How Globalization Has Tattooed The Skin Of Buildings Around The World

As part of his ongoing series, Facades, photographer Roland Fischer shoots intimate close-ups of the world’s most exotic buildings.

If architecture is all about loving the bodies of the buildings that surround us, photographer Roland Fischer is all about the skin. As part of his ongoing series, Facades, Fischer travels the world, photographing the exteriors of corporate buildings with an attention to detail bordering on the intimate, like someone snapping close-ups of their tattooed lover’s skin.


Born in 1958, Fischer splits his time between Munich, Germany, and Beijing, China. It was while he was in Shanghai that Fischer first became so interested in the ornate exteriors of the buildings surrounding him. “I noticed all these new buildings mushrooming everywhere, but they could have been from any other town in the world,” says Fischer. “I thought this was a totally new urban visual experience, a natural consequence of globalization.”

Sedus, Black Forest #2

What Fischer means is that now more than ever, buildings tend to stick out from their surroundings. With more and more companies establishing global HQs abroad, buildings are becoming more abstract, and no longer seem closely locked to a specific place. For example, the colorful plaid pattern of the Nab doesn’t really speak to anything about Melbourne in particular. Likewise, the Nikko building in Paris looks like it might be from Japan, but is not identifiably French. By taking close-ups of these buildings, they become facades that could exist anywhere, because no matter how exotic, there is nothing that betrays their nationality.

To take his photos, Fischer and his assistants first research buildings around the world, looking for possible subjects. He also just flies to different cities and walks around for a few days, looking at the facades around him; according to Fischer, it is during such walks that his best discoveries are made. Once he finds a good subject, Fischer will shoot it dead on, climbing opposite buildings across the street, taking photos from street level and adjusting the perspective later, or even renting cranes to get his shot.

Eldorado, Brasilia

Asked if there are any cities or countries which end up having particularly striking faces, Fischer says that Asian countries–particularly those in Japan and China–end up having some of the more visually striking buildings. “But the quality a facade has as a captivating image is quite independent of the building’s architectural style, or that of the city itself,” Fischer tells me by email. Neither is the fame of the architect involved a factor. “I’ve had as many great pictures result from the buildings of ‘famous’ architects as from unknown ones,” he says.

With his series, Fischer hopes, at least in small part, that his images will get us thinking about globalization, and how it has influenced urban life. “Does globalization result in a stronger mix of different cultures?” asks Fischer. “I don’t know, but I think Facades has turned into a kind of testimony of a certain period at the beginning of the 21st century.”

You can see more of the artist’s work here, and a book compilation of the Facades project is available from Amazon here.