The Cities Science Fiction Built

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The Cities Science Fiction Built
Sant'Elia's Station for Trains and Airplanes
The Cities Science Fiction Built
Sant’Elia’s Station for Trains and Airplanes

The opening credits disperse, revealing a city. What city? A future city. This is an SF film, and we may not yet know the rules of this speculative world—whether there are space colonies, or authoritarian governments, time travel, or amazing future weapons—but we are already getting a taste through the thick world-building of the urban setting. Through the smogged out skies and the burning rubbish bins, or conversely, the spotless flying cars and the gleaming spires of impossible structures, we learn what kind of fictional world into which we have been dropped.

But these fictional cues are not all ray gun fantasies. Much of our depiction of future cities is taken from our non-fictional world, from our real cities that we must live in on an everyday basis. It is in this world where our speculation comes home to roost. Our ideas for the future of the city are of course born in the present, and even the most fantastical exploration finds its kernel in the foundations of our established metropolises. When we look at the future city, we are really looking at our own city. We just don’t know it yet.

Back in 1909, a group of Italian artists and poets called the Futurists decided that it was time to kick their society out of its nostalgic obsession with Italy’s glorious past, and look towards the future. One of the group, an architect named Antonio Sant’Elia, published the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture in 1914. It reads, “just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created.”

The Futurists advocated for an embrace of the aesthetic of future technology, such as the car and the airplane, always opting for the jarring, the novel, and the alienating bleeding edge of future technology, over the comforts of the familiar. []

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