Character Building

This artist turns well-known skyscrapers, stadiums, and hotels into one-of-a-kind personalities—you'll never look at architecture the same again.

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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."  

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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.

Lester's winning design for the HTC competition.
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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.

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Check out a few of the images from Lester's "Character Building" series, below!

Bitexco Financial Tower

GIF
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"The Bitexco Financial Tower longs for a colder climate."

City/Region: Ho Chi Minh City

Country: Vietnam

Floors: 68

Height: 860 ft

Completed: 2010 (Carlos Zapata)

Function: Office, Shopping Mall

The Leadenhall Building

GIF

"While London is hard at work, The Leadenhall Building gets its afternoon nap."

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City/Region: London

Country: United Kingdom

Floors: 48

Height: 738 ft

Completed: 2013 (RSHP)

Function: Office

Ryugyong Hotel

GIF
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"The Ryugyong Hotel has been peacefully waiting for completion since 1987."

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City/Region: Pyongyang

Country: North Korea

Floors: 105

Height: 1083 ft

Completed: Unfinished

Function: Hotel

Camp Nou

GIF

"The Camp Nou holds 99,000 passionate fans (and a handful of glory hunters)."

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City/Region: Barcelona

Country: Spain

Floors: 3 tiers

Height: 157 ft

Completed: 1957 (F. Mitjans, J. Soteras, L. García-Barbón)

Function: Football Stadium

Burj Al Arab

GIF

"The Burj Al Arab dipped into the Arabian Gulf in 1999 and hasn't left the water since."

City/Region: Dubai

Country: United Arab Emirates

Floors: 60

Height: 1053 ft

Completed: 1999 (Tom Wright)

Function: Hotel

Highcliff

GIF

"The Highcliffs met in 2003 and have been there for each other ever since."

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City/Region: Hong Kong

Country: Hong Kong

Floors: 73

Height: 827 ft

Completed: 2003 (Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man)

Function: Residential

Portland Building

GIF

"The Portland Building lives in a thriving creative community and fits right in."

City/Region: Portland

Country: United States

Floors: 15

Height: 230 ft

Completed: 1982 (Michael Graves)

Function: Government Offices

Proximus Towers

GIF

"The Proximus Towers are siblings and like most, never grew out of play fighting."

City/Region: Brussels

Country: Belgium

Floors: 32

Height: 440 ft

Completed: 1996 (Jaspers-Eyers)

Function: Office

See more of Lester's "Character Building" at michaelwilliamlester.com.

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