A couple of weeks ago a most agitating article by Niklas Maak – a writer and arts editor for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – entitled “Goodbye Retro-Futurism” caught my eye, as just like most architects, I have a soft spot for the topic – the trend in the creative arts showing depictions of the future.The wildly imaginative scenarios of future of elevated invisible highways buzzing with flying cars and ethereal virtual presences flourished in the 60s and there is a certain quality about these times’ dream of the future that strikes a chord in everyone’s heart. The melancholy and beauty of these dreamlike creations have survived not only in architecture, but also in fashion, product design and – most vividly so – in cinema. It is through cinema that the unique feel of this nostalgic breed of buildings could be experienced with the most powerful effect.
But what is it about those futuristic landscapes created by cinematographers and other artists that fascinates us so much? One of the key locations of the movie ‘Gattaca’ is California’s Marin County Civic centre, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. ‘Gattaca’ director Andrew M. Niccol provides us with a certain insight into retro-futurism’s implications outside architectural theory:
“This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s last building. The great thing about the 1950s when this was built was that in this period when everyone was optimistic about the future, it was going to be wonderful. There is a triumphant, almost heroic look to the building. It’s almost entirely made up of curves… To imagine this world that is so pristine, there should be no corners.”
Looking back now it is interesting to note how these ideas maybe don’t seem so ridiculous today—many of us live our lives online, connected to the web, some drive electric cars (but not yet ones that can fly!) and others live in self-sustaining buildings. Perhaps it is time to take retro-futurism seriously, as the ideas that it offers are not just light entertainment and special effects—I see ideas hidden in amongst these visions for the future that have happened, that might happen, that are hopeful and worrying too; for me this is the value of bringing these ideas to life on-screen and in front of the masses.
Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan: Kisho Kurokawa
Taking a step sideways from the line of fantastic dystopian movies, I have decided to end on this: not simply for the sake of honouring the notable setting, but because I feel Japan - land of the rising sun - has always been located in the future for us - geographically, technologically and socially. A story buildings can tell as well as gifted directors.
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