Dystopian Architecture
Brutalism Buildings in the Cinematic World that are Both Home and Symbolic Weapons

Have you ever wondered how our world would change in the future? People may have many imaginations about this popping up in their mind, whether they are those pictures they’ve seen in cartoons like Doraemon, a robot cat that carries a bottomless belly pouch or magical stuffs, some of which are indeed actually introduced to the real world. So, thinking about the future, it’s not uncommon if we see some people being so obsessed with it. Likewise, architects, movie directors, and many writers are also especially interested in the dystopian world.  

Dystopia often talks about the future world of the worst, and those films that were based on this theme like to use Brutalist architecture as the background or the main setting of the story. Why is Brutalist architecture often present in the genre? Many people may wonder. Maybe, it’s because of the huge and powerful look of the concrete blocks? Today, we’ve brought you 5 movies in which the directors decided to use Brutalist architecture and the theme of the dystopian world. Let’s explore together!

Dystopian Architecture

It’s truly a future architecture of the undesirable society. This idea originated from the concept of utopia, which refers to an ideal world where people are at peace. There’s no misery, and, of course, a utopian society could never come true. So, that’s why, human imagination leads to the opposite world, which is the dystopian one. Specifically, the idea of dystopian society was first introduced by John Stuart Mill in 1868. Since then, the film industry has produced several dystopian futuristic films. And, as previously mentioned, most of the buildings in the story tend to use Brutalist architectural styles.

Why Brutalist Architecture?

Brutalist Architecture is a very controversial topic and has been linked to various political ideologies and associations, as well as the authoritarian views that were tangibly formed in the popular culture, with many structures used in dystopian films and graphic novels.                 

So, many people tend to have a negative view against the Brutalist structure due to it being massive, ugly, resembling a fortress; and they perceive them as an oppressor. However, there are also quite a few people who like the exterior form of the building, as it shows the realistic side of the material, which is big and assertive. The reason why some people extremely like these buildings and others may not is that beauty actually depends on individual taste.

Equals (2015): Architecture of the Non-Existence

The first film is Equals (2015), a futuristic film that showcases an ideal society, but people in such society are devoid of emotions. The architecture shows the way of life of the characters. Unlike most novels which use computer graphic to help create dystopian elements, it focuses more on real-life shooting locations.

Most of the locations featured in this film are located in Southeast Asia. One of the filming locations was the Awaji Yumebutai Conference Center in Japan, designed by Tadao Ando. It has a simple look of an enormous building, using bare concrete and water mirror. All are to strengthen the calm of an emotionless society more clearly while the common areas and large auditoriums enhance the concept of assembling in accordance with the needs of the leaders in the film.

Moreover, Sayamaike Museum in Japan designed by Ando has a concrete courtyard surrounded by waterfalls. The landscape demonstrates the austerity and grandeur of the ruling power. These features formed a perfect place to accommodate infected persons for further emotional rehabilitation. Due to the neutrality of the open concrete and large waterfalls, the necessary calmness in the sanatorium was created.

A Clockwork Orange (1971): Architecture that is Used as Weapons

The building from A Clockwork Orange (1971) is another scene that the fans of this movie could remember. By the beginning of the story, Alex, the protagonist, which is also a criminal, was put in prison during the time when the government enforced a policy to turn bad people into good ones. He heard the news of such experiment and believes that he probably could get himself out of prison faster. He then agreed to undergo trials at the Ludovigo Medical Institute.                 

The architecture behind is in the Brutalism style, which looks powerful like a fortress. It was made to even look like the Nazi dictatorship as the costumes of the police officers also reinforced the meaning of the scene. The society in that film is a society of the future world, which is prosperous with many high technology, yet, at the same time, people have lower morals.

In the film, the building could represent a weapon the government would use to control the prisoners in the story, by turning them into a controllable person the state wanted. In reality, the location is a building of Brunel University, a famous university located in the United Kingdom. It was built in the years 1966-1971 by architect Richard Sheppard. It doesn’t have any connotation, as the architect just wanted to modernize his design in that era, making it comparable to other leading universities. However, it became talk of the town after being completed and used as the main setting of the film.

Dredd (2012): Future Sky City Architecture

It is a futuristic film that tells the story of the 22nd century. There is a fictional town called Mega City One, located on the Atlantic coast of the United States. More than 400 million people live in slums on skyscrapers that are ravaged by pollution and crimes. The city is governed by a group of lawmen known as the “Judges”, who serve as police, judges, jurors and executioners.                 

