These Brutalist Miniature Sculptures Are Eye Candy for Fans of Neatness

Canadian artist David Umemoto is the creator behind these brutalist, raw concrete sculptures. David’s miniature sculptures appear almost geometric and technical in nature, but also feature impossible architectural non-sequiturs almost recalling Escher – staircases lead to nowhere, start nowhere, or reverse gravity, all the while remaining neatly aligned.


While David’s sculptures are rooted in his contemporaneous career as an architect, they also allow him to explore beyond one limitation that architecture at-scale poses on creativity: functionality.


“My whole process is very iterative. If you could put all the pieces I’ve produced in the last couple years, one after the other in a chronological order, you would see a very slow evolution. It’s like a sketching process, where instead of erasing a line when I’m not satisfied, I just make another piece with a slight modification. Over and over again.”
– David Umemoto


THE PLUS dropped in on David for a conversation about his work.

THE PLUS: Tell us about the process of designing a new architecture sculpture.
David Umemoto:
I have different ways of creating my pieces. Sometimes, I draw very detailed schematics from which I build the moulds very precisely. These are usually waste moulds built in polystyrene that are used only once. In this case, there are no second thoughts, the pieces are finished when I finish the drawings. Sometimes, I work with a library of modular rubber mould parts I’ve created that I assemble to cast unique pieces. Creating complex 3D objects in “negative” is sometimes challenging, so in this case, I often first cast a proof. It allows me to validate and modify the design if needed before casting the final pieces

TP: How long does the entire process take?
It’s difficult to say since my mould library was built over years. But let’s say between a day and a week, depending on the size and complexity of the piece.


TP: Why do you keep the concrete raw?
I like concrete mainly because of its plastic quality. It really catches light in a unique way and create great shadow effects. I like its rawness and its imperfections. I like that it’s a very modest and humble material. In my aesthetic and my line of work, I like to put my energy into experimenting with forms, shapes and textures, rather than achieving the perfect object. I work with very ‘primitive tools’, buckets, trowels, in a small unfit studio. I could polish it and fill the holes. I could paint, varnish or coat it. But I think it will hide all the richness that comes from its imperfection. I spend hours and weeks working on the moulds. When I open a mould, it’s similar to a ceramist who opens a kiln filled with weeks or months of work. It is part of the process and that’s also what gives the pieces their richness and unicity.


TP: You’ve said you are taking a step back from the endless race to modernity. Would you describe yourself as anti-technological?
Definitely, but not in an extremist way. I just think that in many cases, technology is more of a burden than an amelioration. Smartphones are great (I own one) and allow you to do everything from the palm of your hand. But how often do you hear people saying they are “disconnecting” for a day, or a week to get a break? I worked a lot with computers in the past. I liked it for a long time, but I feel so much happier now working in my studio, with my hands, feeling the material and holding the final product in the end.
When I was whining about progress and new technologies, a friend quoted me someone who said that “Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things”. I’m 43, so maybe it’s just that.


TP: Do you think of specific places when you create a new sculpture or is it always conceived in the abstract?
I often think of landscapes or settings but not specific spaces. For example, I’m fascinated and greatly influenced by the American deserts.

TP: What’s your all-time favourite architectural design (if you had to pick one)?
Tough one. I’d go with Le Corbusier’s “Cité radieuse” (“Unité d’habitation de Marseilles”).