Monday, August 2, 2010

Inception and the Architecture of Dreams

Yesterday I saw the film Inception, a sci-fi puzzle thriller that proposes the idea that we can go into other people's dreams (or invite them into ours), design a dream world for them that they then fill with their own subconscious meanderings, and proceed to extract information. Aside from a few stodgy lines of dialogue and some melodramatic acting, the film was fairly mind-blowing, and all the more because it dealt with the subject of architecture in the rule-free world of our dreaming mind.

Designing a dream world would be any architect or urban planners own wet dream. Not only would you be able to walk around your fully-formed designs, but you could bend physics to create twisted, paradoxical structures. It would be the ultimate form of uninhibited creation, as Ellen Page's character, a promising young architecture student, points out.

Escher's Ascending and Descending staircase is used as an example in the film, and it's a good one. What would Escher have done if he could have created the dream worlds he put to paper? If he could have had the chance to walk inside them?

[M. C. Escher, Ascending and Descending, 1960. 35.5 cm × 28.5 cm]

Just imagine: a giant game of Sim City where you are walking the streets instead of perched above with your birds-eye view. You come to a spot where a bridge would be nice, so you create one--and then watch how people use it, how it affects traffic. You keep walking and decide that instead of a skyscraper the spot should be a public plaza, so you get rid of the tower and insert the plaza, but then you notice that the buildings around the plaza mean that no sunlight will ever hit it--so you shorten them.

How would this change the way we build cities and buildings? Would we grow underwhelmed by the architectural possibilities of the real world? By the constraints of physics and material? Or would it allow more creativity, more risk-taking, simply for the fact that you could test it out before spending millions or billions of dollars to actually build the thing.

[M. C. Escher, Balcony, 1945. 55 x 65 cm]

What would architects like Buckminster Fuller, Rem Koolhaas, and Frank Gehry create if they could design a dream world without physical limitations? What kind of world would Tim Burton make? Stanley Kubrick? Stephen King? I wonder if Le Corbusier had gotten the chance to walk the streets of his Radiant City -- his towers in the park -- would he have stuck with the design?

Maybe one day 3D modelling will advance to the point where architects and planners actually have this ability to enter their creations and invite developers, government officials, citizens, and whoever else, inside that same world to give them a guided tour of what exactly they'd like to build.

I also think of the Salvador Dali Museum, still under construction in St. Petersburg, Florida. The inside of the building features a coiled staircase, like a spring pulled apart, while the outside is a concrete box being engulfed by a bulbous glass amoeba. But what would Dali himself have created, if he could use this dream-world technology to build one for himself? How wonderful and frightening and strange it would be to walk that world.

© HOK + Beck Group

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