If you are a person with internet access living in the 21st century, there is one particular TV series whose existence you can’t have missed (unless you live in an underground bunker in the desert, but even then the odds are you’ve heard about this one!). I’m writing, of course, about the internationally famous fantasy drama , based on the series of novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, by American writer George R. R. Martin.
As a young adult, who was born in the late 90s, I have devoured the novels much before the TV series attained its extraordinarily popular status. I knew while reading the very first novel in the series that I was reading something exceptional. The subsequent popularity of the HBO series thus seemed like fate.
George R. R. Martin has not only written the novels but also acted as a producer and consultant for the TV series. He has masterfully crafted a fantasy world which has received acclaim for being original and intricately detailed. As an author, Martin has a very distinctive and easily identifiable writing style. What then, if George R. R. Martin was an architect? Would his style be just as easily recognizable? How would his prose translate into the built form? Let us attempt to figure it out.
Critics have described Martin’s writing style as minimalistic. There is no flowery prose or unnecessary details. Yes, his novels have a high word count, but every word, every storyline is important. There are no superfluous additions. Could this kind of minimalistic style be translated into architecture? In my opinion, yes.
The deceptively simple Okinawa House designed by John Pawson in Japan is a subtly complex structure. Perched on a cliff overlooking the sea (much like Martin’s Red Keep), the house is a study in form and space. Every detail, every element has been consciously planned and executed. Like Martin’s novels, there is nothing surplus about this design.
Peter Zumthor’s design philosophy and style are famously minimalist, making all accessories redundant. The Pritzker award-winning architect is famous for building structures with clean lines set in scenic locales. There is the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel located in Mechernich, Germany. The structure was built in honor of the local farmers’ patron saint Bruder Klaus. The architect has used several unique and interesting construction methods in this design. The internal structure was constructed using 112 tree trunks. 50cm thick layers of concrete were poured and rammed over the existing surface in 24 layers. When these layers had set, the wooden frame was set alight, leaving behind hollow cavities and blackened charred walls. The chapel is stunning in its simplicity; it draws attention without being ostentatious. This very nature of the chapel would have undoubtedly appealed to Martin.
There is another Zumthor structure we must take into consideration, the exquisite Therme Vals in Switzerland. Set like a jewel amidst towering snow-covered mountains, the spa is a feast for the senses. There is an enthralling play of light and shadow throughout the structure. The architect has focused on very few elements, but the chosen elements have been explored to their fullest potential. The stark beauty of the structure and its primitive setting could have been a part of Martin’s universe in another reality.
There is another chapel that could stand true to the author’s ideas. This is none other than Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki, Japan. The very starkness of the structure lends it an almost other-worldly beauty. And Martin’s writings are nothing if not other-worldly.
As an author, George R. R. Martin leans strongly towards fantasy. Not just A Song of Ice and Fire, but several other novels by the author have a fantastical bend. This clear preference for fantasy would show up in his architectural designs, creating a paradox, where his love for fantasy seems almost incongruous when paired with his minimalistic prose.
Focusing firmly on Martin’s love for fantasy, the structures he would design could be outrageous and bizarre, or just uniquely bold. One of the most fantastical buildings in the world is the Hang Nga guesthouse in Vietnam designed by architect Dang Viet Nag. Known as the crazy house or fairy tale house, the structure is truly one of a kind. Like something out of a storybook, the house seems more like a piece of art than a building. If fairy tales are nothing more than fantasy, then this house is perhaps the greatest fantasy of all.
Another unique structure is the Casa do Penedo in Fefo, Portugal. Also known as the Stone House, this building is an architectural monument straight out of the Flintstones. So unusual is this structure that for several years’ people believed it to be a wonder of Photoshop rather than reality. Its rugged appearance and rural setting would be an attraction for Martin. Talk about fantasy rooted firmly in reality!
Last, but not the least, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located in Longyearbyen, Norway. Its remote location and the fact that it is a storage facility for seeds ensures that the building is not just special, but also unique. An illuminated turquoise-green artwork by Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne marks the location of the vault, lending an eerie (but beautiful) glow to the structure. Does this project seem like a part of a fantasy? Yes. Does it also seem like a location for alien invasions and spaceship landings? Also yes.
I can conclude by saying that while George R. R. Martin’s literary works have enthralled readers of all ages; if ever the author should decide to lay down his pen in favor of a tape-measure, he would surely take the architectural industry by storm.