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A Portfolio of my study of The West Bottoms in Kansas City through Architectural Photography


  • a study of the west bottoms through photographyby amy finnerty

  • Kansas City Design Center. 2010. Amy Finnerty.

  • introduction

    preliminary attempt

    focused study explaination

    examination of characteristics silent communicative incongruent deteriorated



    equipment used + references

    table of contents 04






  • 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 world2 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.


  • 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.

    preliminary attempt

  • 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.

    By omitting form and other elements from my photographs one is allowed to focus more on how the windows are framed within the viewport and can understand the other variables such as order, geometry, light, texture, and pattern at a different scale; a scale which is easier to grasp.

    The goal of my photographic analysis is to create a survey or comparison in order to understand the similarities and differences of these architectural elements within the West Bottoms. It has become evident that through studying just this one element, an understanding of the collective can be developed. The windows themselves speak a lot about the conditions of the area; things that contribute to the charm, spirit, and eccentricity of the West Bottoms.

    Not surprisingly, analogous as well as opposite relationships were discovered. All condtitions discovered contributed to the overall character of the location, and enriched the meaning of each ordinary occurance.

    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.

    To me, everyday and ordinary objects in architecture are far more interesting than complex or specialized systems. They are born out of an inherent meaning and for a specific purpose or necessity. The simple functions that allow you to achieve something with minimal effort, that make something easier for you, that is bare bones and achieving the task it was designed for, is what makes something exquisite.

    Le Corbusier states, Our search for architecture has led to the discovery of simplicity. Great art is produced by simple means. History shows that the mind tends toward simplicity. Simplicity, which results from judgement and choices, is a sign of mastery. It gives, through a clearly perceptible play of forms, the means of expressing a state of mind, of revealing a spiritual system. It is like an affirmation, a path leading from confusion to clear geometric statements.3 This quote has been used as inspiration through my methodology. A method of finding seemingly simplistic architecture, of using that to express a feeling or state of mind, and of leading thought to a clear and understandable conclusion.

    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 moving. For my photography, I have used an inverse of this idea. There are no people in my photographs, but I have chosen to study a subject with certain characteristics that provide implied examples of how people inhabit architectural space.

    In the absence of people, the subject seems to have developed its own personality. There is a duality discovered in studying these windows. You are looking for a view, a meaning, an understanding, something that doesnt stop at the surface of the glass. It goes beyond, and in turn reciprocates by starting at the inside looking out.

    I determined 5 different categories in which to study windows in the West Bottoms:


    These categories set parameters for the various characteristics of and attitudes one can take towards understanding the West Bottoms through these windows.

    focused study06

  • silence. there are times when silence has the loudest voice. _leroy brownlowIt 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.


  • communicative. architecture is a visual art, where the buildings speak for themselves. _Julia MorganSeeing 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 bui