In his sculptures and installations, Wilfrid ALMENDRA questions the suburban destiny of the Modernist Utopia. While collective Utopias have fallen short, housing estates have fallen in disgrace and a vast majority of people in industrialized countries now consider single-family dwellings to be the ideal living environment. This new horizon in terms of urbanism, architecture and landscape also corresponds to a new frame of mind and a different approach of social life: one with the other – or rather 'one next to the other'.
In most cases, this aspiration to single-family homes is achieved in houses in suburban subdivisions; while these houses are supposed to match the individuality of their owners, they are, for cost efficiency concerns, largely standardized, sharing standard floor plans and industrial materials. As a result people spend a great deal of efforts to personalize such predetermined environments, customizing what can be.
Stressing this clash between individualism and standardization, Wilfrid ALMENDRA observes with empathy how people adapt themselves to their environment, and also how they adapt their environment to their needs and desires, looking for expressions of their aspirations behind architectural and decorative artifacts.
For instance, for his series Killed in Action (Case Study Houses)
(2009), Wilfrid ALMENDRA took his inspiration from an iconic architectural program in post-war United States, which aimed at building modern, efficient, affordable houses, to face the real estate boom caused by the end of World War II. This program, which coincides with the start of the intense development of suburban housing, also defined the archetype of the Californian villa, as well as the lifestyle and imagery that go with it, and that have now spread and flourished in all Western countries. But, in the same way that there is a gap between the ideal model houses of the program and the suburban reality, Wilfrid ALMENDRA reinterprets, in his series of ten wall sculptures, as many house projects that were not built, by imagining, through DIY customizing and salvaged materials steeped in history and autobiographical references, what would have been their destiny if they had been built.
Among post-war socio-architectural Utopias, Wilfrid ALMENDRA is particularly interested in New Babylon, a project developed from 1954 by Dutch artist Constant NIEUWENHUIS (1920-2005), who aimed at building a Situationnist city – socially concerned, built in height, freed from the ground, a place of self-fulfillment for its inhabitants. In its eponymous monumental sculpture (New Babylon
, 2009), Wilfrid ALMENDRA was inspired by an urban module in the shape of an irregular star imagined by NIEUWENHUIS; the module is both suspended, as if NIEUWENHUIS's dream of escaping the weight of History could finally come true, and 'suburbanized' with a layer of thick roughcast and wood marquetry. On the ground, a white platform takes after the floor plan of a standardized house, each of the various levels corresponding to a room. Between the two, taking root in the base and crossing the module, a cypress symbolically connects the reality with the Utopia.