Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Lived-in Future, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at ways to give your science fiction universe a sense of history by showing worn-out and obsolete equipment.

But your world doesn’t have to look decrepit or dystopian. You might show a city that had once been ruled by an authoritarian central government that is now in the hands of a vibrant local economy—think of Le Corbusier’s severe apartment blocks or worker houses, taken over by people who have added shutters and flowers in window boxes—which would make him turn over in his grave.

Or you might have a low-tech society reusing the parts of abandoned spacecraft for animal-drawn vehicles.

Another design strategy is retrofitting, modifying existing technology with updated elements, usually to adapt the system for modern uses, like putting an outboard motor on a rowing dory. Retrofitting was one of the design themes of the film Blade Runner, conceived by Ridley Scott and Syd Mead (above).

For most of the history of design, people have used decorative elements to evoke a civilization’s past or present glories. This explains hood ornaments, ship’s figureheads, and the Venetian Bucintoro.

We can’t assume that future civilizations will continue to adopt the Bauhaus aesthetic, which was an anomaly of the 20th century. Across time and culture, humans have always chosen to surround themselves with pattern and decoration, and we’re more likely to see a future with layers of ornament rather than minimalism. Check out CeGeBe's description of modern-day Dresden in the comments of yesterday's post.
Syd Mead thanks to Kiel Bryant, link


Erik Bongers said...

I agree that Bauhaus seems to be dragging along for way to long now.

This may be a matter of economy.
Decoration is expensive.

However, I hope that with the introduction of more decoration in architecture, some new styles will develop, because I really don't want yet another revival of post "post-classisim" or neo "neo gothic" or nouveau "art nouveau".

Although I can't complain about decoration as I live in a area of antwerp called Zurenborg. No not in those expensive streets, but just around the corner:)

JP said...

I am actually a fan of some modern principles, but I love the notion of LeCorbusier turning in his grave because of the customization and personalization of inhabitants of his buildings. "Machine for Living" has sort of always been a rather silly oxymoron to me, but that is merely my opinion.

One of my favorite sci-fi writers William Gibson spends a good deal of time exploring the notion of interstitial spaces, especially in "All Tomorrow's Parties" and the rest of the series that book belongs to. I love the wild ways people make supposedly uninhabitable places their own.

Thanks again for the insights!

Pinflux said...

'we’re more likely to see a future with layers of ornament rather than minimalism.' - boy I hope you're right. I get sad when I look at vintage photos and art, realising how much more grand things looked once.

Michael said...

Poor old Le Corbusier. I'll quote from Robert Hughes' The Shock of the New (chapter Trouble in Utopia, where the whole antiseptic modernist thing gets a good kicking). Describing the Unite d'Habitation:
"The flats of the Unite are crammed with plastic chandeliers, imitation Louis XVI bergers, and Monoprix ormolu - just the furniture Corbusier struggled against all his life. The man who wanted to assassinate Paris could not, in the end, ensure that a single concierge would buy the right rug."

James Gurney said...

Erik, thanks for those picture links. What a gorgeous area you live in.

Michael, it's fun to see design philosophies coming into conflict in the way people arrange their spaces.

John-Paul, I appreciate the Gibson reference. The whole idea of the machine for living reminds me of the weird antiseptic diaper changing apparatus that BF Skinner developed for his kid.

Danv said...

The whole notion of "Corbusier turning in his grave" is poorly founded. To speak of Le Corbusier as dystopian and mechanical is to miss the point entirely of his architecture. Do you think he would give a shit if someone put a flower pot in their window? The man spent his life painting and strumming a damn guitar, not bubbling up androids in a lab. The image-based generality of science fiction really pisses me off sometimes. An ignorant author can create an image of a man who he knows nothing about because of some association he has from watching too many fucking cartoons.

Danv said...

And by the way, do you know who else hated the Bauhaus aesthetic? HITLER.