Science fiction is often viewed by those who don’t read it as little more than escapist literature, a means of forgetting about the cares of the real world and inventing a happier place where concerns are at least not immediately pressing on the reader. As some of our greatest science fiction stories have made it to the big screen, though, some of these visions painted in words had to be converted into usable constructions at least for the movie set.
Watching a film series such as the Star Wars series reveals the great extent to which elements of architecture can communicate meaning to the sentient population while also addressing real-world complications of environment and need for protection. The purpose of this dissertation is to discover the various ways in which the vision of science fiction is established by our conceptions of architecture as a reflection of culture as well as contributes to our ideas of architecture and architectural design. This exploration aspires to discover the underlying communicative techniques of architecture as it is shaped by and shapes our understandings of the world.
Although speaking primarily of the Victorian era, another period of tremendous growth and innovative change, the words of Stephen Greenblatt (1997) are equally applicable when referring to the architectural vision of science fiction writers, “This is a world in which outward appearance is everything and nothing, in which individuation is at once sharply etched and continually blurred, in which the victims of fate are haunted by the ghosts of the possible, in which everything is simultaneously as it must be and as it need not have been” (60). Science fiction is a pushing of the boundaries and an exploration of philosophies that attempt to explain these paradoxes.
In the process, it contributes to our understanding of our ‘real’ world and inspires new technology and innovation to make it a better, more integrated place. To achieve its aims, this dissertation must provide a sense of the relevant philosophies regarding how architecture both reflects and shapes meaning and then reveal these principles in action and development within the realm of science fiction using the design and architecture found in the Star Wars series as a representative example.
The paper will begin with an introduction that presents the philosophies to be discussed, a general outline of the research and the relevance of the project. It will be based largely on concepts expressed by architect Richard Rogers regarding the postmodern perspective, “Buildings are not idiosyncratic private institutions: they give public performances both to the user and the passerby” (Richard Rogers cited in Campbell & Rogers, 1985: 19). This will lead into the second chapter, which will concentrate on a more in-depth discussion about the various philosophical approaches to be applied throughout the remainder of the study. This includes philosophical theories of communication such as semiotics, theories of architecture and the philosophy of Star Wars.
With an understanding of the basic theories to be explored in relation to architectural communication and social philosophy, the third chapter will undertake an investigation of how the social characteristics of the different species of the Star Wars universe are passed on to the audience through the use of familiar architectural styles and forms. This will comprise a major part of the discussion as it attempts to explore everything within the Star Wars universe that is important to a study of architecture.
This will include a look into the vision of George Lucas and how the concepts of postmodernism have affected his ideas and their translation into film, a full exploration of the planet settings and locations that are built up within this vision, the architectural features of ships and the constructions for the unique environment of space and space travel, the cultures and identities discovered within the Star Wars series and what all this combined has to communicate about urban planning and design.
Chapter four will examine the relationship between science fiction and real world architecture particularly in how it reflects socio-political conditions while chapter 5 will go into more detail regarding how vision can drive technology. The focus of chapter four will be to reveal the way in which geopolitics has shaped the architectural environment within the film series, particularly in the case of Attack of the Clones as a prime example.
This film makes a strong connection between the politics of the series and the architectural structures created to meet these needs. This information will then be related, in the same chapter, to instances in the ‘real world’ setting of similar responses such as the way in which anxieties regarding Britain’s geopolitical role in the world and the need for counter-insurgency design. Chapter five will turn again to taking a more in-depth look at the films to discover how Lucas’ vision has been translated into real world application in the areas of building in the sky, in space and in or on the water.
More than providing a real means through which creative vision can be explored and applied to produce new technology, science fiction also proves an advocate for greater emphasis on sustainable development – whether examining the implications of an over-developed world or concentrating on a more environmentally-conscious existence, ideas of sustainable development are both suggested and reflected in the Star Wars series. This will be covered in chapter 6 by looking at how the fear of ecological disaster and its implications are reflected in the films as well as ways in which the films have suggested possible solutions.
One of the things that this segment attempts to make clear is that design doesn’t have to be ugly and cold in order to be functional, economical and sustainable as well as the concept that no style has the exclusive right to the future, what can be learned from past architecture and theory reflects on future architecture.
The study will conclude with a summation of the major findings regarding architecture in film and a detailed discussion of the implications of this research for future design directions.
Campbell Cole, Barbie & Ruth Elias Rogers. (1985). Architectural Monographs. Richard Rogers (ed.). Academy Edition. London: Richard Rogers & Partner.
Greenblatt, Stephen (Ed.). (2005). “Introduction: The Victorian Age.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 8. New York: W.W. Norton.
