Photographer Martin Adolfsson spent years traveling the world, making connections between the various suburban neighborhoods he visited to create the book, Suburbia Gone Wild. As major cities globally are experiencing the effects of prefab homes and urban sprawl, suburban living has become more and more a part of the upper-middle class identity. Adolfsson's ambitious project gives us a look into the way of the future, in addition to how architecture impacts our existence as a whole.
'We have to get the hell out of here, because these guys are not very friendly.'
When you started the "Suburbia Gone Wild" project six years ago, did you imagine it becoming a book or was it just a passion project?
It actually started in Bangkok in 2006. When I started working on it, I became captivated by this idea of finding places that look like American suburbia in Bangkok. After a while, I realized that this could be a much bigger project. At that point, I imagined it as a book. It then took six years to produce, but that was how it started.
Did you realize this whole time that it would become a search for identity in the upper-middle class around the world through photography, or did that concept develop while you were shooting?
Yeah, it definitely developed as I was shooting. I probably came to that realization after the third or maybe fourth suburb that I visited, and then I started to put two and two together. It was a theory, but I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to find any of these connections in the beginning.
Did you have any problems with photographing these homes under the guise of being a potential buyer? Did anybody get suspicious that you were actually a photographer?
There was definitely a lot of suspicion. I traveled with someone who was pretending to be my partner, and that person kept the salesperson busy. I stayed in the background to not get too involved. However, in Cairo, I was nearly caught. Many of these model homes have video surveillance, and they actually have guards walking around inside them. They suspiciously told us, “Absolutely no photos allowed whatsoever.” I almost got caught, and then I quickly said to my assistant, “We have to get the hell out of here, because these guys are not very friendly.” So we jumped in the car and drove away from there.
Most sellers probably didn't want to ruin their chances of making a sale, even if they were suspicious.
It will become cheap enough to tear down and print a new home rather than to rebuild it or remodel it.
Through both this project and all the commercial work you’ve done, how do you think that architecture, urbanization, and urban sprawl inform people’s identities, regardless of class?
These houses definitely target the upper-middle class in these countries. They are essentially selling a dream about suburbia and the idea of suburbia for most people on the continent. They have been exposed to the happy, fulfilling lifestyle of American suburbia through TV, movies, and magazines. What’s more interesting is that this idea is so prevalent; people actually use it to sell property.
What do you think the longterm effect of model homes, prefab homes, and even duplication to the level of 3D printing will have on people from a global standpoint?
In terms of 3D printing, I think it’s really interesting. In a couple years, it’s going to change how we think about homes and also the value of homes. It will become cheap enough to tear down and print a new home rather than to rebuild it or remodel it. I think it will change our idea of how we think of home as a commodity.
For the last 10 years, instead of moving to the suburbs when people have kids, people have decided to stay in the city. People who can’t afford to pay the rent start moving to the suburbs and will probably go through the same type of dilemma as the inner cities did in the '50s and '60s. When people can’t afford to live in the city, they get pushed further and further out and eventually move into suburbia. It’s the start of poverty. I think that’s going to start in more suburban areas.
How will your upcoming "Geographic Proximity" project be similar to "Suburbia Gone Wild"?
The new project will be different in the way that it deals with the same kind of question. I will continue to investigate, because my theory is that all people living in these types of homes share a lot with each other. In many cases, they have the same ambitions and the same cultural references. What we’re seeing is a world where people are less concerned about natural affiliation, and natural identities become less relevant. They are replaced by a creative class or another type of identity, and that is not necessarily based on natural identity, but more on other qualities.