“Imagine buildings that you have seen many times, maybe even passed by walking in New York or have seen on photographs. Buildings that are lost in all the city noise, people, tourists, traffic. Buildings that are now covered in street signs, or ugly pharmacy branding located on the first floor. Now imagine those buildings 'restored' to its original design, with a clean façade, no garbage, no scaffolding and on top of that they are now somewhere else, somewhere very far,” says designer Anton Repponen, referencing his project, Misplaced Series, that reconfigures the context of 11 notable New York buildings and 'misplaces' them in desolate terrains.
The series presents photographs of buildings designed by the likes of Frank Llyod Wright, Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano and Marcel Breuer among others. Stripped of their urban settings but well secured in their isolated appearances, the debutants include Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Headquarters of the United Nations, Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Opera, 8 Spruce Street, and Chrysler Building among others.
From concrete behemoths to gigantic steel and glass towers, lacerated sculpturesque volumes to a jungle of windows - pick any frame, and you get one building sitting in the middle of nowhere amid locations that range from ‘sand dunes, mud flats to lunar planes and rocky beaches’.
On a rather intuitive examination, the overpowering absurdity of the new context in relation to the architectural protagonists gradually fades away. In contrast, “architectural shape and form becomes more defined and easily understood. Some of these buildings now look even more beautiful and almost get a second life. Some of them actually do not work in isolated environments and look completely wrong taken out of context,” explains Repponen.
In a city like New York one knows that to capture landmarks in their entirety is nothing short of an impossible task. Ask Repponen. “New York streets can be extremely narrow…there is just not enough space on a narrow street to take a photo of a 10-storey building,” he says. “Sunrise and sunset were a huge deal for me. Depending on the direction the building is facing, I had to plan to take a photo of it early in the morning or in the evening to prevent shadows on the façade.” While this was not daunting enough, the never-ending construction in the city made the documentation even more challenging. “I had to wait for a few buildings to actually get free of scaffolding,” he adds.
To heighten humour, mystery, and the overall bizarre vein of the series and to make the buildings feel more alive, each image comes with a vignette - ‘a flight of fancy’ written by writer and podcast producer, Jon Earle. Also a friend to Repponen, Earle created surreal fiction stories around the buildings that look like ‘scenes from a movie never made, fitting companions to images that could never actually be.’
Being questioned on the whereabouts of the new locations, Repponen says the landscape shots were taken across areas in Brazil, Peru, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Iceland. To him, the idea was not to make them recognisable but to use them as a medium to highlight the built icons.
The Misplaced Series challenges the largely perceived image of architecture where context plays an extraordinarily significant role. Making the locations go awry, viewers are invited to see the structures as if for the first time, examine aesthetics and vivid details and choose for themselves whether to appreciate or ridicule the compositions.
Here, STIR shares its favourites from the series, where the accompanying description has been extracted from Earle's funny short story for each one of them.1. Misplaced - Whitney Museum
Architect: Renzo Piano
“The Whitney Museum is the ultimate prize for the serious trophy hunter. An elusive beast, the Whitney roams the plains of Mozambique in search of food and potential mates, stopping occasionally to 'get some sun'…”
Architect: Marcel Breuer
“Building the brutalist Breuer Building in the bloody boondocks was brutal. But worth it. Try making a clay pot inside a kiln, or basting a turkey that is still in the oven. That is what it was like at night, when the gnats crawled out of every little crack in the ground and kamikaze attacked our eyeballs. I honestly do not remember how we got the concrete on site. Mules? It was all such a blur…”
Architect: William Van Alan
“The Chrysler Building does stick its head in the sand, as the saying goes, and with good reason. It is tired of us, no offense. It needs 'me time' away from all the oohing and ahhing, gawking and gaping, pointing and gesturing, craning and squinting, posing and faux shutter-snapping. Just look at how it sips from a cloud!”
Architect: Frank Gehry
“…Like so many buildings these days, 8 Spruce Street was suddenly and inexplicably misplaced. My friend had an appointment to see her psychotherapist on the roof – true story – the day she read about it in The Post. She has put off finding another shrink in the hope that he will return. But can something that has been misplaced ever be misplaced again in its original location? It seems unlikely.”