One Photo Captures the Fading Beauty of Philadelphia’s Industrial Architecture

Chris Hytha’s winning shot encapsulates Philadelphia’s past and present.

Nathan Bahadursingh Nathan Bahadursingh

The winners of Architizer’s First Annual One Photo Challenge have been announced, concluding an incredible competition that celebrated one of the pillars of architecture, photography. The top winner in the Student category was “Philadelphia Wasteland” by Chris Hytha of Drexel University. This submission was awarded a grand prize of $2,500, along with professional photography gear from the likes of Peak Design, Formatt Hitech and Lenovo.

“Philadelphia Wasteland” offers a glimpse into the altered role Philadelphia’s industrial built environment plays today. While the remnants of the city’s industrial past remain, their uses are entirely different. They have new meanings and roles. In the words of Chris Hytha: “They’ve become canvases for urban artwork and escapes from the noise and activity of the city center far from the regulations and restrictions of bureaucracy.” 

Chris captured this moment, highlighting just how fluid architecture and its functions can be. We caught up with him to learn more about his inspiration, process and feelings behind this One Photo Challenge-winning photograph.


Nathaniel Bahadursingh: Congratulations on winning the inaugural One Photo Challenge! What sparked your interest in entering the competition and what does winning mean to you?

Chris Hytha: I distinctly remember the day I entered the competition. When I got into work in the morning, I saw the one photo challenge prompt in my email, and was immediately interested. Because I have been taking photos around Philadelphia for years, I knew I could find an image that fit the contest, and I was excited to critically think on this intriguing prompt about our relationship to architecture.

I was thrilled to have made it to the 100 finalists, and after I saw the other submissions, I did not expect to win. There were so many incredible stories and photographs. As a student in architecture school, I often get overwhelmed by this massive world of architecture, and everything I still need to learn. Winning this competition gives me the confidence of knowing that I am on the right track, and makes me extremely thankful for how architecture school at Drexel University has changed the way I think and see the world.

What drew you to your subject matter that ultimately culminated in the winning photo?

I have always had the propensity to explore. As soon as I discovered these massive forgotten facilities in North Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but venture into these dangerous neighborhoods to discover the unknown. As we wondered through the massive empty floors of the building, we crossed paths with different groups of people.

Some filming music videos, some vandalizing, and some photographing like us. It is this weird lawless feeling inside a place like this, but I was fascinated in how this building’s use has changed in its abandoned state, as well as the evidence of these activities in the form of graffiti and broken windows.

What significance does this image have to you personally and your experience as a photographer?

This image represents one of the most free and exciting times of my life. I was still early in my education at Drexel, and only a year into my growing passion for photography. At school, I found like minded friends who wanted to explore, and see what our new home in Philadelphia had to offer.

This pursuit led us to neighborhoods and places that most people never experience, as well as a fascination with abandoned structures that have taken on new uses for their inhabitants. It was always a goal of ours when exploring a place, to find a way to the tallest point, as depicted in this photograph. In this way, the built environment was a big puzzle to solve and explore, and the feeling of reaching the summit of an urban mountain is a feeling I live for.

What do you find to be the greatest challenges in photographing architecture in a compelling way?

To me, the challenge in photographing architecture in a compelling way is to discover your own voice. We see so many images every day, and it is easy to regurgitate what you have seen others do, rather than following your personal vision and passion.

How big a role did post-production play in conveying the story of your photograph, and how do you approach that process?

Post production had a very little impact on this photo. The key to any image to me is lighting and composition. This photo was shot at sunrise, giving the whole landscape a soft ethereal glow. After climbing to the tallest point, I saw another elevated platform on the other side of the building, and I knew there was an opportunity for a photo.

I told my friend Ryan to stay put, and I ventured across a crumbling rooftop, and climbed a rusty ladder to get this view. It was just as I imagined, a sunrise silhouetted subject with the backdrop of industrial north Philadelphia.

What one tip would you give to someone looking to win next year’s One Photo Challenge?

My main tip for participants in the challenge next year is to be unconventional. I don’t think this challenge is about getting slick photos of the trendiest projects; rather, it should be about telling a unique story. For me, that story was how forgotten, decaying architecture can actually be more rich and interesting than a new structure that was meticulously designed.


As one of our two top winners, Chris Hytha will receive:

  • $2,500 prize money
  • Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
  • Long Exposure Filter Kit
  • 20′ x 30′ MetalPrint
  • 8″ Smart Display
  • Publication in the inaugural “One Photo” eBook
  • An exclusive interview discussing their photograph, published in Architizer Journal

You can see more of Chris Hytha’s photography here. Thank you to all participants for sharing these amazing photographs and telling such fascinating stories about architecture. If you are interested in entering next year’s One Photo Challenge, be sure to sign up for updates by clicking the blue button below.

Register for the 2021 One Photo Challenge

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