Humanity is heading towards an almost inevitable exit from the planet that has been our home for a supposed 6 million years. After progressing through the different stages of evolution, civilization, and development, we have finally reached a stage where the planet is no longer fit to accommodate our excessive demands. 

During a time where the future seems to be more uncertain than ever, governments, space agencies, and entrepreneurs are exploring the possibility of migrating to a foreign planet. Space travel for civilians is slowly becoming a reality and the current state of affairs is pointing towards a future away from Earth. This is not an alien concept to the average movie-goers, who have already seen glimpses of this future in their favourite Sci-Fi films

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Art Deco decor of the BAR_©

Director Mortyn Tyldum’s ‘Passengers’ is set in a period where these notions have already become a reality. However, the movie chooses to explore the different layers of human emotions through its protagonists, while space travel becomes the setting within which the story develops. 

Starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey across space to a colonized planet. Chris Pratt as Jim Preston and Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane are 2 of the 5258 ‘hibernating’ passengers on board. The story unfolds as the lead characters are abruptly woken up with 90 years still left in their journey. The rest of the narrative explores the incidents when they find themselves stuck in the starship with just each other for company.

Challenges for Set Designers

The spaceship may be considered as the third character in this narrative. Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and set decorator Gene Serdena were faced with the task of making the viewers believe they were inside a starship made with technology far more advanced than what is available today. Different aspects including the technology, furniture, and fittings used had to be vary of making claims that will not fail the viewer’s imagination. 

Further, the ship had to showcase an Architectural quality and luxury that is worthy of an entire planet and its elite passengers. 

Spatial Design

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Starship Avalon_©
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Hibernation Pod_©

The first scene of the movie shows an intricate and intriguing machine powering its way through space. The design for the spaceship is inspired by sycamore seeds, according to Dyas. The ship constitutes a stable core that helps with clearing roadblocks and providing acceleration, while 3 modules spin around it. The spinning modules help create the centrifugal force needed to create artificial gravity within the ship. 

Inside the ship, we are first introduced to Hibernation bay. The space resembles a forest with clusters of hibernation pods as the roots and light sources emit UV rays, forming a canopy. Then we travel through the Grand concourse, which is dominated by metal, plastics, ambient lighting, and AI devices for navigation. The interesting feature, however, is the transparent ceiling through which one can gaze at the stars. Curves and organic shapes seem to play a dominant part so far.

The loudest space in the entire ship, however, is the BAR at the Grand Concourse. Art Deco is the order of the day and the room has too many features to admire. The geometric patterns, metal furniture, bright and shiny color palette, ceiling cutouts with recessed lighting, chandeliers, and F.L. Wright-inspired floor tiles add to its grandeur.

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Observation deck_©

The observation deck is in stark contrast to the bar. The space has a zen-like quality. The Japanese rock garden at the centre inspires the rest of the room. The aesthetics of this room is in the repetition of lines, recessed light, and shadows. Much like in the observation deck, view plays a part in the design of the acrylic swimming pool. The pool has certain feminine qualities to it, and extends beyond the edge of the ship, in the form of a hemispherical blob. 

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Vienna Suite_©

Finally, the Vienna suite occupied by Jim is the most luxurious room on the ship. A double-height seating area and a mezzanine private space are connected by contemporary, parametric stairs. The smart walls above project images of one’s favourite views from Earth. Glossy surfaces, recessed lighting, the floating bed, and repetitive lines define this room. 

A feature that is observed to be omnipresent is the incorporation of the hexagonal shape. Hexagon is supposedly the most efficient and stable shape of them all. Hexagon holds a lot of significance in nature, chemistry, and even astrophysics. The decor of most rooms and AI devices are seen to be using the shape in one form or the other. 

Psychological implications for the protagonists

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Jim was alone on the ship for over a year. All the amenities and entertainment in the ship became his exclusive property till death. However, lack of interaction with another human being sucked the life out of Jim. There was a point during this period where he lost all hope and wanted to end his life. While the luxury offered by the ship is good enough to hold the attention of its users for a few days, it does not have the warmth or life to sustain people for the rest of their lives. 

His journey back to normalcy started when he met Aurora. Together they started exploring the plant and animal life the ship was carrying to the new planet. Slowly they transformed the cold, lifeless, plastic walls of the ship into living, breathing organisms.

This is a case in point for the importance of considering interaction with people, nature, and materials whilst designing spaces. 


“You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.” This quote from the movie holds as much significance to the current generation as it did to its protagonists. Much like Jim and Aurora transformed the ship into a paradise, we still hold the cards on what our future could become. Abandoning our homes to migrate to a new planet is after all just the beginning of a new cycle. 


  1. Tyldum, Morten. 2016. Passengers. United States: Columbia Pictures.
  2. SDSA Set Decorators. (n.d.). Set Decor / Film Decor Features: PASSENGERS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Sep. 2021].
  3. December 2016, E.H. 23 (2016). How Realistic Is the Interstellar Ship from “Passengers”? [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Sep. 2021].

Avneeth Premarajan is a practicing Architect and an ardent “student” of Architecture. He is intrigued by concepts, ideas, philosophy, evolution and geography of design. He is more than willing to give up a few hours of day-dreaming to write about his thoughts.

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