Refuge, Five Cities

Architect-turned-photographer Bas Princen's images of the Middle East

by Alexandra Polier


Known for beautifully raw images of the modern world, Bas Princen’s exhibit “Refuge, Five Cities” currently on display at the Storefront for Art and Architecture shows a series of rare architectural finds in the Middle East. A trained architect, Princen uses photography not only to capture a sense of space but also as a way of subtly discussing current problems occurring within his field.

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In “Refuge,” Princen stresses the growing divide in the Middle East between those living the dream and those building it. With little or no people pictured, the images remind us of sites whose initial purpose are long forgotten and have been completely abandoned by man.

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Photographed during his travels throughout Istanbul, Beirut, Amman, Cairo and Dubai, the obscure buildings also represent the influx of refugees hired on for their cheap labor, but who in turn have created an infrastructure nightmare.

“I didn’t want to show these people as poor,” Princen said at the opening in lower Manhattan. “They are all part of a master plan, a plan labored by the poor and paid for by the rich.”


The stunning photograph “Mokkatam Ridge (Garbage Recycling City)” (pictured at right, click for expanded image) depicts the city of 80,000 Coptic Christians who make their living recycling Cairo’s waste. This unbelievable image of houses stacked on top of one another, covered in trash—with the occasional clothesline—challenges perceptions of the alluringly burgeoning Middle East.

Priscen came to this project through the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, an international event of exhibitions, conferences, lectures and other activities devoted to themes in the field of architecture and urbanism. The organization is releasing an accompanying exhibition book, “Refuge. Five Cities Portfolio,” that sells from Sun Architecture for €15.

The exhibition runs through 26 June 2010.