Built In A Day_Creating Narratives of Horizontality Based On A Speculative Fiction

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Perspective View, Students, Texture

Built In A Day_Creating Narratives of Horizontality Based On A Speculative Fiction

David Verbeek 



Though only two percent of the earth is occupied by cities, over half of the world’s population now call cities home. The last century saw massive growth; in 1900 only 10 percent of the world’s population lived in cities, and by 2050 this number is expected to reach 75 percent. There is a new order of magnitude difficult to comprehend: the world’s largest cities are growing at rates of over 300,000 people per year, with earth’s largest cities expected to surpass 35 million in coming decades. These cities are becoming increasingly fragmented, socially divisive, and pose great environmental threats. Densities required to accommodate these populations are immensely challenging.

Project Statement

The project investigates territories of hypergrowth through drawing. The challenge of accommodating millions in rapidly urbanizing environments has seen the rise of the vertical city – often, an environment of terrible beauty. By questioning the role of the earth as a datum, this project explores the disruption of the high rise typology central to the megacitiy, creating narratives of horizontality based on a speculative fiction.

With almost endlessly-stacked windows and inhabitants, repetition in the megacity creates a field of magnificent proportions. The field knows no limits; the field is endless. The architecture proposed in Built in a Day is an architecture at the scale of the city, perhaps as imaginable or unimaginable as the context to which it responds.



Who influences you graphically?

Influences differ based on the project; some I recognize, and many I don’t. I think experience, place and memory are always starting points. As a snapshot of a constantly evolving stream of influences, recently I’ve been looking to photographers like Luigi Ghirri, Bas Princen, Serkan Taycan, and Michael Wolf – artists who are or were interested in abstracting architecture and cities in a way that blurs our perception of the environments we inhabit. Princen talks about using real life to evoke fiction; all of these photographers have managed to distort reality enough to create imaginary places. The magic realism they introduce is quite Piranesian. The work of 51N4E, Adrian Phiffer, Aldo Rossi, Caruso St. John, Dogma, Fala, Ishigami, Nicholas Felton, Office KGDVS, O.M. Ungers, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Robert Ryman, SANAA, Superstudio, Wes Anderson, and Xaveer De Geyter has been influential. Growing up exposed to graphic design has likely influenced the way I communicate more than any architect has.

How does sound impact the way the images are perceived?

Sound isn’t necessary when we perceive images, but it has a way of heightening our senses. The addition of rhythm, mood, and tone through different channels impacts our eyes tremendously and encourages a more holistic experience. When we think of film or physical movement, what we’re hearing completely alters our expectations. With film, the fusing of sound and image can either strengthen or undermine your intentions. Sound and image don’t need to rely on each other; I think intentional and uninterrupted silence can be equally powerful.

What dictates the transitions from one shot to another? Did you have any fixed elements etc?

Transitions are magical moments you’re able to control in a way you can’t with drawings. They become opportunities for two images to coalesce into something unexpected. I viewed the transitions as their own project within the context of the film, and I think the thesis is ingrained within these moments. The transitions are intended to seem effortless for the viewer – where one moment you’re embedded deep in a forest, and the next you find yourself in the middle of a hyperdense city without realizing how or when you arrived. I suppose still images could be defined as fixed elements throughout the film. Through graphic interventions and transitions the images take on new meaning.


To what extent do you see the art of collage as a term which can be applied to a larger context of architecture and the city?

I’m not interested in realism as a representational strategy. With collage, as with the city, there’s an element of the surreal and the unexpected. There’s a beauty in discovering and interpreting, in seeing surroundings in ways that stitch together reality and fiction. The megacity is this seemingly endless expanse that’s as fictitious as it is real. The collage has a life of its own and doesn’t need to serve a utilitarian purpose. Beyond the metaphorical collection of fragments in the collage and the city, I think the process of compositional play has merit at any scale.

What elements and/or parameters defined the way you chose to dissect the buildings?

I think the drawings avoid relying on conventions of the traditional drawing set, instead forming a story-like narrative based on observation in a foreign yet familiar place. In holding back from defining what the city should be through exact measures, a collection of abstracted photographic-like compositions challenge notions of what the megacity is and explores what could be. The disruption of the megacity through the high rise typology centred on questioning the role of the horizontal datum in the endless city.

How does the format of the movie compared to the drawing reinforce the narrative and thesis?

The difference of having the viewer’s eyes and ears controlled – timing, focus, volume – is key. In four minutes, the film explores only a minuscule segment of the drawings. The drawings are significantly more layered and hold the greatest amount of information and possibility. One of my objectives was to have at least traces of the project’s DNA recognizable at any given frame in the film. With the film, naivety played an important role technically and experientially; I tried to turn technical constraint into something conceptually beautiful and poetic.


David Verbeek is a Toronto-based designer. He studied Urban Design at Dalhousie University, where he was awarded the Thesis Prize and University Medal in addition to a national grant for research in Scandinavia. Currently living and working in Copenhagen, he has also worked in Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland. He studies at the University of Toronto, where he has been awarded The Tilbe Scholarship for Overall Excellence, the Prii Award for Visual Communication, and the Zeidler Scholarship for Academic Achievement in Design. He will complete his Master of Architecture thesis in the spring of 2017.


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