Books

The Mobius Strip Melding Sci-fi and Architecture

The remains of the Star Wars set in Tunisia (photograph by Camila/Flickr user)
The remains of the Star Wars set in Tunisia (photograph by Camila/Flickr user)

The futures that are built through architecture and the futures that are constructed through science fiction aren’t always galaxies apart. In fact there’s long been a dialogue between the imagined worlds of both realms, with architecture inspired by the ambitious forward glimpses of science fiction and likewise the fantastical imagined landscapes responding to both the utopic and dystopic in contemporary architectural designs.

Sci-Fi from Clog
SCI-FI issue from CLOG (all photographs of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

SCI-FI, the seventh issue of CLOG, an architectural publication that examines single ideas from multiple viewpoints in each edition, has over 40 architects and other writers contributing short, page-long essays on science fiction and architecture, with everything from an overly detailed chronology of the final sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey — where Dr. Dave Bowman finds himself in a curiously empty classical architecture room and with each shift of his gaze transports himself around the white walled-space until he reaches his higher plane as a space baby — to a studious musing on whether Rem Koolhaas ever read The Metabarons as inspiration for his own starships. It’s all contained within a handsomely simple black cover dotted with gold suggestions of stars and a cryptic hologram sticker in the center.

Sci-Fi from Clog
SCI-FI Centerfold

As the introduction cites, Twilight Zone creator Rod Sterling once said that science fiction was “the improbable made possible,” and that “the same might be said for the practice of architecture.” There’s long been trippy speculative architecture that could easily grace the cover of some fantastic sci-fi book, like the late Lebbeus Woods‘ radical experiments with system order (he actually successfully sued the 12 Monkeys film producers for using his “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber” as a film locale without permission), as well as creators like Fritz Lang imagining the modernist direction of design as a future sprawl in his 1927 film Metropolis. But taking it further are physical additions to the world that look like the future happening now, and those buildings that seem to be taking cues from sci-fi constructions like the Death Star. As architect Katy Barkan writes in her essay:

“If both science fiction and architecture are predicated on plausibility — the delicate crafting of what could be if only, what almost is but isn’t yet — then the curve is uniquely able to engage simultaneously the existent and the emergent.”

Sci-Fi from Clog
Mapping the final interior scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey”

This has probably been most literal and prolific with the mid-century Googie architecture, where UFO shapes and space age designs guided not just the Space Needle in Seattle and the buildings of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, but small banks, diners, and motels around the country. As Matt Novak of Paleofuture writes in his essay: “Googie is both the future we long for and the future we never asked for,” somewhere between a cheap silliness used for commercial value and a real embrace of the “future that never was.”

Sci-Fi from Clog
Le Corbusier in space!

There’s also cinematographer Ian McAlpin writing that “science fiction is not about the future but, instead, about how humans live in radical scenarios,” and he looks at Moscow where the “utopic drive” is visible in its “failed utopian vision” with the dilapidated apartment blocks that circle the city. In a parallel vein, architectural artist Luke Pearson looks at the noirish modernism of Blade Runner where the urban landscape suggests “a physical manifestation of the innumerable writing and rewriting processes that modern architectural production may undergo” in achieving its vision.

Sci-Fi from Clog
Spock and a car

By limiting each author to just a page, there’s not really a chance to flesh out any of these glimpses into the play between science fiction and architecture, but there’s plenty of tantalizing links that form into a long chain of history of connection between the two. As we continue to move into the future with its new building materials, the cities around us are likely to look even more like those imagined by speculative fiction, although whether it’s the architects realizing the dreams of the past or the sci-fi creators having a forward look at where we are going is probably somewhere in — to go back to the trusty Twilight Zone — “a dimensions beyond that which is known to man.”

Sci-Fi from Clog
“In the end, everything becomes science fiction architecture”

SCI-FI is available from CLOG for $15

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