An Engineer’s Eye: The Architectural Photography of Gordon Schenck

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  • Schenck Residence, Charlotte, NC, William Crutcher Ross, architect, 1969
  • Amisano Residence, Atlanta, GA, Joseph Amisano, architect, ca. 1950s
  • Wainwright Beach House, Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle, NC, Frank Harmon Architect, 1984
  • Wainwright Beach House, Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle, NC, Frank Harmon Architect, 1984
  • One Park Plaza, Los Angeles, CA, Anthony Lumsden (DMJM), architect, 1971
  • IBM Complex, Charlotte, NC, Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, Inc., 1983

In 1963, after thirteen years in the engineering division of the Southern Railway, NC State alumnus, Gordon H. Schenck, Jr. (General Engineering, 1950), made a radical change in his career. He bought a Linhof 4x5 view camera, studied Julius Shulman’s recently published Photographing Architecture and Interiors, and attended an Ansel Adams workshop with his wife, Rebecca. Together they launched Gordon Schenck: Architectural and Engineering Photography in Charlotte, and Schenck, as he put it, “lost my hobby and made it my job.

Born in Greensboro in 1927, Schenck had always been passionate about architecture, and as a student in the late 1940s, the study of architecture and engineering were still highly integrated disciplines at NC State. That changed dramatically in 1948 with the establishment of the School (now College) of Design under the leadership of its first dean, Henry L. Kamphoefner. Kamphoefner would infuse the School’s culture with the Modernist aesthetic and teaching methods brought across the Atlantic by European masters Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. Many graduates and faculty of the program would become Schenck’s future clients.

Drawing upon a substantial collection on deposit in the NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center, An Engineer’s Eye celebrates the unique compositional approach Schenck became known for, situating his subject in time and place, harnessing light and shadow, opacity and reflection to reveal a building’s form, seeking unexpected vantage points that integrated the structure with its surrounding environment. These are core tenets of Modernism, and many of the Southeast’s notable midcentury modernist homes are among the photographs on display.

In 1973, just ten years after he and Rebecca started their business, the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored Schenck with its Collaboration Award, citing “. . . his personal involvement in each project and . . . his efforts to capture, through photography, the spirit and soul of the designing architect’s creativity.” As the College of Design prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, we are pleased to make public a mere fraction of Schenck’s body of work, a research collection awaiting deeper study for years to come.