Why architects love dystopias

There was a great article in The Observer on Sunday, reprinting a piece that the author Anthony Burgess had written about the influence on him of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis. It was, he wrote, the film that changed his life, when he saw it as a little boy, and this was because of its strong visual effect on him. He wrote that the ‘pasteboard architecture chills because of its beauty: the Paternoster Tower has, in its structure as well as its name, a biblical resonance, a cathedral-like quality which announces a new religion.’

When I worked at The Architects’ Journal and we surveyed architects about their favourite film, they always plumped for Bladerunner. I hadn’t seen it then, and when I finally did I was surprised because the architecture, like everything else, was so yistopian. And of course the archetypical architecture film, even though it is kitsch and unintentionally funny, is The Fountainhead, with an architect as villain.

Why do architects love these stories so? Why do they thrill? In real life there is a lot of excellent, considered, clever and non-megalomaniac architecture but its creation would be the plot of only the most milk-and-water romcom. We all love stories, and stories about ourselves. And perhaps, put simply, we all have a fantasy that says, that if we can’t be very, very good, we can at least be very, very bad. It’s either that, or the old-fashioned seduction of power.

Great films though.

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