li's photography takes this building to another level in the digital realm. An atypical yet completely fitting approach has been used which immediately establishes that there is an interesting and sombre story behind the building. Compare the photos with the recently released renders of the UK Holocaust Memorial to be designed David Adjaye and Ron Arad; I certainly know which project I find more interesting. From the hazy fog and cloudy sky to the bare trees, sparse landscape and indistinct, ghostly figures, Yao Li has creatively immersed the museum in the atmosphere of the site whilst also ensuring the project will be memorable and extraordinary in the digital sphere. Photos by Yao Li