Morley von Stenberg: Stairs

Morley 5 DORSET ESTATE STAIR BY BERTHOLD LUBETKIN
Stairs is the theme of our latest exhibition at the RIBA Bookshop, which on this occasion presents the work of architectural photographer Morley von Stenberg. Initially trained as an architect, Morley established himself as one of UK’s leading architectural photographers through his contributions to architectural publications, such as the highly acclaimed monograph Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress by John Allan and The Modern Movement in Britain by Alan Powers, which traces the history and development of modern architecture in the UK.  As well as being commissioned to work on a vast array of landmark buildings, such us the Terminal 5, the Stirling Prize winning Maggie Centre for Richard Rogers, and the Islamic Museum in Doha for I.M. Pei,  he is also the official portrait photographer for RIBA’s annual Gold Medal Award winners.

The strength of the photographer’s images lies in his ability to show us unconventional and often surprising views of well known architectural interiors.  He is able to draw out the flat geometrical pattern compositions, which tend to remain unseen when standing in one of these familiar spaces.  Morley seems to experiment with different kinds of optical effects, and changes his approach towards the architecture, depending on the quality he wants to extract from it.  The way he has captured the staircases inside Lubetkin’s Six Pillars and ShedKm’s Matchworks reminds me of the work of James Turrell in the way in which he fuses light, shadow, colour and geometry.  Another unexpected turn in the photographer’s choice of imagery is the  combination of such opposing architectural styles as AB Rogers’ ultramodern design for Emperor Moth’s Fashion House, and the traditional and exquisitely ornamented grandeur of George Gilbert Scott’s staircase at the St Pancras Hotel.  In both instances we are challenged to surrender to a feeling of disorientation so that our eyes can travel freely through these Escher like landscapes.

For me, one of the most revelatory moments while hanging this exhibition, was to witness a conversation between Morley and one of the architects involved in the refurbishment of Reginald Blomfield’s Café Royal in Piccadilly.  It was hearing the architect express her surprise at seeing the staircase she knew so intimately, after working on the refurbishment project for over a year, portrayed so differently to how she understood it, that made me rethink the relationship between the architect’s and the photographer’s vision.  Shame we couldn’t ask Blomfield or Lubetkin about their opinion.

The exhibition will continue until the end of December, and can be visited during the bookshop’s opening hours.  For more information about commissions or purchasing prints, please contact Morley directly by following the links to his website.

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