Photography by Leonid Furmansky
Text by Brantley Hightower, AIA

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, before the precise transmission methods of the SARS‑CoV‑2 pathogen were fully understood, city, county, and state governments issued emergency orders limiting travel outside of the home. To avoid an early spike in infections that would overwhelm local hospitals, officials sought to slow the spread of the virus and buy time for the medical community to develop effective treatments and, eventually, for the scientific community to develop preventive vaccines.

COVID would eventually be responsible for the deaths of over 90,000 Texans even as it became the focus of a polarizing political debate. But for a time, the public worked together to “flatten the curve.” In the spring of 2020, schools and universities sent their students home. Malls and shopping centers were closed. Downtowns and central business districts were emptied. Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, oil prices plummeted, leaving many Houstonians out of work — and, subsequently, many of Houston’s office towers vacant.

The uncanniness of that time was captured by the architectural photographer Leonid Furmansky. In a series of photographs of a vacant downtown Houston, he captures familiar urban scenes drained of (nearly all) mortal inhabitants. Beyond the eeriness of a city devoid of its human context, Furmansky’s exquisitely crafted images reveal the subtle beauty of Houston’s often-maligned built environment. Just as the “pause” caused by the pandemic allowed many to reconsider life’s priorities, Furmansky’s photographs allow us to reassess the architecture of the city. While this collection of photographs illustrates the unease of an uncertain time, it also reminds us not to take for granted the world outside our homes. 

Leonid Furmansky’s work will be on exhibit September 14, 2023, through January 31, 2024, at Architecture Center Houston. 

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