Basic summary of paper.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Concepts to be discussed, outline of paper, relevance of research
Chapter 2: Theoretical approaches
Symbolism, semiotics and signs
The Star Wars Religion
Chapter 3: Design and Architecture in Star Wars
This segment will discuss several topics in greater detail.
Lucas’ Vision: What inspires the Star Wars architecture
How postmodernism affected Star Wars in its visual design, architecture, landscape, spaces
Planet settings, environments and locations
The Architecture of Ships and Space
Culture, identities and technology in Star Wars
Urban planning and design
Detailed study of the layout of the Jedi Temple and Archives
Chapter 4: Star Wars and its Connections to the Real
Some subjects to be covered in this chapter include:
Geopolitics: Attack of the Clones and the Politics of Star Wars
Anxieties about Britain’s geopolitical role and influence
Counter-insurgency and the rise of the Empire, how does it reflect on its architecture and design
Chapter 5: Let Vision Drive Technology
How technology is represented in Star Wars
Future design as narrative to architecture
What would it be like living in Star Wars planets
Real world buildings that mirror Star Wars
Triumph over technology
Cities at sea
Cities in the sky
Chapter 6: Sustainable development
A call for change
Defining the fear of ecological disaster – deep ecology of war
Return to the primitive landscape
Significance of future architecture in science fiction films
Wider world and approach of design for space exploration and travel
Design doesn’t have to be ugly and cold
No style has the exclusive right to the future, what can be learned from past architecture and theory reflects on future architecture
Comparison between Naboo and Coruscant
Chapter 7: Conclusion.
Cavelos, Jeanne. (2000). The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist’s Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin; 1st edition.
In this book, the author discusses in detail five of the major planetary environments found in the Star Wars series as well as the aliens, droids, ships, weapons and the concept of the Force. As she does so, she links this with current and emerging technology and real-world science that has been developed since the first film came out and proves very useful for the current project.
Lamster. Mark. (2000). Architecture and Film. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
This book is a collection of essays that focus specifically on how architecture and architects are treated through films in general as well as how these treatments help us to understand the constructed space. As a result, it helps to explain the extent to which film has impacted our ideas of the urban, suburban and rural space. It will be useful to the present study because it helps to make the link between architectural theory in film as it is translated into the modern perspective.
Yeang, K. (2002). Reinventing the Skyscrapers: A Vertical Theory of Urban Design. London: Wiley Academy.
This book will be particularly helpful in the sixth chapter of the study as a more in-depth look at the concept of vertical architecture. The main idea behind this book is to explore the concept of skyscrapers as a form of city in the sky by taking the approach of an urban designer and applying it to a single structure. As a part of the discussion, the author includes discussion of the need for diversification in use of space to include public and private areas, business, social and individual living spaces, landscaping, neighborhoods and more. As a result, the vertical construction emerges not as a single structure only, but as an entire ecosystem.
Beecroft, Simon; Dougherty, Kerrie; Luceno, James & Kristin Lund. (2005). The Complete Locations of Star Wars: Inside the Worlds of the Entire Star Wars Saga. DK.
This book provides a ‘history’ of Star Wars planets and geography that will be invaluable to the present study as it will make it possible to more accurately discover the ways in which architecture is designed to work within its environment and as a reflection of its society. The primary focus is on the settings used in the film and it incorporates a great deal of detailed images that will also help to further this study.
Berman, Marshall. (1982). All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity. New York: Penguin Books.
Berman discusses the concepts of modernity and the other in this book. In describing the modern human, Berman says “they are moved at once by a will to change – to transform both themselves and their world – and by a terror of disorientation and disintegration, of life falling apart” (Berman, 1982). Through this statement, it is easy to see the conflicting emotions of an individual undergoing change of any kind, including and perhaps especially the necessity of examining the beliefs and customs one has grown up with in order to attempt understanding or acceptance of another, a member of the mysterious ‘other’. This book will be useful in the theories segment of the present research.
McClintock, Anne. (1992). “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term “Post-Colonialism.” Social Text. N. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues, pp. 84-98.
In this discussion about the current understanding of post-colonialism and the issues its raised, McClintock makes the concept of the ‘other’ more understandable as it has been investigated from hindsight of the colonial era and reveals the multidimensional character of the single entity, whether person, place or thing.
This discussion helps to make the idea of the other and its relationship with constructed space more understandable because it is placed within the context of an art exhibit designed to graphically illustrate this point, particularly as it relates to the progression of culture from a singular culture without much contact with others to a colonial culture in which the ‘other’ emerged to the idea of a hybrid culture in which all cultures are attempted to be embraced. This conversation is helpful in examining the relationship between architecture and understanding needed in the theories segment of this research.