Hacks, hobbies, and side hustles: Architectural photography

Brijhette Farmer on the majesty of built structures

A black-and-white photograph of a marina on a cloudy day. Multiple docked boats are in the foreground and the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge is in the background.

Photography by Brijhette Farmer

Hacks, Hobbies, and Side Hustles is a for-fun internal presentation series that began as a one-time event and fast became a popular way for us to get to know our talented colleagues. It has only two guidelines: finish in five minutes and focus on a passion that exists outside of Adobe. Learn where creativity takes the members of Adobe Design when they’re not working.

At Adobe I’m a design manager for Creative Cloud Growth, but my professional background is in architecture, and structural and earthquake engineering, and I really really really love buildings. Half of my time is spent looking up, reading, and trying to piece together the intricacies of how buildings and structures work. The other half is spent lamenting the inequalities that plague society's structural integrity.

A photograph of a black woman wearing a hard hat, a safety vest, jeans, and work boots poses with rebar in the foreground of a construction site.
Building nerd since 1989. This photo was taken in 2014 in the deep excavation pit of the now-completed Salesforce Transit Center.

I've been fortunate to have traveled to many places all over the world. Everywhere I go, I capture personal perspectives of built environments with the primary purpose of looking at them forever and ever. When I take photos, I only use my phone. Although I'll occasionally throw in an Adobe Lightroom edit, most of the time what I end up with is a snapshot of something beautiful I’ve seen while walking down the street.

A photograph of a black woman's hand touching the fence enclosure of a concrete wall with the words "Du hast gelrnt was Freiheit heisst und das vergiss nie mehr."
From a trip to Berlin, Germany in 2016. Written on some Berlin Wall fragments, this quote speaks to me about this time we're living in. Translation: "You have learned what freedom means and you will never forget it."

We're living in a very difficult time, and as a black woman, taking pictures of buildings does not always come without fear. I've often been accosted by security guards while trying to take photos of the outsides and insides of buildings, so it's become even more important for me to take photos of these beautiful structures that I pass.

A photograph looking up at a domed ceiling through multiple stories of spiral walkways.
The atrium of the Westfield Mall in San Francisco. This building has a beautiful elliptical construction and double helix spiral escalators. Ridiculous! I'd stopped in with a couple of friends to grab a bite to eat and, unusual for this mall, the building was virtually empty, so I was able to lie down on the floor to get the shot.
A photograph of a great hall of guilded domes, sculptued pillars and archways, and marble floors that form a grand walkway of pink and teal and gold.
A blend of styles in India’s beautiful Mysore Palace. I visited India to attend a good friend's wedding and the architecture there is stunning. Anyone who has the opportunity, should visit. It's an absolutely beautiful country.

Sometimes structures remind me of things... like Zillow ads. I'm sure everyone's seen real estate marketing promoting "exposed brick." I always wonder now whether they're referring to a structure that, although very interesting, has obviously seen better days. Sometimes those compositions are too good to pass up.

A black-and-white photograph of a crumbling three-story structure  on a rocky hillside.
This photo was taken on the outskirts of a working-class district in Lima, Peru. We were able to climb to the top and look out over an entire hillside. It was breathtaking.
A photograph of two women walking through an arched entrance composed of brick and surrounded by tiles of blue, turquoise, gold, and white set in geometric and floral patterns.
Two friends of mine (sisters) entering the Shah Jahan Mosque in Pakistan. I love this photo because they match the building, and the building matches them.

Most of the time what I see in structures is the beauty of engineering, and the implied permanence and resilience that result from it.

A photograph looking up,  through a foreground of  palm trees, at a majestic golden tower set against a blue sky.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is a masterpiece of engineering and currently the tallest building in the world. The Jeddah Tower, being built in Saudi Arabia, will soon surpass it and will eventually hold that title.

One of the joys of moving to the Bay Area is being able to regularly cross the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge. I'm obsessed with it from both structural engineering and earthquake engineering perspectives and bike over it often just so I can take photos of it. The bridge makes use of three important structural technologies: cabling, suspension systems, and trusses (one or two of those in a bridge is common, but this one has all three).

It's the longest cable-stayed self-anchored suspension bridge in the world. That’s the fast way to say that the bridge deck is held up by diagonal or near-diagonal cables (cable-stayed) and that those cables attach to the ends of the bridge’s deck rather than to the ground (self-anchored suspension). Its new eastern span was designed to sustain and be functional after an 8.5 magnitude earthquake, which is completely reasonable considering the risk here in the Bay Area.

A photograph of a close-up view of a bridge tower and cable structure set against a cloudy blue sky.
The main tower of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge is comprised of four tapering sections (this photo shows two and there are two on the other side). The design allows for the tower to absorb most of an earthquake's force so it could remain open to emergency traffic. A similar system prevents the tower from hitting the road deck and causing a failure.

I’m actively preparing to pursue my PhD where I aim to advance global disaster mitigation by conducting multidisciplinary research that draws on earthquake engineering, structural health monitoring, and computational mechanics. It's a nerd's dream with a purpose: Merging the three disciplines will allow for a more dignified disaster response, especially in resource-scarce areas. On the side, though, I’ll continue to keep my phone handy so I can add photos of the magnificent structures I pass by, to my Big Book of Buildings.