Architect Federico Babina has designed hundreds of fantastical, seemingly surreal houses. He’s conceived of alphabet-shaped buildings in the image of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Other are so closely inspired by artists like Donald Judd or Richard Serra, to such a degree it’s as if their sculptures have been transformed into homes. Babina even has a a Googie-style midcentury home and a ruin from Tatooine in his ouevre.
This is all possible, of course, because these designs aren’t real. They’re drawings, and if you’ve frequented popular design blogs over the past year, you’ve probably seen them. For the past two or so years, Babina, who’s Italian but lives in Barcelona, has worked on these posters as a personal project on the side of his day-to-day practice as an architect. To him, it’s a natural hobby. “Every architect has to be a little bit of a graphic designer, because when you want to give shape to an idea you have to draw it,” he says.
The body of work started as a heap of sketches and drawings on his desk, so he can’t remember which series came first, but “Archine,” in which Babina draws buildings from well-loved movies (like the aforementioned Googie house from The Incredibles and the Kubrick-inspired number below), was first to get drum up online attention. This series, and the similar “Archiset” series of cross sections from structures in famous films (because a little interior design is never a bad thing) are as literal as Babina gets. Most of his works exist in what he calls “a parallel universe,” where buildings are imagined as expressions of work by famous artists and musicians. One series, which ignores the laws of psychics entirely, consists of portraits of famous architects made out of elements from their buildings.
It’s the latter series that make these mashups handy educational tools. Besides being a little like flashcards for favored styles of architectural masters, Babina treats buildings as a canvas for studying other creative fields, like painting, set design, and graphic design. In fact, Babina’s style of illustration tends to channel the work of Saul Bass. The lettering has the same rough-cut quality to it, and he tends to work with rich background hues that evoke midcentury design, like burnt oranges and deep reds.
His goal is “to find a different way to represent, or a different way to reach more people,” Babina says. And he’s certainly prolific in this way. His more recent series have stretched the limits of reality even further, by turning elements of famous paintings into LEGO-like building blocks, or by using elements of actual buildings to construct Bass-style movie posters.
When asked how he achieves this kind of volume, he sounds a lot like another artist: Chuck Close, who once famously said, “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work.” In Babina’s words: “I don’t really believe in inspiration. I think ideas are there and we’re just not always able to see them. The first step is to choose the most important thing, research the job to find the best way to explain it, and describe the concept. Then transform the idea in an illustration.”