There is an austere concrete box looming up ahead, a stark contrast to the golden leaves of the maple trees rustling in the brisk Connecticut breeze. Maybe instead of a box, it’s more like a prism. The concrete seems fractured, glittering in the sunshine above harsh divots that are left shadowed and cool to the touch. This building is more than 30 years old, but it’s just now hitting puberty under architect and developer Bruce Becker’s guidance.
The structure has now been dubbed Hotel Marcel and photographed by New York-based architectural photographer John Muggenborg for the New York Times’ article titled “Upscale Hospitality, Minus the High Wattage.” Designed in the late 1960s by Marcel Breuer, the building was purchased last year by Becker with a vision to create the most sustainable hotel in the country.
John has been photographing architecture and design for years, but the requests for architecture projects slowed down when the pandemic hit. Deciding he needed to take things into his own hands — and having shot for the Times previously — John checked in with NYT’s editors to keep himself on their radar.
I have to admit that part of my thinking here was that; ‘Well, despite COVID, they still need to publish a paper with quality visual content.’ One drawback with newspapers, though, is that everything is on a really tight deadline.
However, John was prepared. After discussing the project on October 5, John, when to the building site and shot two days later, on October 7.
This shoot probably could’ve been accomplished in an afternoon, but I spent the entire day there. I was given full access to explore and photograph this Modernist structure, and I wanted to make the most of that opportunity.
Marcel Breuer, the renowned architect of Hotel Marcel, was known for his strong, imposing, angular designs. However, throughout the years, the building has had a few different owners. Bought by Pirelli, the Italian tire maker, in 1988, then sold to Ikea in 2003, the structure has evolved as it’s changed hands.
I decided to position Bruce in one of the window frames that was being renovated and to have a majority of the frame showing the signature precast concrete cladding of the building.
On the lot remains a two-story Ikea just south of the building, providing John the perfect vantage point for the shot.
I knew that positioning myself higher would get better results. I convinced the managers of the IKEA to allow me to go to a restricted area and shoot through one of their windows to get the shot I wanted.
While John aimed to honor Mr. Breuer’s original design and legacy, he was there to shoot more than just the building. Bruce Becker is building a legacy of his own, one that focuses on upscale hospitality and environmentalism. Collaborating with Bruce, John was led to a small stairwell within the structure and pleasantly surprised by the wealth of opportunity there.
At first, I thought it would be a bland and tight space, but there was a very old, sun-bleached skylight on the ceiling that provided the best warm, soft light I could’ve imagined.
Successfully capturing the developer’s portraits, John moved on to the details and impact of the design. In his photography, John describes the unfolding of a space, presenting to us the “cover” and then diving into the book page by page.
Taking about 200 shots that day, John whittled them down to 65 before sending them over to the Times. The act of trimming the excess is quite poetic when looking at the building itself. It’s a balance between removing frivolities and celebrating the eccentricities that you see in John’s process and Mr. Breuer’s original design.
John stripped down his process by spending most of his day exploring the site and shooting alone with just a small backpack of gear.
Typically, I have two hard cases of gear, and each shot is planned out and then layered together in post-production. This project was a great exercise for me to consider getting back to basics.
See more of John’s work at johnmuggenborg.com.
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