If you guessed (1.) Singapore's Marina Bay Sands, (2.) Reykjavík's Hallgrímskirkja, and (3.) Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers—you'd be correct!
Michael William Lester has managed to do what many before him have tried to achieve without success: He's taken cold, hard, unfeeling slabs of concrete and metal and brought them to life. Lester, a freelance designer and illustrator based in England, created a series of GIFs that anthropomorphizes monumental structures from around the world—Lester's characters come complete with emotions, relationships, and backstories, written in the style of historical fiction. The collection of 20 graphics is called, cleverly, "Character Building."
We chatted with Lester about how the project started, and if he'll ever be able to look at buildings as inanimate forms again.
How did you come up with the idea for this series?
I did a project in my last year of university which was a competition for HTC to advertise a new phone feature which "brought your phone's photo gallery to life" through short videos. I created a design that turned the Tate Modern in London into a character, and used the play on words, "a gallery that's alive," for my design. It ended up winning the competition and was placed on huge billboards around East London. This project played on my mind for a while and I knew I wanted to do a series of buildings as characters, so I came up with the name "Character Building," and set out to create a whole set of buildings that were alive.
How did you decide which buildings to feature?
It started with a simple Google search. I would search famous buildings, but I wasn't necessarily on the look out for the most famous buildings. I wanted the project to be more than just adding limbs to famous buildings…it had to take the unique form of the building and answer the question: How did this building come to be? I wanted to turn the form of the building into the answer of how the building came to be. How would the building act if it was alive? Maybe some of the buildings weren't that happy…for example, see the agitated Bitexco Tower (below), irritated at the heat and helicopters. The idea was to choose the most interesting buildings that would lend themselves to interesting "backstories" and give fictional insight (based on real facts) to these architectural wonders.
Do you look at buildings differently since doing a series that anthropomorphizes them?
Absolutely! It's funny, I'm currently sitting in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel as I'm travelling the world, and will be stopping by four of the buildings featured! I keep referring to where I am as "the legs" of the hotel. I also saw a Facebook comment from someone who shared the project who said she now can't see the Portland Building without a book in its hand! That's the amazing thing with a project like this: the level of interaction it creates with real people from the cities who live or work in the buildings. It has definitely had a playful effect on changing people's perspectives of famous landmarks.
Check out a few of the images from Lester's "Character Building" series, below!
Bitexco Financial Tower
"The Bitexco Financial Tower longs for a colder climate."
City/Region: Ho Chi Minh City
Height: 860 ft
Completed: 2010 (Carlos Zapata)
Function: Office, Shopping Mall
The Leadenhall Building
"While London is hard at work, The Leadenhall Building gets its afternoon nap."
Country: United Kingdom
Height: 738 ft
Completed: 2013 (RSHP)
"The Ryugyong Hotel has been peacefully waiting for completion since 1987."
Country: North Korea
Height: 1083 ft
"The Camp Nou holds 99,000 passionate fans (and a handful of glory hunters)."
Floors: 3 tiers
Height: 157 ft
Completed: 1957 (F. Mitjans, J. Soteras, L. García-Barbón)
Function: Football Stadium
Burj Al Arab
"The Burj Al Arab dipped into the Arabian Gulf in 1999 and hasn't left the water since."
Country: United Arab Emirates
Height: 1053 ft
Completed: 1999 (Tom Wright)
"The Highcliffs met in 2003 and have been there for each other ever since."
City/Region: Hong Kong
Country: Hong Kong
Height: 827 ft
Completed: 2003 (Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man)
"The Portland Building lives in a thriving creative community and fits right in."
Country: United States
Height: 230 ft
Completed: 1982 (Michael Graves)
Function: Government Offices
"The Proximus Towers are siblings and like most, never grew out of play fighting."
Height: 440 ft
Completed: 1996 (Jaspers-Eyers)
See more of Lester's "Character Building" at michaelwilliamlester.com.