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a study of the west bottoms through photography by amy finnerty

Kansas City Design Center. 2010. Amy Finnerty.

table of contents introduction


preliminary attempt


focused study explaination


examination of characteristics




equipment used + references


silent communicative incongruent deteriorated activated/alive


Photography is the gift of capturing a moment that is otherwise surrendered to the passage of time. To me, photography is a witness to reality. It can be a reality of architecture, people, events, and the passage of time. It refocuses you on things not necessarily seen, but things that inform space, ideas, and perceptions. It often asks more of you, your own interpretation, therefore, the same photograph has the power to speak to individuals differently. I will supplement my increasing knowledge of photographic analysis and the exploration of architectural concepts with gaining insight for design studio by studying the West Bottoms in Kansas City. The West Bottoms is historically the industrial district straddling both Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. It is draped with history and architectural marvels; however, in areas it is rundown and deteriorating. While this creates a problem from a design and urban fabric standpoint, it sets the stage for beautiful photographs rich with texture, materiality.

“Our feeling for place is grounded in our bodily experience of the world. It is inescapably material.”1 Brick, a local material is present in nearly every building, giving the West Bottoms a strong sense of place and a tie back to the past. Materials, yet ordinary, make this incredibly powerful because this idea can be seen and felt through photography in a way that cannot be expressed through other mediums.

Photography can also be a poetic essay of something ordinary in every day life, which in turn, we take for granted. For many things, to find unexpected beauty, you must pay close attention. Because life is so fast-paced, this is hard to do. Photographs will pause on and give breadth to these ordinary experiences, memories, and occurances, allowing them to be celebrated. It also enhances our “willingness to pay close attention to the everyday world”2 which exists around us.

Photography is a tool i believe that can enhance my knowledge and experience of place and time. It can be used for inspiration or as an aid in designing or creating space, as well as providing understanding and a theoretical as well as conceptual basis for design.


preliminary attempt My first attempt to understand the West Bottoms through a photography study was to shoot a series of windows in various conditions across our site. By doing this I could begin to establish a survey and make interesting comparisons between conditions. Some of these conditions were anticipated to be old v. new, rehabilitated v. deteriorated, big v. small, etc. All of these were given conditions that exist within the many complexities of the composite West Bottoms. In these initial studies, the idea was to elimate varibles, other than the context of my subject, which would otherwise make my photographs complex or confusing. I intended to focus on a simple and ordinary subject in order to learn the basics of of photography since this was my first attempt; components like the position of the frame, composition, light, bracketing, shutter speed, aperture, etc.

What came of this preliminary attempt was a very successful study - which has since been developed conceptually and methodically - where i learned that there is nothing simple about the characteristics of windows in the West Bottoms. I learned that within and through this seemingly ordinary object, the extraordinary could be found.

In order to capture the essence, character, and emotion of a semmingly ordinary architectural element in the West Bottoms, such as the window, I displaced the idea of perspective within the frame - with the success developed from the technique used in my preliminary attempt - in effort for all of my photographs to have one constant variable.

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is what gives meaning to my photography. The photographs are straightforward but explicit. A deeper or longer look shows and explains their meaning,; a meaning that without attention would otherwise be overlooked.

focused study

Even though windows are inanimate objects, the photographs are meant to evoke a sense of human presence. Also, in some, they are meant to evoke a sense of loss in the remains of a ruined or abandoned structure.

Seeing life in photographs is very To me, everyday and ordinary objects in moving. For my photography, I have architecture are far more interesting than used an inverse of this idea. There are no complex or specialized systems. They people in my photographs, but I have By omitting form and other elements from are born out of an inherent meaning and chosen to study a subject with certain my photographs one is allowed to focus for a specific purpose or necessity. The characteristics that provide implied more on how the windows are framed simple functions that allow you to achieve examples of how people inhabit within the viewport and can understand something with minimal effort, that make architectural space. the other variables such as order, something easier for you, that is “bare geometry, light, texture, and pattern at a bones” and achieving the task it was In the absence of people, the subject different scale; a scale which is easier to designed for, is what makes something seems to have developed its own grasp. exquisite. personality. There is a duality discovered in studying these windows. You are The goal of my photographic analysis is to Le Corbusier states, “Our search for looking for a view, a meaning, an create a survey or comparison in order to architecture has led to the discovery of understanding, something that doesn’t understand the similarities and simplicity. Great art is produced by simple stop at the surface of the glass. It goes differences of these architectural means. History shows that the mind beyond, and in turn reciprocates by elements within the West Bottoms. It has tends toward simplicity. Simplicity, which starting at the inside looking out. become evident that through studying results from judgement and choices, is a just this one element, an understanding sign of mastery. It gives, through a clearly I determined 5 different categories in of the collective can be developed. The perceptible play of forms, the means of which to study windows in the West windows themselves speak a lot about the expressing a state of mind, of revealing a Bottoms: conditions of the area; things that spiritual system. It is like an affirmation, contribute to the charm, spirit, and a path leading from confusion to clear silent eccentricity of the West Bottoms. geometric statements.”3 communicative incongruent Not surprisingly, analogous as well as This quote has been used as inspiration deteriorated opposite relationships were discovered. through my methodology. A method of activated All condtitions discovered contributed to finding seemingly simplistic architecture, the overall character of the location, and of using that to express a feeling or state These categories set parameters for the enriched the meaning of each ordinary of mind, and of leading thought to a clear various characteristics of and attitudes occurance. and understandable conclusion. one can take towards understanding the West Bottoms through these windows.


silence. “there are times when silence has the loudest voice.� It has been said that beautiful photographs have to be taken in perfect lighting conditions. I belive this to be true. However, I think that any lighting condition can be perfect depending on the mood and essence you are wishing to capture and convey. The ommission of direct sunlight and in turn shadow in these photographs conveys the feeling that the buildings are holding their breath; their surroundings complying to sit quiet, empty, dark, and melancholy in the midst of life that takes place around them.

