Photographer Martin Adolfsson's book Suburbia Gone Wild, published earlier this year, documents the weird and expanding mirage of seemingly endless copies and duplicate environments called suburbia, like some poorly diagnosed spatial syndrome taking over the landscapes of the world from Mexico to Egypt, Thailand to India, to here in the United States.
The rooms are like dispersed pods from an unacknowledged global hotel chain, different only in their tiniest details. Is that image, above, from a house in Los Angeles, on the outskirts of Raleigh, or—as it happens—a suburb in Cairo, Egypt? Is this next photograph from Florida, Thailand, or—in reality—Moscow, Russia? How on earth can you tell?
These environments proliferate and echo one another, sometimes deliberately quoting and repeating each other's architectural details.
The street layouts match or just slightly deviate from an unseen super plan, some heavenly prototype known only to the designers of golf course communities and small architecture firms working on the edges of megacities.
Adolfsson has traveled through a dreamland slowly crystallizing here, like architectural snow precipitating from the global spreadsheets of developers. He wandered through scenes like the two shots above, not Las Vegas but more glimpses of Cairo, apparently no longer known for its pyramids but for its fake ponds and well-manicured grass.
Is this Sydney, New Orleans, or—spoiler alert—Bangkok, Thailand?
Even the hobbies are the same—
—as are the roadside advertisements for what's yet to come.
That golf scene is in—where do you think? Minnesota? Nope, it's Bangalore, India. That billboard—is it Dubai? No, it's Cairo again, bleeding off into the dunes and promising whole new ways of future living, a comfortable home for tomorrow's J.G. Ballard of the Sahara.
In some cases, it's as if a supercomputer somewhere has misapplied the dreams of one nation onto another, like this kitchen and pantry in Mexico City, with its Saturday Evening Post plates and its international breakfast cereals. It looks no more inhabited than a showroom in a big box store maintained by U.S.-programmed machines that refuse to allow local articulations of culture.
But, of course, you might say, these are just the photos Adolfsson took, and he could easily have cherry picked his examples, cropped his inclusions, left things out, framed things editorially rather than objectively. Yep. That's always the risk with photography projects.
But the extraordinary level of similarity found across these environments is stunning, either way, for its apparent coordination, as if the suburbs of the world are converging on some ideal, an as-yet unrealized form, and every development takes us just a tiny bit closer to this logical conclusion: something like the absolute value of suburbia (or perhaps its lowest common denominator), a spatial singularity toward which all our developments are pulled. As if something is coming, and it will be more identical with itself than ever before.
This suit of armor you see, below, is from a house in China; those quite clearly staged but industrially anonymous cleaning supplies are from a show home in São Paolo. It's like the rooms of a single, vast house got shaken up and lost, redistributed in a spatial puzzle spanning the globe.
In any case, Adolfsson's book documenting these and other suburban adventures around the world is available through his website. Consider picking up a copy.
And that portrait of John Kerry you see sitting on a table on the book's cover? Is that Atlanta? Maybe Philadelphia?
It's from a house in Shanghai, China.