Communion Of Dreams

Architecture as shorthand.

What do you visualize when I say “Hobbit”?

How about “Blade Runner”?

Chances are, in both cases you had a mix of images you thought of. But I would wager that you had at least one architectural image both times: of a ‘Hobbit Hole’ and of the Tyrell Corporation’s vast pyramid. In both cases the iconic images help to anchor us in an alternate reality, whether it is Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Ridley Scott’s dystopian LA of 2019. (I’m sorry to say I don’t remember how much description of architecture Philip K. Dick had in his novel from whence Blade Runner is drawn – mea culpa.)

Odd or (paleo-) futuristic architecture has been a common device to help create a sense of setting for SF and fantasy just about forever. Descriptions in text, or images used in movies, quickly communicate that the setting is something different than our everyday world. And even before you get into a book or movie this works. With a movie poster or a book cover the visual image of architecture can instantly convey something about content to the viewer, and when it is well done it both informs and intrigues, and can come to symbolize or summarize the entire story the director or author wishes to tell.

I use architecture this way in Communion of Dreams. There are descriptions of how the US Settlement Authority offices reflect the passive defenses of the chaos following the fire-flu, of how they also incorporate some elements of the new building technologies from space colonization. There are descriptions of the colonies themselves, and of the space stations (both old and new), not to mention Darnell Sidwell’s Buckminster Fuller style dome habitat. There are even descriptions of how homes have evolved somewhat, adapting to a more communal style and drawing on the resources of huge numbers of abandoned buildings.

But the book opens with a small research facility in the ‘buffalo commons‘ out on the Great Plains prairie. I don’t give a lot of description of the station in the book (perhaps that’s something I should change . . . hmm), but envision it as a small, modular unit which could be relocated easily if necessary. Perhaps something like this. Or this. Or even this.

Those are all from a Wired column by Rob Beschizza titled “Small and Fabulous: Modular Living as it Should Be.” (Via BoingBoing.) I can’t say that I would really want to live in any of the dozen designs profiled in the article – but I am a spoiled American in an 1883 Victorian home with about a dozen rooms. Realistically, most of the world lives in much smaller spaces. And when you start considering the cost of transporting materials and managing environmental controls in space, then some fairly radical changes will be necessary.

Architecture, like any art, is a reflection of the society which produces it. Of course, until an architectural style is widely adopted it cannot be said that it is representative of society. As interesting as the various modular homes in the Wired article are, I cannot imagine that they will become emblematic of our society anytime soon. But because of that, they’d be perfect for use in, say, a film adaptation of Communion of Dreams. I wonder what Peter Jackson will be up to once he is done overseeing the production of The Hobbit in 2011 . . .

Jim Downey

2 Comments so far
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Interestingly, MoMA in NYC is about to mount an “exhibit” of several prefab dwellings:

Comment by ML

[…] stuff. I’ve mentioned before how some architecture can be very iconic, visually representing an alternative reality at a […]

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