Often chased as a desirable value of our contemporary condition and social behaviour, an intense life is equated with vitality, density, dynamism, or the inherent energy of a gesture, moment, or place. The constant need for change, marketed as necessary self-improvement leads to the impossibility of settling on one thing for long. This becomes a paradox, in the age of accumulation, abundance, and acceleration, when we want different, ever-new things, but more of everything, following a logic of exacerbated desire and addiction, masquerading as impetus for personal, professional, or financial growth. How do we relate all this to our relationship to space?

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From the series Fictions by Filip Dujardin.

Growth in an urban context is essentially manifested in expansion – land is excavated literally and symbolically to yield profit. The largest metropolises in the world today are defined by massive developing projects, with public land passed to private owners. The city may appear to be a growing, dynamic, unstoppable force, ready to lift urban life to new heights and intensities. Most often, however, human experiences and community life are being stunted under the weight of unaffordability. The idea of not being able to afford a home is increasingly dismissed, in rather bleak current structures of normality. The monetary value of urban space is dramatically distanced from other forms of valuation, and most city dwellers are altogether excluded from these processes of valuation. Vitality and dynamism are being replaced with density of structures and exacerbated building.

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From the series Fictions by Filip Dujardin.

The intense relationship people may have with space and place is being replaced by an intense struggle to validate one’s own claim to a slice of land. Spatial intensity becomes spatial violence – symbolic, invisible aggression against space, which are nevertheless visible in the physicality of the city. The challenge here is to recognise and question this aggression and allow the discourse on urban growth to shift from a narrative of commodification and expansion to one of interconnectedness of humanity and space.

Belgian photographer Filip Dujardin manipulates images of urban space to produce realistic future scenarios, yet with absurd and grotesque elements. His fictitious collages raise the question of an ethical approach to building, as they mimic a reality we should fear. His monstrous architectural structures feature overlapped and repetitive elements, reducing the functionality of the building in order to question its very purpose.

 From the series Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky.

From the series Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky.

 From the series  Fictions  by Filip Dujardin.

From the series Fictions by Filip Dujardin.

These impossible projects call for a stretch of imagination, while keeping a realistic approach to execution. Absurd and impractical design is executed with recognisable materials, which are a trace of human intention, bringing absurdity to the realm of the familiar. This dystopian take on architecture illustrates a subversion of the idea of intensity in the context of a city; it visualises density as a quality of built environment, emphasising inhabitability as a consequence. One feature that stands out in these eerie settings is the absence of in-between spaces, which would harbour human life, energy, and interaction. The artists crams together buildings, walls, rooftops, and facades, ending up with misbehaving architecture; unruly giants that seem to overwrite their history and instrumentality; hybrids whose existence could not be reasonably explained.

Dujardin’s scenarios are violent – they force man-made structures into distorted shapes, eventually resembling something else than man-made work. This, however, is a subtle point these architectural paradoxes make: if we can imagine something so absurd, grotesque, and violent, are we truly far away from actually building it?

Words - Elena Stanciu