John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Robert Rickhoff's surrealistic city architecture blends "fun" with "fatalities."
It's a good thing that Robert Rickhoff isn't involved in any actual urban planning. Put in charge of a construction crew, he'd probably build a volleyball court in the middle of a highway or erect ramps so cars can catch some air.
Just such questionable public amenities are presented in Rickhoff's graduate thesis at ArtEZ in the Netherlands, appropriately titled "Out of Place." The surreal series of manipulated photos introduce a metropolis in which the architecture is twisted to spawn new, strange functions. In some cases, that means turning shared spaces like a crosswalk or public restroom into rec yards to get your sweat on. In others, Rickhoff seems intent on devising the worst planning idea possible – witness his apparatus for slowing down speeding trains or either of his depressing, unpleasant-to-use swing sets.
Rickhoff's not the first person to envision the city as a staging ground for exercise and mischief. Earlier this year, for instance, French street artist Florian Rivière's gave Dublin a real-world track-and-field makeover. But whereas Rivière's interventions might at the worst lead to somebody getting wet or bruised, a few of Rickhoff's enhancement schemes would seem to involve certain death. Via e-mail, the artist said he was inspired to create a kind of Raumplanung, or urban architecture, that could never exist in reality. I think he's accomplished his mission handily:
All photos courtesy of the artist.