Our Fascinations with the Future: How Architecture can learn from Science Fiction

Last week I broached the topic of the field of architecture's current fascination with the internet, Web 2.0, and virtual, networked space. Studio Wikitecture's interface project in Second Life is a yet another project among many that attempts to fuse the physical space of architecture with virtual space. The book Space, Time, Play comments on the similarities that architecture and urbanism share with video gaming. Kas Oosterhuis and ONL's hyperarchitecture conceives of architecture as a portal into virtual space. Asymptote has proposed a virtual Guggenheim museum as well as a virtual New York Stock Exchange.

As architecture journeys into the unknown, experimentation and imagination is vital. Progress often results from trials, errors, revisions, and often unrealized projects that serve simply as examples. Traditionally, architectural competitions are the outlets that allow for experimentation and projection into the future, but they are only beginning to suffice.

Looking further into current and recent architectural competitions, I have come to notice a parallel between architectural competitions and Science Fiction, which has begun to lead architectural competitions in the right direction. For example, the City of the Future design competition, which is currently in the selection process, is much less concerned with present or near future issues and speculates into the more distant future. Initiated by The History Channel, the competition challenges designers from across the country to project and propose what the city they live in might look like in 100 years. Two weeks ago, IwamotoScott Architecture won the San Francisco region of the competition with their proposal for a Hydro-Net (above), described as an inhabitable, infrastructural network that facilitates the traffic and flows of power, water, fuel, and residents for the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The proposals for these future cities are rendered in the same fantastical and imaginative nature as the imagery in science fiction works, such as the depiction of Washington D.C. in 2054 (below) in the film Minority Report.

Science Fiction and architecture have much more in common than fantastical imagery however, and I believe that each respective field would benefit by incorporating aspects of the other into its own field. Specifically, I believe that architecture could learn from Science Fiction works' abilities to reach a broad audience and consider all aspects of society in its projections as well as its always fantastical and imaginative mindset.

To find out what others feel, I have commented on two architectural blogs that have recently touched on architectural experimentation; relaying my own opinions and asking questions in hopes to start a dialogue. I responded to a recent post from the City of Sound blog, in which Dan Hill comments on the organization, success, and creativity behind Archigram, a group of thinkers formed in the 1960's who produced a publication and later formed an architecture firm. Despite not having produced any physically built work, Archigram is widely respected as having revolutionary, ahead-of-its-time ideas and a vast influence in architecture and design. I also commented on recent entry from BldgBlog that reports an idea and proposal for an underground "labyrinth city" composed of spaces for sports, leisure, shopping, and parking in Amsterdam. The design envisions this mixed-use network to be built underground, beneath Amsterdam's many canals. My comments are posted below as well.

On the "Archigram-what-organization-you-must-be-joking-mate"

I agree that the dynamic and fluctuating organization of Archigram had a lot to do with the group's success. The individuals of Archigram were able put their minds together and conceive of revolutionary ideas that still hold great influence today because of the informal, disorganized, free-spirited and spontaneous nature of the group. These characteristics maintained interest and allotted for group chemistry, allowing the group to last as long as it did. I would like to add though, that while the organization and character of the organization allowed the group to maintain its brilliance, it was still the consummate brilliance behind the individuals as a whole that resulted in the group's unmatched success, even to this day. The key to Archigram's success was their ability to fantasize and imagine, something that is too often overshadowed by building and construction- and the economic business and benefits that comes with it.

In addition to following the example of the organization (or disorganization) of Archigram, I think that creative groups today should also, and perhaps more importantly, follow the visionary way in which Archigram thought and imagined. At its core, Archigram was a group devoted simply to ideas, concepts, and narratives- and nothing more. Do you think that Archigram can perhaps be classified more as a group conceptualizing in the field of Science Fiction because of these ideals? After all, while architecture and building was a core theme of their work, the group initially and most famously dedicated itself to its written publications, not buildings.

However you or anyone decides to categorize Archigram, I think that creative groups today, especially those in architecture, should begin to follow the way that Archigram and Science Fiction authors think. By definition, thinking freely and truly imagining in a fictional, unrestrained context would only further creativity in projects. Conceiving of projects as societal fictions rather than buildings or architectural projects would also force architects to think more comprehensively. Instead of conceiving of and designing only buildings, architects could then begin to apply their often unmatched brilliance towards all societal issues in the form of fictional suggestions and proposals.

Amsterdam Subcity

Thank you for sharing this project, without the convenience of the internet, I probably would never have discovered it. Whether or not it actually gets built, I think it is very innovative and inspiring. The concepts of this proposal are absolutely worthy of great contribution toward larger running forums in society concerning urbanism and utopias. While this project is easily discussed among the architecture industry, projects of this scope and social relevance should be accessible to debate amongst the greater common society.

One thing that is rather disappointing however, is how low-key and unpublicized this project seems to be. While the internet certainly helps to communicate and network information at exponential rates, projects like these do not reach a broad enough audience with ease by means of the internet and blogosphere alone. In fact, I only found this project through proactive searching and browsing. The fact that I do not live within nor near the immediate physical region of the project site nor architect, and that the architect is not of popular international recognition further limits the project's range and spectrum of influence

Architectural groups, think tanks, and firms could reach a broader audiences and gain more exposure by realizing their ideas in media that is mass produced and widely accessible in the way that popular science fictions works, such as the Matrix, Minority Report, and I, Robot, among others do. These Science Fictions are able to reach vast, international audiences, and after all, they present conceptions of the future in the same way that architectural proposals do. In fact, architectural proposals of cities are often developed in further detail than Science Fictions, which must often sacrifice detailed development of technology and architecture to concentrate on plot and narrative. While the majority of architecture is discussed only within the industry's own circles, the conception of architectural projects as a Science Fiction could project ideas into mainstream society and encourage dialogue.

1 comment:

JBM said...

First of all, congratulations on another interesting post, as many people do not really read up on or explore the world of architecture unless it is their major or career choice. As I read your post, it made me realize what a reality some of these architectural ideas can (and probably will) be. Almost every imaginative and “ahead-of-its-time” idea can be traced to science fiction, and I agree with you that if architecture and science fiction team up and combine ideas, the world is in for a great surprise. A couple years ago, I did a report and speech on “Sky City,” a proposed plan to build a residential tower a mile high in Tokyo, Japan. I was really shocked and awed at the fact that this could even be remotely possible, and it seemed to me like it was something from a science fiction novel or movie. I guess plans like these really are popular amongst architects, and conventions and contests such as the City of the Future design competition allow them to create and display their ideas for the public to see.
Although I have never heard of Archigram, I believe you made a strong argument for their existence and gave them the praise they deserve for the doors it opened up for others in the architectural field. I completely agree with you that creativity and open-mindedness are essential tools needed to come up with architectural ideas, and you make a valid point when you say, “thinking freely and truly imagining in a fictional, unrestrained context would only further creativity in projects.”
In your second comment, I agree that movies such as Minority Report and the Matrix are big attention getters for the architectural field, and they really open up the world to imagination and creative concepts that may occur one day. I, too, have never heard of the Amsterdam Subcity, but I believe television channels like the History Channel and The Discovery Channel have shows that bring to light some of these concepts and ideas. The internet is a large forum for these types of discussions, and I think that the best way to “advertise” these concepts is via internet and television.
As for the format of your post, I believe your graphics explain a large portion of the argument you have and your links are appropriate for the topic you have selected. Great post overall!

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