These Crumbling City Blocks Are Not What They Seem 

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

Monotonous rows of cold, concrete residential dwellings lend a distinctly dystopian air to this urban wasteland. Meanwhile, dead plant life and crumbling, rubble-strewn rooftops only add to the Eastern Bloc city’s grim, rundown appearance. It’s a sight that might repel even those eking out an existence inside the decaying tower blocks. Look a little more closely, however, and the truth behind this unappealing landscape reveals itself: it’s all an awe-inspiring architectural illusion.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

In fact, these painstakingly detailed, hauntingly realistic miniature towers are the work of German street artist Evol. This creative mind’s unique brand of graffiti has appeared in towns and cities across Europe, often in pretty unusual places.

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A Small Town in Vyksa… – Vyksa, 2013

In a deliberate move by the artist, his works also typically utilize materials, like damaged cardboard and metal sheets, that are in less than mint condition. Of this approach, in fact, Evol has said, “Clean spaces don’t speak to me, so recording these marks is a process of visually remembering the charm of a place that will soon be painted over.”

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A Small Town in Vyksa… – Vyksa, 2013

The Berlin-based artist recreates everything from lone mini towers to incredible cities within cities, evoking often disintegrating urban environments in the process. However, the dimensions of the street spaces on which he works do tend to restrict the size of each piece.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

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One of Evol’s most compelling works to date features an entire cityscape etched into the ground of a one-time abattoir site in Dresden, Germany. Evocative and austere, this jaw-dropping architectural illusion is known as “Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt,” after a celebrated German artist from the 1800s. It’s a miniaturized reminder of inner-city life for low-income communities in the artist’s hometown of Berlin.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

Created in 2009, the scene sits within a 33-foot-wide by 26-foot-long pit, which the artist himself has said was “probably the former foundation of a huge boiler plant to derive soap from rendered beef fat.” He added, “Even 15 years after closing down, it still smells nauseating.”

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

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Remarkably, American counter-cultural author Kurt Vonnegut was locked up in the same abattoir during the controversial Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II. Vonnegut would later use the location and the experience in his famous, sardonic 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

Poignant and meticulous, the slaughterhouse city and similarly decaying miniature urban scenes have become the unmistakable hallmarks of Evol’s work. His compositions are particularly inspired by life in East Berlin in the period between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the area’s redevelopment.

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Stem Cell – Brandenburg, 2011

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Moreover, Evol’s keen eye for detail has ensured that his diminutive buildings are richly textured, adding to their realism and heightening the sense of illusion. Even the tiniest details – from windowpanes and curtains to balconies and satellite dishes – are so beautifully rendered that it’s hard to believe that these structures aren’t merely shrunken versions of the real thing.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

Pre-existing dirt and grime on the materials that Evol chooses to use or the surfaces on which he works give his tiny buildings even more of a suitably worn facade. And imperfections or surface damage are also worked into the finished pieces, adding to the sense of decline.

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Caspar-David-Friedrich-Stadt – Dresden, 2009

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What is especially amazing about Evol’s work, though, is the contrast between the richly detailed end product and the simplicity of the techniques and materials used to create it. In fact, Evol uses little more than stencils and paste-ups to create his masterful architectural artifices.

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A Small Town in Vyksa… – Vyksa, 2013

Born in 1972 in the moderately sized southwest German city of Heilbronn, Evol went on to graduate from HFG Schwäbisch Gmünd in the state of Baden-Württemberg with a degree in product design in 2001. He had previously spent time studying at Finland’s Kuopio Academy of Arts and Crafts.

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A Small Town in Vyksa… – Vyksa, 2013

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Evol’s work has additionally attracted the attention of many in the art world and earned him several exhibitions. The year 2010, in particular, saw the artist’s star rise considerably, as during that spell he not only had his debut solo show at the Shanghai World Expo but also took home an award from the Slick Art Fair in Paris and, to boot, was nominated for the Lissone Design Award from the Italian city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Meanwhile, in 2012 Evol made his American debut with one-man exhibition Repeat Offender at New York City’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery.

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A Small Town in Vyksa… – Vyksa, 2013

But it’s the unpredictable, spontaneous nature of the artist’s outdoor creations that arguably makes them most compelling. In Germany, for instance, his work has notably cropped up around the former boundary between West and East Berlin.

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Northern Cross – Hamburg, 2011

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Such tiny installations have manifested themselves in other cities as well. For example, in 2011 the artist transformed a collection of dull concrete chunks at London’s Smithfield Market into his trademark miniature tower blocks. The installation appeared around the borders of a railway construction area and was described by website Londonist as “a mini estate.”

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Northern Cross – Hamburg, 2011

Encountering Evol’s works on the street also brings different experiences depending on the perspective from which they are viewed. For example, take a step back to observe these cities within cities in their true scale and context and they are still magnificent – just no longer so much of a deception.

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Block H 3429 – Hilversum, 2011

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Not all of Evol’s outdoor work has been created in grimy urban settings, though. In fact, in 2011 the artist showcased one of his most interactive works to date, inviting visitors to Hamburg’s MS Dockville cultural festival to amble through a series of incredible miniature streets underneath the rural landscape.

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Hanglage – Stavanger, 2010

However, Evol made sure that there was still an element of grit and grime to the display. According to the artist, the site was “not exactly what I play with usually. So I decided to cut open the idyll, and pretend there is no endless meadow but only rooftop gardens of the disgust underneath.”

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Interventions – London, 2011

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The MS Dockville installation took a little over a week to finish. After the event ended, the site was eventually filled in; the mini structures, however, were still all present and correct when they were partly excavated a year later.

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Smithfield Meat Market I – London, 2011

The unpredictable nature of Evol’s work means that one can never be too sure when the next piece is going to arrive, where it’ll be or how long it’ll last. If it is as good as his past efforts, however, it will certainly be worth the wait.

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