In cinema, certain films transcend the boundaries of traditional storytelling, immersing audiences in visually stunning worlds that become integral characters in themselves. “Dune,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a testament to this cinematic prowess, offering a visual and narrative experience that can be likened to exploring an architectural marvel. From the intricate design of the desert landscapes to the grandeur of interstellar palaces, “Dune” unfolds as a masterclass in architectural storytelling.

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet1
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1. The Desert as a Character 

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet2
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One cannot discuss the architectural brilliance of “Dune” without delving into the significance of its primary setting—the desert planet of Arrakis. The barren, windswept dunes become more than just a backdrop; they function as a character, influencing the narrative and shaping the protagonists’ experiences. The careful attention to detail in rendering the vast and unforgiving desert elevates it to a prominent architectural element, serving as the canvas upon which the intricate tapestry of the story unfolds.

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet3

The sandworms, iconic to Arrakis, also play a significant role in shaping the planet’s architecture. The giant tracks and burrows of these colossal creatures mark the vast open desert. The unpredictability of sandworm movements influences the placement and design of structures, emphasizing the constant struggle for survival in this harsh environment. The shifting sands and monumental rock formations create a sense of scale and permanence, contributing to the overarching world-building.

 Villeneuve, in collaboration with production designer Patrice Vermette, succeeds in transforming the desolation of Arrakis into a living, breathing entity that is home to the natives and yet feared by the invaders. The desert becomes an architectural spectacle that evolves with the characters, reflecting the ebb and flow of power, politics, and destiny.

2. Imposing Fortress: House of Harkonnen

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet4
Arrakeen Palace in Dune (2021)

The fortress of House Harkonnen in Arrakis, as depicted in the “Dune” movie, is a formidable and imposing structure that dominates the harsh desert landscape. Unlike the organic and concealed architecture of the Fremen sietches, the House Harkonnen fortress is a stark symbol of power and oppression. Massive walls rise defiantly against the horizon, constructed with dark, angular designs that evoke a sense of intimidation. The fortress is surrounded by vast expanses of open desert, enhancing its isolation and emphasising the dominance of House Harkonnen over Arrakis. The architecture is both grand and ominous, reflecting the ruthless and authoritarian rule of House Harkonnen on the spice-rich planet.

The architectural design takes into account the extreme climatic conditions, including intense heat, sandstorms, and scarce water resources. The fortress is built to withstand the scorching temperatures, employing materials and construction techniques that provide insulation and shade. Massive walls act as a barrier against the relentless sun, casting shadows that offer some relief from the heat. The strategic placement of openings and ventilation systems allows for airflow, aiding in cooling the interior spaces. Moreover, the structure is fortified to withstand the frequent sandstorms that sweep across the desert. The angular and robust architecture reduces the impact of blowing sand, preventing the erosion and deterioration of the fortress over time. 

The climatic response of the House Harkonnen fortress is not merely an aesthetic consideration but a practical necessity, ensuring the longevity and functionality of the stronghold in the harsh desert climate of Arrakis.

3. Palatial Extravaganza: House of Atreides

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet5
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As the narrative shifts from the desolate expanses of Arrakis to the opulent interiors of interstellar palaces, the architectural diversity showcased in “Dune” becomes truly remarkable.

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet6
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Caladan, the ancestral home of House Atreides in the “Dune” movie, stands in stark contrast to the arid desolation of Arrakis. A lush and temperate planet, Caladan is characterized by its verdant landscapes, vast oceans, and majestic cliffs. The architecture of the House Atreides palace on Caladan reflects the planet’s natural beauty and affluence. The palace is an architectural marvel, with sweeping spires and grandiose courtyards set against the backdrop of lush gardens. The use of warm earth tones and intricate detailing evokes a sense of regality, emphasizing the noble heritage of House Atreides. Unlike the oppressive fortress of House Harkonnen on Arrakis, the palace on Caladan exudes an air of sophistication and cultural richness, providing a stark contrast that mirrors the shifting fortunes and environments central to the “Dune” narrative.

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet7
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The intricate details of the structures, from the ornate columns to the intricate tapestries, and the large circular windows with geometric patterns, serve as visual cues that convey the cultural and political nuances of each house.The play of light and shadow within the palaces not only adds a layer of visual richness but also becomes a narrative tool, subtly signaling shifts in power dynamics and plot developments. In essence, the palaces in “Dune” are not just static settings; they are dynamic elements that echo the pulse of the story.

4. Sietches

Patrick Geddes with the Maharaja of Indore 1947_©Patrick Geddes in India - Sheet8
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Central to Arrakis’ architecture are the sietches, the underground communities of the desert-dwelling Fremen. These sietches are not only places of residence but also serve as communal hubs for the Fremen tribes. The entrances to sietches are often concealed to protect against sandstorms and potential threats. The architecture is functional, with narrow passageways leading to communal spaces, water reservoirs, and sleeping quarters. Using natural materials and incorporating organic shapes contribute to a sense of harmony with the desert environment.  


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“Dune” is a testament to the power of architectural storytelling in cinema. The landscapes and structures become integral components of the narrative, shaping the characters and their journeys. “Dune” is a carefully crafted blend of form and function, seamlessly integrating with the narrative and visual storytelling. From the sweeping vistas of the Arrakis desert to the intricate interiors of interstellar palaces, each set serves a purpose beyond mere aesthetics, offering a captivating glimpse into the architectural wonders of a fictional yet vividly realised world.

As we celebrate the first anniversary of this cinematic marvel, let us marvel at the architectural brilliance that has elevated “Dune” to a status beyond a mere film—it is a living, breathing architectural spectacle.


Masumi, a forward thinking architect is passionate about pushing boundaries beyond traditional design to integrate the realms of feasibility, usability and experiential aspect of a space keeping the designers environmental responsibility in mind. She believes design approach should reflect a deep understanding of how architecture impacts individuals and communities, aiming to blend functionality with aesthetics to inspire and elevate the human experience.