Folding cities, spinning things

A few thoughts on Inception, several weeks after the rest of the world. James Benedict Brown’s review in Building Design nailed the aesthetic incongruity of how a group of architects with absolute free will (and no clients, budget issues or planning concerns) could end up with a cityscape that seemed only a few steps removed from a particularly hellish PFI contract. The protagonists’ ‘dream city’, some 50 years in the making, if you will, was particularly uninspiring; a place that mixed up the worst bits of Croydon, the Voisin Plan, Walden 7, wartime Beirut and Sao Paolo, a ‘utopia’ that at times seemed to be designed entirely by Richard Seifert on an off day. As Brown cynically (but probably correctly) noted, ‘Cobb and his wife always lived in a skyscraper city not because their characters believably wanted to, but because it was the most visually arresting landscape for the CGI artists to render as a ruin later in the film.’


Has anyone rendered the ruins of deconstructivism? Or is the veracity of the modernist ruin dependent on the shiny unblemished perfection of the International Style as a pristine starting point that can be easily corrupted? The film’s production process hinted at a more complex, labyrinthine architectural geometry. This letter from Richard Arminger at Network Modelmakers explains a bit of the creative process behind some of the props, and how classical architecture was considered but eventually eschewed in favour of Business Park Blandness. At one point the protagonist even explains how he and his wife like the style of a corporate lobby and atrium, effectively using such a building as the ‘way in’ to their own, FLW-esque private home. We could easily dig up a few choice blog posts on the film or throw up some striking imagery, but the internet is overrun with them already and, to be honest, it’s well worth seeing for yourselves.


But once again, the complex nature of subjective aesthetics is revealed. None of the film’s (very rare) bad reviews make the same point that Brown did in BD; namely that the duff architecture of the dreamscape is the film’s major dud note. Imagine, for example, if they’d picked a genius student from the Bartlett, AA, Sci-Arc or any number of schools, rather than the rather prosaic, unnamed Parisian college that the Ariadne character attends.


If, as some have convincingly argued, the film is an extended metaphor of the nature of modern film production (a product of the ‘dream factory’), then set-builders and production designers are done something of a disservice. Then again, Inception also seemed to us to be an extended commentary on the intersecting worlds of cinema and video games – the reference to ‘levels’, fight sequences, snowy lairs, and an almost procedural cityscape. The fractured narrative structures and expectations of the latter are inevitably changing the way the former are perceived.


Other things. Egographies, 3D modelling familiar places and things / art by Tilla Manya Chaya Crowne / design sketches for In the Night Garden / BagNews, decoding news photography / Postcards from the Ledge, a blog by Sherilyn Fenn / a selection of infuriating wheelchair ramps / the Exploding Cinema, ultra low budget London filmmaking / Bombas Nucleares Detonadas 1945-1998, swiftly turns the world map into a flickering War Games-style nightmare. See also DEFCON. Via Chaz Hutton.

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3 Responses to Folding cities, spinning things

  1. Terrible movie. The dud architecture was the least of its problems. An “intersection of film and video games”? If so then the whole is very much less than a sum of its parts. Mind numbingly boring.

  2. Pingback: Fotofacade architectural photography » Folding cities, spinning things

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