Said another way, the absence of a shadow in this picture makes the building look mute, like it is sitting in silence to the world around it. This condition is strengthening the argument that a quiet moment can be celebrated. This moment is allowing the viewer and the building itself to take a pause from the busy, noisy, hectic life of an industrial city, where perhaps the silence of these buildings as they appear in the photographs are speaking louder than the trains, planes, and semis moving past them.

_leroy brownlow


communicative. “architecture is a visual art, where the buildings speak fo Seeing life in photographs is very moving. It gives scale to a building or object and it becomes more relevant to the viewers. In the West Bottoms it is hard to find people to use as scale figures, so I have found it interesting to examine objects, signage, and still life. These provide implied examples of how people inhabit architectural space.

Sinage is used frequently on buildings in the West Bottoms. One of the most common forms of signage is the billboard which is used for advertising. However, to me, what is much more interesting are the buildings with signage that feel as if they are speaking directly to you; pleastanly, or unfriendly to any one who dare step in front of them.

There are structures with inviting messages, like the gas station with an “Open” sign which seems to welcome you to the West Bottoms. On the contrary, there are unwelcoming buildings which seem to ask you to step away - almost as if you are trespasing just standing in front of it reading its sign. This should scare one away, but to me, the provocative incongruency between the front door, flanked by two mis-match windows, to this building having a “NOT AN ENTRANCE” sign on it has an allure to me; it draws me in. No matter what their response to me, I tend to gravitate towards the buildings with which I feel as though I can have a conversation.

or themselves.�

_Julia Morgan


incongruent. “to create is to put function and objects in order.” Due to the age of the buildings that occupy areas of the West Bottoms and the fact that many have been abandoned and repurposed, there are many instances of improper or seemingly incorrect infill of fenestration. You can begin to understand the age of the building, and the various uses by the layering of materials and decades within one frame as well as the reality of the current condition. Not only are there layers of materials, but there are different styles and attitudes superimposed on one another, often in an incongruent but meaningful way. Often times the incongruency occurs within each window’s own frame, however, there are occasions - much like the only building in the West Bottoms with shutters - where there is an incongruence with the expected or anticipated conditions of the West Bottoms.

These incongruences create beautiful mysteries, where the story of the past can be told, or where curiousity takes hold of the viewer and you are left with a wonder and fascination of what once was, or what something can become.

_le corbusier


deterioration. the distress on buildings illustra The passage of time directly or indirectly affects everything. In the West Bottoms, it becomes evident that not everything withstands the test of time in the same manner.

The deterioration of buildings carries with it a duality. It can illustrate the “wear and tear� that has been generated due to human use, but at the same time it can illustrate the absence of human use.

In some areas of the West Bottoms, not only are wild plants growing on the outside of buildings in a negligent way, but they are growing on the insides as well. The buildings are deteriorating from the inside out in some cases, and in others from the outside in.

However somber these buildings may feel, the neglect has created a beautiful situation. It demonstrates strength and a will to survive or persist in a condition that otherwise asks the buildings to surrender to the passage of time.

ates the “complex emblems of human existence.”



activation.“we have the ability to see something in time as much as we can see some Shadows not only add depth to a photograph, but they activate the scene more than any other inanimate object has the power to do.

In these particular photographs, it was my intention to capture the idea of implied space. The shadow casts a shape or figure that is not necessary visible from the composition set up in order to imply that space exists outside of the frame. Architecture is constantly perceived differently based on how you see or experience a building. Every person witnesses buildings in different ways, therefore has a different understanding of each. By shooting this series, a perception of a building changes because you are allowed to see something that would appear differently without the visual passage of time captured in a shadow.

ething in space.�

_vladimir krstic




This study not only gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the inherent characteristics in the West Bottoms, but this tool, allowed me to supplement ideas and theoretical concepts to my other design work being done simultaneously.

This study not only trained and strenthened my eye to take advantage of capturing moments that would otherwise be surrendered to the passage of time, but it also opened my mind and perspective as to what appeared beautiful to me. In many photographs I used a telephoto lens at 55-200 mm in order to frame only the window and the nessecary context surrounding it to achieve the feeling I wanted to express.

I believe that the goal of my photographic analysics to understand the similarities and differences of these architectural elements within the West Bottoms was achieved. An understanding of the collective area was developed and again I can reiterate that the windows themselves speak a lot about the conditions of the area; things like charm, spirit, and eccentricity that could not occur anywhere else.

Equipment Used

Nikon D6 SLR Camera 10.0 mp 18-55 mm lens 55-200 mm lens

tripod Adobe Photoshop CS3 Adobe InDesign CS3


Weston, Richard. Materials, Form, and Architecture. Yale University Press. New Haven, CT. 2003. page 100-114 Torgerson, Mark Allen. An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today. Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2007. page 60.

A Study of the West Bottoms Through Photography  

West Bottoms Photography by Amy Finnerty