The facade of an entire building in Milan, Italy has been “unzipped” to reveal a strange blankness behind it, glowing by night in alternating shades of blue and white. Created for Milan Design Week, A spoonful of sunrise is just the latest large-scale architectural illusion from British sculptor Alex Chinneck, who’s known for taking ordinary objects in urban environments and transforming them into surreal scenes.
Inspiring shock and awe from all passersby, Chinneck’s sculptures playfully reimagine the cities around us, sometimes literally turning buildings on their heads (or so it would appear). The work often requires excavating and re-pouring the entire concrete floors of those buildings, which are frequently vacant, condemned, or abandoned. The idea is to blur the lines between fantasy and reality, prompting viewers to reconsider what’s possible.
“My sculptures playfully disrupt our perception of what is physically possible, but this project has only been possible because of the brilliant people that built it with me,” Chinneck says. “Ambition gives birth to an idea, but collaboration makes it grow.”
A spoonful of sunrise is certainly Chinneck’s most ambitious work to date, created in collaboration with Philip Morris’ IQOS vape brand. Over 200,000 people visited the unzipping building in the six days it was on display.
In a new interview with Juxtapoz, Chinneck explained how he was able to pull off an illusion of such enormous proportions. Whenever possible, he uses real building materials to pull off the final effect, though tricks and materials from the theater trade are also employed on occasion.
“The 17-meter unzipping facade covered two buildings, giving them a new, unified identity,” he says. “To be clear, we rebuilt the entire front — the original buildings were completely concealed. The facade also created an internal corridor behind it that linked the interior spaces. This enabled us to take visitors on a journey, starting outside with the fatigued aesthetic of a seemingly historic Milanese building and then revealing, through a series of openings in its walls and floors, portals to a futuristic world.”
Chinneck initially went to art school for painting but felt frustrated by the fact that he had to choose a focus of study. Wanting to experiment with new materials, methods, and technologies, he ultimately left to work with other artists and learn through practice. Today, he works with architectural consultants and structural engineers to ensure that all his installations are safe. The challenge, he says, is that work of this kind simply hasn’t been done before, so learning on the job is the only way to go.
Other large-scale illusions created by Chinneck have included a house made of wax that melted down over time, a brick facade that seemed to be cracking open, an apartment building facade seemingly sliding down into the yard like a piece of paper, and an upside-down electricity pylon. If you’re ever lucky enough to catch one of these illusions in person, you’ll likely recognize the artist’s work immediately, extraordinary as it may be.
You can keep up with Alex Chinneck’s work by following him on Instagram.