vol 8, issue 8

PhotoEssay: the built environments of SF movies

12 August 2013
By James Hayes
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Blade Runner (1982)

The Tyrell Corporation Pyramid dominates the 2019 Los Angeles skyline in ‘Blade Runner’

Ultraviolet (2006)

Set in 2078, and shot mainly on location in and around real buildings in Shanghai

Things To Come (1936)

This version of HG Wells’ novel show what the filmmakers thought the urban landscape would look like

Planet Of The Apes (1968)

The brutish apes live in Ape Town, a development of hillside mud dwellings

Gattaca (1997)

Set in the ‘near future’ this movie features scenes filmed in the futuristic structure known as the CLA

Minority Report (2002)

Set in 2054 in Washington DC, which was depicted as a city dominated by maglev-propelled freeways

Æon Flux (2005

Shot in and around Berlin, using several of the city’s more unusual architectural heritage sites

Sleeper (1973)

Built 50 years ago on the Genesee Mountain, Colorado, and designed by architect Charles Deaton

Metropolis (1927)

The urban scenes reflected concerns about the oppressive nature of high-rise concrete architecture

The Jetsons (1962)

A futuristic US animated sitcom, the Jetsons were a family residing in Orbit City in 2062

Makers of science-fiction TV and movie entertainment have used both imaginary and real-life built environments to inspire their visions of what our future architecture will look like.

1 Blade Runner (1982) 

The Tyrell Corporation Pyramid dominates the 2019 Los Angeles skyline in 'Blade Runner', and is a striking and credible preview of what the 'mega structures' of the 21st Century might look like. The Tyrell Pyramid – 700 stories high – looks contemporaneous when pictured next to some of the world's current largest buildings, such as Central Park in Jakarta, the Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur, and The Palazzo Hotel, Las Vegas. Construction on Los Angeles' real-life tallest building, the US Bank Tower – 310.3m high – began five years after 'Blade Runner' was first released.

2 Ultraviolet (2006) 

Set in 2078, and shot mainly on location in and around real buildings in Shanghai because of its futuristic architectural backdrop – such as the 468m-high Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. The film's makers used Shanghai because its architecture is so advanced that it could 'pass for the future'.

3 Things To Come (1936) 

The set designs in this version of HG Wells' novel show what the filmmakers thought the urban landscape would look like in the epochs leading up to 2036 – yet the modernist architectural curves and public space automation are redolent of changes occurring in the period leading up to the Second World War. According to author Dietrich Neumann the architect Le Corbusier was invited to submit designs, but declined. Vincent Korda subsequently designed the settings, adopting some of Le Corbusier's ideas from his book 'Towards a New Architecture'. Bauhaus professor and photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy also participated in the design.

4 Planet Of The Apes (1968) 

Earth, 3978 AD: the brutish apes live in Ape Town, a development of hillside mud dwellings designed by art director William J Creber that were partly inspired by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, as well as the troglodyte ruins of Göreme Valley in Turkey. Ape Town was modelled using polyurethane foam – then a revolutionary new substance for film set builds.

5 Gattaca (1997) 

Set in the 'near future' this movie about bio- identity misappropriation and identity theft features scenes filmed in the futuristic structure known as the CLA (Classroom, Laboratory & Administration) Building at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Designed by architect Antoine Predock and completed in 1993, the CLA also appears in the 2001 sci-fi film 'Impostor'. The CLA building is now reportedly scheduled for demolition.

6 Minority Report (2002) 

Set in 2054 in Washington DC, which was depicted as a city dominated by maglev-propelled freeways flanked by looming futuristic metropolitan structures and at street level lined with digital billboards displaying personalised advertisements. Commuters face retina scans for biometric ID checks at every turn. But 'Minority Report's Washington of the 2050s also features a dodgy district called The Sprawl, filled with rundown tenements and alleyways, which has been bypassed by the prosperous and visionary new-builds seen elsewhere in the city.

7 Æon Flux (2005) 

With the action taking place in 2415, 'Æon Flux' was shot in and around Berlin, using several of the city's more unusual architectural heritage sites as settings and locations, such as the futuristic Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Treptow Crematorium, and the Windkanal wind tunnel facility (pictured). This massive concrete structure in Berlin-Adlershof was constructed in 1932, and used to aerodynamically test prototypes of German Luftwaffe aircraft.

8 Sleeper (1973) 

Built 50 years ago on the Genesee Mountain, Colorado, and designed by architect Charles Deaton, the experimental Mid-Century Modern Sculptured House loomed large in Woody Allen's knockabout sci-fi comedy, set in 2173, where Allen's character escapes his pursuers by disguising himself as a servant robot. The interior of the Sculptured House reportedly went largely unfinished, and the building was vacant for many years until entrepreneur John Huggins acquired it in 1999.

9 Metropolis (1927) 

This Expressionistic silent classic is set in 2026. The Art Deco/functional modernism urban scenes reflected concerns about the oppressive nature of high-rise concrete architecture appearing in 1920s Weimar Germany; however, 'Metropolis' also incorporates elements from other architectural genres. Director Fritz Lang's set design team included Karl Vollbrecht (credited as 'film architect') and art director and production designer Otto Hunte. Use of imagined architecture helped make the film an influence on real life building styles, according to architectural critic Jonathan Glancey.

10 The Jetsons (1962) 

A futuristic US animated sitcom, the Jetsons were a family residing in Orbit City in 2062. The cartoony architecture is rendered as a take on the 1950s/1960s Googie style of exterior featuring and interior décor. A subdivision of futurist architecture, Googie was influenced by so-called 'populuxe' iconography such as car culture, jet aircraft, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age, plus motifs symbolic of motion (e.g., boomerangs, flying saucers), atoms and parabolas, and freeform designs such as soft parallelograms and artist palette. Googie-themed architecture originated in southern California, and became popular for motels, coffeehouses, fast-food restaurants, and petrol stations.

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