Imaged sourced from the @70sscifiart timeline, who you should definitely follow!

Visiting Imaginary Cities

“The hidden momentary pleasures of life taking place in monuments built ultimately for oblivion”

I felt compelled to post some notes on the wonderful book ‘Imaginary Cities’ by Darran Anderson, after spending time off over the holidays totally engrossed in it and the wonderful otherworldly images it evoked and continuing over successive weekends to finally complete reading it.

The last time I remember being totally absorbed in a piece of creative non-fiction was probably reading ‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet, which also led me to seguing into all sorts of side stories including an intriguing one, about a ‘Death Match’ in occupied Kiev in WWII. (I wanted to find out more about this and came across this short documentary Defiance: The Story of FC Start — ESPN and the subject of an upcoming animated movie)

But architecture is so much more than incredible looking buildings, (by the way, these are some of the architectural projects that captured the attention of WIRED in 2015 and some of the best music videos for architecture buffs), which is something the author constantly reminds the reader of, including the Victor Hugo quote “architecture is the great book of humanity” and that “architecture is not the simply the construction of buildings, it is the construction of space, both inner and outer”

This monumental book, ideal for history buffs, futurologists or technologists, really is a cabinet of curiosity all in its own right and it all started with this absorbing essay A lasting consequence of these imagined cities is their effect on the way we view real-life cities”.

History has long fascinated me and there was a recent essay in Aeon magazine that has stuck with me. “This is what the humanities are for — not writing better quarterly reports or grabbing a gig in corporate communications — but for posing fundamental questions of value and helping us imagine alternatives to the way we live

And another post, questions does it help to know history? But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out . Personally, I definitely think it does and once that interest is sparked, it is a real journey of discovery and ‘Imaginary Cities’ turned out to be a truly magical mystery tour of history and popular culture, condensed into almost 600 pages.

“The cities we live in are saturated with layers of history, most of it lying unstirred, but cities are also saturated in fiction.”

The quest leads the reader from the legend of Clonmacnoise monastery and a sky ship which Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about,“celebrating the heroic efforts of the monks of the monastery, who saved the life on a struggling aeronaut” which was published in his 1991 book “Seeing Things”, into all sorts of side alleys, “haunting bridges, diabolical cats walking upright in Moscow” and a whole cast of interesting real characters such as Prester John, the Montgolfier brothers, to a host of fictional individuals such as Judge Dredd. The author examines “the appeal of lost mythical cities of the past” and also many wonderful fictional cities, while stopping off to walk the Victorian rooftops of London through retro futurism and Albert Robida’s imagined Paris.


“we find echoes of unbuilt New Yorks; the ghost of Louis Biedermann’s wrought-iron futurism”

New York is understandably prominent through out the book, incidentally see what New York could look like in 2020 and the NYC public library have a project for “turning historical maps and other geographic sources into a digital time-travel service for the city

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New York for obvious reasons heavily influenced many wonderful imaginary cities that have been presented in fiction and movies, but Gotham is a favourite of mine with it’s gritty cityscapes and of course, I was delighted to see a few pages dedicated to it. The author introduces the reader to artists such as Hugh Ferriss, Louis Lozoivich, Rudolf Cronou, Howard Cook and Christopher Nevinson whose paintings influenced many of the designs behind Gotham. “Batman reminds us to look up and the city is a sea of rooftops” .(Note: David Stockton discusses some of the inspiration behind the wonderful cinematography for the Gotham city in the TV show here.)

Some of the most charming things about the book, is the way he somehow manages to string of a ream of popular cultural subjects and historical topics together and continue to suck you in further, to learn more through the galloping text and footnotes, into more quests for exploring more information on newly discovered buildings, architects, artists from various movements including cubism, constructivism. Also, for example, I stumbled across a Uncube essay “Machines of Loving Grace”-The City as a Distributed Robot and Omnipresent Intelligent Network as a matter of pure happenstance, after an one chapter prompted me to go searching for more info on Hans Hollien. If you have read IQ84, he makes a lovely reference to the allure of the underground city.

There is a companion website and then, there is also the subtlety of the Twitter influence of the author, where the next thing you find yourself browsing in the architecture section in the local bookshop, trying to find out more on what you once thought was only a passing interest and the next thing you’re reading through a book on Le Corbusier or a piece by two architects who spent a year living in the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

Better than any automated Twitter recommendations, his timeline has added a whole raft of interesting folks, new artists to my timeline including @70sscifiart who is quickly becoming another favourite, and even architecture influenced games.

Architecture and Games

Architecture has had a major impact on games, some options to explore further are from Le Petit Architecte creations, where you can release your inner Le Corbusier and the stunning Monument Valley on iOS.

Manifold Garden based on the M.C. Escher print Relativity is an exploration puzzle game where you “can change gravity and walk within a world of impossible geometry”, created by William Chyr, another timeline full of amazing virtual landscapes.

Future cities

While reading the book, immersed in it, suddenly you begin to take more notice of media story headlines such as “In the near future our buildings may also be “grown” by industrial-strength microorganisms”..Future cities that merge with nature, does this all sound imaginary/science fiction? Well, check out Rachel Armstrong where she explains her thinking about starships and making things for the longterm, whether we can live amongst the stars and living technologies . Also, Mitchell Joachim is pushing the boundaries of architecture with experimental materials such as living trees and engineered animal tissue, see ‘Bio+City’ for more. ( Something that Anderson reminds us of, with references to the movie “Dark City” by Alex Proyas). There are more photos to suggest the future may have arrived and you read something like this; where ‘Architect proposes building a giant co-working space on top of London’

Overall, ‘ Imaginary Cities’ is one of the most enjoyable and fascinating books I have read in some time, from retro futurism, to nostalgic myopia, dystopia’s and utopia’s, it’s all in there waiting to be explored.