Daniel Dociu | Dystopia or just gaming in an architectural context?

Daniel Dociu was born and raised in Cluj, the capital of Transylvania [Romania]. He studied art and architecture from a young age and got a masters degree in industrial design from the Academy of Fine Arts in that city. After moving to the U.S. in 1990 he worked as a toy designer for a less-than-glamorous manufacturer and then, jumped ship to interactive entertainment.

If we agree with with the Encyclopedia Britannica that a dystopia is “an imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror”, we can think that Dociu’s art-work is deeply dystopian. An example of his science-fictional way of seeing the world are the images he did about Kowloon Walled City, in which the state of chaos is represented in the subverted disorder of the urban places imagined by Dociu:

“Rooftops” and “Urban Canal” were inspired by the Kowloon Walled City, the most densely populated place on Earth until it was demolished in the early nineties. Fifty thousand people inhabited a few square blocks of the most bizarre yet fascinating architectural structures, a miracle of human survival, self-governing, and coexistence.

The speculations about gigantic crawling structures, powered by that elusive perfect synergy of human ingenuity and magic, that we think is somehow linked with Lebbeus Woods work, and Dociu capacity of invent structures and cities that, in his own words, “are inhabited by self sufficient ethnic groups, with their traditions, struggles, and aspirations, sometimes converging, other times clashing… their destinies woven together by their eternal wandering across the Endless Desert” just drives us to feel like we’re living in another era, in some science-fiction kind of time, where newborn cities aren’t dominated by humans. It’s the opposite, the counter-architecture: humans dominated by cities… cities that are represented like gigantic machines: Archigram’s dream turned dystopic.

As creator of game environments for Guild Wars, a video-game described as “a world torn by conflict, where human kingdoms are all but destroyed”, his work always shows dark spaces, small persons and ruin monuments. We ask ourselves, can we learn something from this artist vision about urban environment? When the common feeling is that we’re pushed to the edge of extinction by political, ecological and economic disaster, what role does video games, artistic or graphic world, play within our perception of reality?

We can compare the destruction shown on video games with reality in cities that has been under siege or lived any kind of war, but there’s no doubt that we can reinvent and transform a city. As Mas Yendo writes:

This sinful place does not creep into hiding; it exists. It is emotional, temperamental, irrational, discontinuous; it is as logical as we are. The city embodies memories, events, and anticipation. A manifestation of our lives, ideas, and knowledge, it is trapped by limitations and furthered by possibilities. We cannot help but find ourselves in its destruction and construction, its form and shadow, its ever-changing density and complexity, its pavement and its walls.

Talking about gaming in an architectural context is not something new, just think about Tetris and the way you can construct walls in a simple way. Greg J. Smith wrote in 2007 that “he spent the better part of the last several years thinking about the implications of rendering space, structure, relationships and ideas on paper and with pixels” and adds “starting to wonder about what connections can be identified between the drawing board and contemporary digital representations of space.”

That’s why we wanted to talk about this issue. The relationship between architecture and urban environment is now closely related with digital culture, because without space, there is no place at which a game can take place. We can talk about the overlapping of virtual and physical space and which implications these images may have for architecture. Seems like this invented cities are similar to the new cities we’re creating worlwide. Or doesn’t the floating star below remind us about Dubai islands?

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More info about Daniel Dociu at Tinfoil Games and Guild Wars

UPDATE [14.03.2010] | Recommended reading:
- Game/Space: An Interview with Daniel Dociu by Geoff Manaugh [BLDGBLOG]
- A 58 images photo-set in Flickr at BLDGBLOG account

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