Good manors

A beautiful build with a poignant message

I’ve been trying to persuade a friend to let me stand on their shoulders while wearing an incredibly long coat that covers us both. That way I’ll finally be tall enough to get into that village house marked "GOLEMS ONLY". What do they serve in there? I bet all their food is rich in iron!

Anyway, turns out it’s not just people who get the urge to stand one on top of the other – buildings do it too. Just look at the little houses in Juan Sebastian Murcia’s Slums & Manors project. Huddled together in clusters at least ten storeys high, they’re like bricky cheerleading pyramids. Give me a B! Give me an L! Give me an O, a C, and a K! Seriously though, please give me a block – I’m going to need loads more to compete with Sebastian.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Sebastian started building seven years ago, back when Minecraft was in version 1.4.6. To jolt your memory, that’s when fireworks were introduced – almost as if Mojang Studios knew it was greeting a new master builder whose work we’d one day be celebrating. Employing that in-house soothsayer was a sound investment.

Today, Sebastian creates content on the Minecraft Marketplace. For Slums & Manors, though, the goal wasn’t to share skins or texture packs, but instead a message about the rich and the poor.

“One day I looked at the news in my country, Colombia, in which one experiences a complete inequality,” Sebastian says. “Then I thought to myself, why not make the idea in Minecraft and transmit the inequality that is lived in any country, but in a pretty construction with an artistic and nice form?”

Slums & Manors uses height to tell a story. At the peak of a tall island, a palace looks proudly out across the water. The gleaming, wide windows beneath its tiered domes suggest ballrooms and lavish parties hosted within. But further down still, in the foundations of the manor, sit the slums. From the beach, it almost looks as if the many tiny houses are propping up the stately home.

Sebastian pulled his ideas for the manor from Pinterest and Artstation. But the inspiration for the slums was found close by. “My visual reference of the lower income neighborhoods was La Comuna 13 in Medellín,” he says. “Structurally, it matched the story and style of the project.”

The real Comuna 13 is built into a mountainside and made accessible by escaleras electricas – outdoor escalators. Can you imagine how much redstone they would take to power? Sebastian’s recreation is full of lights that give the neighbourhood a bright and inviting feel.

“Anywhere there is talent,” Sebastian says. “There are people that have much to show to the world, but unfortunately are deprived of the chance to do it, since people that come from these neighbourhoods do not have the necessary tools to show people that they are talented too, with or without money.”

If you look closely, you’ll see that the slums are spreading - some have even popped up on the roof of the manor, their warm, yellow windows peeking out over the domes like little eyes. It’s nice to think that they enjoy the same view out over the sea as the wealthy palace residents. Perhaps even a slightly better one.

“I wanted to show that people of lower incomes are worth the same as rich people,” Sebastian says. “That lower income people can stand out, despite the social difference. That's why I made it like that, invading their space so that they could be noticed.”

Sebastian has found his own home with Builder’s Refuge, a professional community he describes as “the best server for builders that currently exists”. 

“It’s a very welcoming place,” he says. “Thanks to them I was able to make this project a reality.”

I think we all need a Builder’s Refuge – somewhere you can go to hide when you’ve upset your family by building your dinner into a teetering tower of mashed potato with sausage battlements and a boiling gravy bucket to pour on intruders. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Written By
Jeremy Peel