It is difficult to fight the urge and not dive headfirst into the imagined universe of Cyril Lancelin. The Lyon, France-based architect and installation artist creates a fantastical futuristic world of labyrinths, pyramids and dream residences using simple shapes like spheres and cubes drenched in hues of pink, blue and gold. His otherworldly structures are shared with his 40,000-strong following on Instagram, many of which don’t realize that they are staring at expertly designed renderings rather than real-life structures.
Lancelin has been working as an architect for nearly two decades, managing large rendering teams for some of the world’s most respected architecture firms. After the rapid growth of his Instagram page, where he uploads conceptual residences and installation pieces, he decided to take a leap of faith and break out on his own. His creative studio, Town and Concrete, is a one-man operation that gives Lancelin the freedom to meld art and architecture. He creates renderings of dreamy concept residences and sculptural installations imagined in large architectural scale. His loyal and growing following brings him commissions — 99% for art installations — from places as far-flung as China and Dubai.
Lancelin spoke with Artrepreneur about transitioning from corporate architecture firms to his one-man creative studio and bridging that new frontier through social media.
KV: Can you tell us how you got started in architecture?
Cyril Lancelin: I have been working in architecture for nearly 19 years. I graduated in 1999 and started out by working with a very well-known French architect and urban planner, Dominique Perrault. He designed the French National Gallery. I also spent a short time, about two and a half years working in Los Angeles, California, before moving back to France to work again with Perrault and finally with Jean-Michel Willmotte, who is also a very well-known French architect with works in France and South Korea, too.
I worked as a director of the rendering teams. With Willmotte, I was managing a team of 20 people. When I first started out, most architects didn’t want to do the rendering. They wanted to do the drawings and have the renderings done by their graphics teams. But now, that has changed a lot. With big firms, you need to be able to respond to clients very quickly. So a lot of times, the rendering images come first. You need images for clients within two or three days and that is a bit part of selling to clients. You send the image along and they’ll sign the contracts based on whether they like those images or not.
KV: Was that a big realization for you?
Cyril Lancelin: Yeah, that gave me the idea to begin making my own renderings in order to work independently as an architect. It takes a very long time to be able to work on your own as an architect and make your own designs. I thought that if I made some images and uploaded that work that maybe I would be able to find work that way.
KV: When did you start working on your own designs?
Cyril Lancelin: About 18 months ago, I started making my own renderings and uploading them to Instagram. Last summer, I started to dedicate myself completely to Town and Concrete. I was receiving too much work to be able to work at the firm and on my own.
KV: Did you always want to move away from corporate architecture firms and work on your own?
Cyril Lancelin: I think at the big firms everyone dreams of working for themselves. I was working for a very large firm, there were offices in Paris and London and we had about 250 people on staff. The job is demanding and I am thankful to have learned to work very quickly. You meet a lot of very amazing people and learn a lot from one another. But you are always working with someone telling you that you need to do this and that and it’s really refreshing to be able to do your own stuff and control those projects. Also, I am from Lyon, but my job was in Paris. I wanted to be closer to my friends and family and move back to where I’m from. It was really tiring to live in Paris during the week and go back to Lyon on the weekends.
KV: Has the transition from corporate firms to independent work difficult?
Cyril Lancelin: The transition has been difficult. I work completely alone. I don’t have an assistant. Right now, I’m working on a few different projects in the U.S. and China, I have an exhibition coming up in Paris and that is a lot to do on your own. In a big firm, you have a lot more support and a paycheck at the end of each month. I do work with some liaisons that go to meetings for me when developing projects in other countries, but otherwise, I do everything alone. Right now, I am working on a project and in two days need to have plans, pricing, and a timeline ready for them. That is a lot for one person.
KV: What sort of resources have you used to learn about making contracts or pricing?
Cyril Lancelin: When I work with a gallery, I usually trust that the gallery people understand how to price things and draw up contracts. For other projects, I lean on colleagues when I have questions about contracts.
KV: How important has Instagram and social media in general been to your independent work?
Cyril Lancelin: Maybe two years ago, I didn’t even know what Instagram was but now that is where all of my work comes from. I don’t use Facebook, I think that it is too complicated. I use Pinterest as well but I don’t reach as many people as on Instagram.
At the very beginning, I was posting every two days. Now I post about every four. At the beginning, I was just uploading stuff as I created it but now I am a little too busy and not everything I work on can be shared immediately. A big moment for me was when Instagram picked up one of my photos and shared it. The image that they chose got a million likes. In an hour, I had a few thousand new followers and a bunch of emails from people that were interested in working with me.
KV: So Instagram provides most of your work?
Cyril Lancelin: Right now, all of my work comes from Instagram.
KV: What is that process like? How do those conversations evolve?
Cyril Lancelin: Most people will contact me and have a few specific images that they will point out and we’ll talk about what they like from each. From there, we’ll start to create something different together.
KV: How has it been working on installations from afar? Like the installation piece you did in China?
Cyril Lancelin: I was contacted by the Asia Design Management Forum in Hangzhou, China. That was my first installation piece. The goal was to fill the space with a vertical labyrinth made of inflatable rubber. We didn’t want it to be a piece off to the side, but a giant inflatable installation that would confront the viewers immediately as they entered the space. Throughout the process, I was in constant contact with the manufacturers who understood really well the materials and then we went back and forth with people who were working on site in order to get the sizing and dimensions correct.
KV: What is on the horizon?
Cyril Lancelin:I am about to open my first exhibit in Paris on April 4th at the Galerie MR80. It is an installation piece. It’s a sculpture made out of spheres that viewers can step into. I am very excited because this will be the first time I will be exhibiting in Paris.