The National Building Museum will close temporarily from December 2, 2019 to March 2020.

National Building Museum to open Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer

Categories: Articles, Press

New exhibition examines intersection of artistic and architectural vision

Auditorio de Tenerife, Santiago Calatrava Architect. Photo © Alan Karchmer.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Beginning November 9, the National Building Museum presents Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer, a new exhibition examining the work of a prominent photographer as well as the practice of architectural photography writ large. On display will be Karchmer’s iconic portraits of works by some of the most influential architects and firms, including Santiago Calatrava, Tadao Ando, SmithGroup, and TEN Arquitectos. Complementing the professionally commissioned photographs will be personal photos and artifacts that shed light on Karchmer’s work. The Architects’ Photographer will be on view through October 4, 2020.

Any prominent work of architecture is likely to be seen more widely through photographs than in person. These images have a profound influence on how a given building is perceived. A professional architectural photographer plays an important role in interpreting the designer’s work, making critical decisions about which aspects of the building to emphasize and which to suppress or even exclude. When widely disseminated, professional photographs help to shape public impressions of the building’s architectural character. Further, an extraordinary image of an iconic building may assume iconic status in its own right.

Karchmer, in the prime of his career, has risen to prominence for his ability to convey an architect’s idea and intention through photography. Educated as an architect, Karchmer combines his direct knowledge of the design process with his own artistic vision to express the essence of a building. While the exhibition will feature numerous large prints of photographs of remarkable beauty, it will also include didactic displays examining the technical and creative processes underlying such images, as well as the role of luck in achieving a particular image. It will thus illuminate why certain images are so successful in expressing both the physical and emotional aspects of architecture.

Karchmer’s life in photography began while studying architecture at Tulane University (M.Arch. 1978). He soon realized that his natural talent lay not in the design of buildings but in the act of observing and interpreting them. Self-taught in photography, he has been based in Washington, D.C., since 1990, often working in collaboration with his wife, photo stylist Sandra Benedum. His photographs have been widely published in journals and books in the United States and abroad, and in exhibitions about architecture at the National Building Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Julius Shulman Institute, among other venues, and are held in private collections.

The exhibition also celebrates Karchmer’s recent bequest of his professional archives to the collection of the National Building Museum.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup. © Alan Karchmer, courtesy National Building Museum.
Photo by Alan Karchmer, Commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.   

Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer is generously supported by the Anne and Ronald Abramson Family Foundation, The American Institute of Architects, David Crane and Jeffrey Wells, Edward J. Lenkin and Roselin Atzwanger, VMDO Architects, Chris Morrison FAIA and Dr. Michael Olding, Jessica and Henry Townsend, SmithGroup, Barbara and Herb Franklin, and Leers Weinzapfel Associates.


Images are available at All photos are © Alan Karchmer, courtesy National Building Museum.

A press preview will be held on Thursday, November 7 at 10 am, and feature a tour with photographer Alan Karchmer. RSVP to