90% of the movies is set in the Peach Trees, which is a 200-storey housing estate in Mega-City One’s 13th district. Each block is like a separate world. It was almost a city that was separated from those big cities outside. There are shops, entertainment venues, and a central computer system. This is a very interesting futurism concept. However, Mega City One lacks good management, so this building becomes a deadly weapon of a small group of people to attack citizens.

With the film’s cutting edge and concept of the floating city, it reminds us the concept of Metabolism Architecture. Many of you may consider Metabolism an approach to architecture which is designed to be like broken cells, emphasizing the concept of biological growth in architecture and being ready to change all the time. This means that cities and structures are living beings that can grow. The concept of urban development is similar to the buildings in Dredd.

For example, Arata Isozaki’s design of The City in the Air, which is famous among architects, is the future urban planning of Shinjuku, Japan. Transportation routes, residences, and buildings are designed to soar above present-day Shinjuku. Although this project was never actually built, it is indeed deemed to be the first step for the development of a more modern Japanese urban society. It is also a project that allows Arata Isozaki to do urban planning for cities around the world.

Equilibrium (2002): Architecture of Oppression

Equilibrium is a film portraying a fictional country controlled by a state, which deprives its people of their basic freedoms. Moreover, the state doesn’t allow its citizen to enjoy any aesthetics, like art, while expression of emotions and feelings is strictly forbidden.                        

The scenes in the film are also inspired by the architecture of the Nazi and Fascist regimes of the 20th century, which was influenced by classical Greek and Roman architecture. Architecture that is massive has narrowed the gap between humans and the building. As a result, people’s self-esteem is reduced. It oppresses people to be under the structure of the story, like a symbol the director wanted to clarify – people must be forced to be under unconditional power.

The filming location of Equilibrium is the entrance of the Olympia Glockenturm in Germany, with a bell tower behind the Olympiastadion in Germany. CGI was used to make it more perfectly complete. The tower was also intended to provide a monumental backdrop to suit the seats of an honorable guest (presumably Adolf Hitler).

High Rise (2015): Architecture of Control

Speaking of High Rise, some of you might be familiar with JG Bullard’s 70s novel, which was made into a movie in 2015. The story takes place in 1975, talking about racial discrimination in a building designed by an architect (in the film) who doesn’t care about the quality of life of the residents. The higher floors are the residence of the rich. Below those floors are for the middle class while the lower floors are home to the working class. Some facilities such as rooftop gardens and swimming pools are restricted to only the single group of elites. The lower classes, unable to bear it, began to protest, demanding that all residents share the resources equally.

For the interior design, the upside-down column gives the impression that the building is oppressing the people who use it. The bare concrete pillars placed in the center of the room were inspired by the film director’s not-so-impressive experience of staying in a hotel, as his then accommodation room had a pillar in the middle. He understood that this was done for the strength of the building. However, the architects themselves ignored the feelings of the residents who feel the discomfort of the disproportionately empty space of those pillars. He felt as if he was walking into a claustrophobic building, like being in a prison, even though there were no prison guards.

The director of the film sketched over 700 storyboards, as the building served as the main character. Then, he sent the draft to an architect for further design. All building forms are turned upside down to give a feeling that they are controlling people all the time. Everything was designed to enslave the residents of the lower floors, for example, the balcony of the room on the upper floors were overlooking the balcony of the lower rooms. The privacy of each floor is very different. It all stems from the idea that the buildings themselves don’t care about the people inside them at all. This is because the architect viewed that buildings are like the capitalist world where people on the lower floors have to struggle more.

As a fictional publisher once said, “For some people, dystopian films are like a guide. It’s a lesson for the future from the world of the past.” But, sometimes, we humans are more concerned with the idea that the world is getting worse and worse. How can we live our lives in this world? Both ideas are interesting even from different perspectives.                 

However, in the future, ‘What will technology give us’ may not be as important as a question that what direction the relationship between humans, nature, and technology can develop to? Sometimes the future world may not look different from the present world. It may still have wooden furniture, clay tiles, or even paper.                 

What we should care about may not be whether the dystopian world has arrived or not, as we may actually be now standing on it. But the most important thing to consider is, how we’re going to keep the planet livable, both in terms of the architecture and the environment, which shouldn’t be used as weapons like what we’ve seen in the films.