Concrete Dreams

CubedRealism explains how context makes a city-build breathe

“Real cities - although not all - aren’t planned out from start to end,” explains CubedRealism. “They grow naturally.”

It’s really this observation that has defined CubedRealism’s approach to building his city, and what sets his work apart from so many other builds. Every structure has a history. In the very architecture itself is a story of how the city's purpose has changed. Dereliction creeps in. Nature reclaims unused spaces. Old buildings get refurbished and extended. Abandoned industrial sites become swanky condos. The fashionable new builds of the 80s become canvasses for graffiti. The city lives!

Above all else, exploring CubedRealism’s city reveals a love for all kinds of architecture - new, old, functional or fancy. Even the careful recreation of coal-burning power plant expresses a certain sort of beauty - one of several power stations that form part of a decentralised power grid, in the mix with other renewable energy sources. Part of this is realised in the world, part of it remains an imaginary but important context that informs how CubedRealism builds.

“Whatever it is, everything is supposed to have a meaning,” says CubedRealism. “It needs to make sense to make it believable. That's the reason why I built the power plant - if there are tons of buildings, they all need energy. There are even sewer systems! Not that anybody would ever see them, but still it helps to get into the ‘right mindset’. Thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ and the history of the thing you're trying to build helps a lot.”

The power plant is a monument to functional design.

"Thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ and the history of the thing you're trying to build helps a lot."

“There’s a large coal depot beneath the ground floor which can be filled by trains or trucks that simply drop their coal from some sort of platform above it,” explains CubedRealism. “Tons of pipes and conveyor belts transport the coal to the higher floors, where it gets processed and eventually turned into energy using high efficiency furnaces and turbines on the upper floor. This is a rather effective and clean process - at least in Minecraft! - and because the city is quite large a lot of power is needed.”

But even as CubedRealism draws a detailed history of his city, many of his buildings look to the future too.

“Because many - but not all - former industrial sites were converted into living spaces, the classic divide between residential and industrial areas gets more and more blurred,” says CubedRealism. “That means that most new factories and plants should no longer only be functional but they also have fulfill some sort of aesthetic purpose. That's why I tried to give the build a more modern look with high quality materials that form some sort of ‘shell’ around the actual machinery. I think this is not only nice for the neighbors but it might also benefits the workers in those plants!”

"The classic divide between residential and industrial areas gets more and more blurred."

“Hiding the ‘guts’ is one way to do it,” CubedRealism continues. “Another, in my opinion way more interesting way is to incorporate these functional parts into the new build when they get refurbished - the city keeps some of its original charm while still offering some sort of modern lifestyle. The apartment conversion project is a good example of this. While most of the facade has been changed you still see a lot of the old structure like the metal beams or even whole brick walls that have remained in it's original state. Another cool thing is a large, re-purposed chimney. It was so large that it could be turned into some sort of small, round tower apartment after some windows have been added!”

CubedRealism’s many-year-long project looks to cities like London, Manchester or Leeds - old cities, with heavy industrial pasts, that have seen continual regeneration.

“I'm a big fan of that contrast of old, traditional buildings and the seemingly very sterile, modern buildings with a lot of glass and high-end materials,” he says. “That's a tip I can give for all the city builders out there. Don't try to make everything look nice and shiny. Instead, add more grungy, dirty bits. And add Graffiti. Graffiti is present in almost any city and simply a part of the urban culture. So why not add it to your Minecraft build as well?”

CubedRealism himself has learnt a huge amount about cities while building this project - doing something like this puts you face-to-face with all the sorts of real and hugely fascinating challenges that face actual city planners.

"Prior to playing Minecraft, I never really thought about how hard it is to design a proper, working street layout."

“It made me more conscious about a lot of things when I visit a real city,” says CubedRealism. “I try to see how and why they are built the way they are and what architectural features are unique to them. I'm also more aware of very real problems like the huge amounts of traffic. Prior to playing Minecraft, I never really thought about how hard it is to design a proper, working street layout with plenty of junctions and so on. I can totally see people starting a career in architecture because Minecraft made it very accessible for them. Even if it's just a small dirt house - it is still architecture.”

Why not give it a go yourself? Maybe you’ll find Minecraft is the bedrock of your own architectural career! Have a few more images of CubedRealism’s train depot for inspiration:

Written by
Marsh Davies