One Photo Reveals How Architecture Can Foster Intimate, Empowering Experiences

Bruce Engel’s photograph shows how greatly architecture can guide the experiences of its inhabitants.

Nathan Bahadursingh Nathan Bahadursingh

The 2020 One Photo Challenge brought together an incredible assemblage of intriguing photographs that told beautiful stories about architecture. The top winner in the Non-Student Category was “Women Gather” by Bruce Engel of BE_Design. 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.

“Women Gather” captures a moment within a space designed by Sharon Davis Design. Called the Women’s Opportunity Center, it is located in Kayonza, Rwanda and was built for the NGO Women for Women International. The project seeks to empower the local community, create economic opportunity and rebuild social infrastructure. It was especially built to serve the women of the community by providing training in women’s rights, literacy, health and valuable vocational skills. The architecture responds to this aim through its human-scaled, intimate spaces. With “Women Gather”, Bruce Engel masterfully captured exactly what Women’s Opportunity Center set to achieve, a “…feminine space where women can gather.”

We caught up with Bruce to learn more about his inspiration, process and feelings behind this One Photo Challenge-winning photograph. 

Women Gather

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?

Bruce Engel: Thank you Architzer for putting on this competition filled with so many great entries!  And thank you for this award. I’m an architect by trade and photography has always been a passion. As an architect, the photograph is most often used as a tool for documentation, and often the only means by which most people will experience a building, so for me architecture and photography always went hand in hand.

I was really drawn to the premise of this competition: the challenge of One Photo. How architecture is intertwined with humanity and its magical, intimate, and everyday moments. I think this came through so clearly in each and every one of the 100 final photos. 

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

Knowing I always wanted to be an architect, my grandmother gave me an Alvar Aalto quote. It reads: “It is the task of the architect to give life a gentler structure.”  I try to live and practice these words as best I can. Architecture shapes our world and has the power to help people and empower communities.

When the opportunity was given to me to work with Sharon Davis Design on a “Women’s Opportunity Center” for the NGO Women for Women International, that supports women survivors of war and genocide, I was drawn in and dedicated myself to the project, the cause, and Rwanda, that I called home for 6 years.

 

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It was wonderful to visit the #worldarchitecturefestival winning #architizerawards #architizer awarded #womensopportunitycenter It was the pleasure and honor of a lifetime to work with @sharondavisdesign @womenforwomencardiff on this project. From developing the design and drawings with a talented and good hearted team, to training the women that made the 1/2 million bricks, to the experience of living on site and watching just about every one of those bricks get laid, to now see how well the buildings are doing and how the campus is flourishing. I hope that this place continues to provide a safe, healthy, prosperous, and inspiring space for the women and community of #kayonza #rwanda # rwandaarchitecture #sharondavisdesign #brickarchitecture #be_design #bruceengeldesign #afritecture #africaarchitectureawards #africaarchitecture

A post shared by Bruce Engel (@be_design.space) on

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

Every architect dreams of being a fly on the wall, to see their space being used. Climbing the wall and shooting from above I was able to capture this serene moment of women gathering. To me, this captures the aspiration and hope for this place. This project will stay with me forever. I hope the Center continues to provide a safe, healthy, and inspiring space for the women and community.

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

There are a lot of standards and rules for how architecture is shot these days, and it’s hard not to get sucked into using the formula. I would always tell my architecture students: you are telling a story [with your drawings and documentation]! I try to remind myself of that: not every project needs to be photographed in the same way. What is the story the architecture is telling?  What’s the human element? How might it deserve its own unique voice in expressing itself?

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

I always remember my photography teacher saying: “you can’t get a good picture out of  a bad negative.”  So I usually shoot with the intention that how I frame and expose an image is as close to final as I can get. Very little was done in post production on this shot. I did a little color balancing, but that was it.

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

What photograph of yours first comes to mind?  I would probably go with that one.

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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 Bruce Engel’s work 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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