Whenever we watch films, we see the actors playing and dancing around in such serene natural landscapes which are beautiful and majestic. Designers and architects on the other hand, mostly observe the interaction of the background themes with the main theme through the architectural layers of the film. They begin to notice and observe the language and character of all the structures filmed in these motion pictures. We, as architects, try to make out how these buildings may have come to the existence or how they were constructed. We think of the drawings that were created to bring the structure into the world. These notions and thoughts pop into our heads when we see a building that we can comprehend and imagine in our world.
But what happens when we see a sci-fi genre movie with devastating yet magnificent scales and colours? They are termed as ‘out of this world’ or as ’something else entirely’. These scenes and frames not only boggle our minds but also continue to inspire us, architects, to design concerning those ideas.

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Warner Brothers (1982), Blade Runner showing the new Los Angeles.

The sci-fi genre may prove to be a new lens through which we can see the future but also architecture that was meant to be a start for the future styles. Some of the movies even suggest technologies that may exist in the future, and reality and have been invented to cater to us, humans. 

The major connection between these technologies and architecture is that the ones we see in sci-fi movies have been envisioned and created by many architects and designers. In some cases, the visions of buildings and cities created decades ago, predicting the future, have a striking resemblance to some present-day urban environments while there are also movies with visions very different from what we have today.

The Impact of Sci-fi movies on Architecture

Although, thoughts like why are we taking inspiration from films, tv-series and visuals which are nothing but hypothetical and imaginative to the most extreme level, arise? This may have happened because, in the professional world, architecture cannot always be depicted and based upon the society and contextual environment acting as a reflective surface between the two. This may happen due to multiple causes; both political and non-political. 

As sci-fi movies also become cult classics for the populace, very few questions arise when such buildings based on these movies are built. Therefore, architecture when created from these movies is much purer in the sense of principles of designs and elements of architecture. No building codes, no policies, no methods matter then.

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Marvel Entertainment (2018) Wakanda’s Golden City capital reference traditional South African rondavel huts.

After watching films like Blade Runner where the post-apocalyptic world is depicted, to the films like Star Trek, with outside worlds with futuristic architecture in reference, the question which arises in our minds is what can we learn from them? 

We, also, see movies like Black Panther, where futuristic styles have amalgamated with the indigenous and vernacular styles to create a new and completely different style for architecture. What practical design lessons can we see in these films that can be adapted, evolved, and recreated in the real world?

Practicality in Design 

The design language followed in sci-fi movies is often categorized in two sectors: the black box environment and the white cube environment.

The black box environment often shows an environment in dark and moody tones with smoke and steam being used to show extreme layers of each frame which mostly revolve around machines and their impact on the world. The white cube environment is the complete opposite of the above. 

It mostly depicts a world with sharp, clean, and glossy lines and structures where technology and humankind go hand in hand without dominating each other at every level. They are often colorful and have many layers of cult culture and pop culture weaved into them. The black box as a result shows us a world with darkness and apocalypse at its center whereas a white cube shows us light and utopia as the central theme. 

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Warner Brothers (1982), Ready Player One showing stack housing.
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Disney(2015) Tomorrowland movie showing a utopian world.

Design elements like scale, proportions, colors, textures, and forms have been given a deeper and intangible meaning because of sci-fi movies. Not only do they portray larger-than-life scales but also show us the embedded connection between architecture and society with both negative and positive aspects. 

Another technique that we see in sci-fi movies is to get the old looks of a building with a dystopian touch to it with glass, metal, and concrete. This ‘vintage’ aesthetic language creates a much more brutal and modern image of the future, where the past has morphed itself with the future. These techniques have caused architects and designers to bring back Brutalism and Modern Styles of Architecture. 

People now are much more fascinated with the building designed by Ricardo Bofill, Paul Rudolph, and Frank Llyod Wright, because of the images they have created in movies and tv shows. Crowding various styles and elements in a single frame has indeed given us lessons on how the lack of aesthetic appeal is a major appeal for the eye. These oxymorons have helped architects to enhance and program technology to create such environments.

HBO(2020) La Fábrica, Ricardo Bofill’s home and office on the outskirts of Barcelona, is an integral feature of Westworld’s third season.

When picturing utopian cities, an organic element of design is involved in form and the additions to the environment like landscape and vegetation. Yet, symmetry and balance are followed to make it look perfect and pristine. To balance those imposing styles, vegetation is added to soften those qualities and make them look in equilibrium. 

When we see so many different styles and environments without any strings controlling it like in the real world, it is difficult not to get mesmerized and inspired by the images. When mixing different styles in a city, but without overdoing and demolishing it, the result is a rich environment assuming a rich history behind it – thus believable for audiences including designers and architects. 

The lack of control and freedom to design is what attracts the designers and architects to take inspiration from these structures and create the way they see their world. Not only does it seem like a breath of fresh air, but it also gives us a platform to give in to those crazy and innovative ideas which may seem impossible to achieve. This pushes us to achieve the extreme and also gives us the confidence to recreate our sci-fi world. 

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Disney(2014) Fransokyo in the eyes of Disney in Big Hero 6.

Ashwini is an architecture student who is trying to pursue her love for writing. She is an avid reader and also has an interest in graphic designing. She believes that the power of the pen can bring out the soul of a building to the mortal world.