In his first foray into urban camouflage, Otten transformed this electrical substation in Rotterdam with hi-res photos on aluminum panels.
Here's a neighborhood-beautification strategy that doesn't require any code changes, construction crews, or red-tape hassles. Using only tile, mirrors, hi-res photo prints, and paint, the Dutch designer Roeland Otten camouflages urban eyesores—usually aged bits of infrastructure—by dressing them up as the much-cuter shops, trees, and sidewalks that the offending structures obscure. Unlike the loud statement of yarn bombing or this weird gnome project, Otten's urban interventions improve the streetscape by diffusing, rather than attracting, attention.
Otten wrapped the electrical substation with photographs in 2009.
Otten got the idea to disguise structures with trompe-l'oeil trickery in 2009, when he heard neighbors complain about a concrete electrical substation blocking the sidewalk. "There was no way of getting rid of it, and people in the street were complaining," Otten told Co.Exist. "So I thought, rather than making it disappear, how about making it look like it was disappearing?"
More views of the electrical substation (above and below).
The designer worked with a Rotterdam company to render his hi-res photos on aluminum panels; a coating of graffiti-proof paint makes maintenance a cinch. "I think it’s a solution for many ugly buildings in many different locations," Otten said. As long as they're sufficiently cute, that is. Otten's strategy is tailor-made for the Netherlands' storybook charms, but may not translate so well to the warehouse districts of Brooklyn—or to the strip malls of everywhere.
But we don't have to give up on ugly streets entirely. To disguise an air-quality-monitoring station in Amsterdam last year, Otten devised an abstracted image of the street using durbale French tile. The palette matches the housewares shop behind the station but avoids too much detail with a pixelated design.
The air-quality monitor in Amsterdam (above and below).
Artists and urban interventionists who are less tied to realism could do a lot with Otten's approach. How about using utility structures to alter the appearance of the buildings behind them? With carefully tracked sight lines and a dose of digital wizardry, practitioners of impossible architecture—hey, Filip Dujardin and Jim Kazanjian!—could give us something awesome to gawk at on our morning coffee runs. Or we could use those urban eyesores to conjure buildings of the past, or even ambitious proposals that never got built. With so many utility stations and monitors left to cover, who's going to need Google Glasses?
In 2012 Otten transformed another Rotterdam substation by borrowing from a World War I strategy called dazzle camouflage. Used to confuse enemies about the precise location of warships, dazzle camo involved painting the ships with contrasting patterns meant to undermine the eye's ability to detect scale and speed.
All photos courtesy of Roeland Otten