A journey through the cyber renaissance cities of Deus Ex: Prague, Hengsha, Detroit

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Cyber Renaissance
Charter Hill – Cyberpunk 2077

In the previous “Cyber Renaissance: The prosthetics and fashion design inspired by Deus Ex” article, we discussed and explained Cyber Renaissance and where that Term is coming from. From prosthetics to fashion, Cyber Renaissance touches every field in the universe of Deus Ex.

Deus Ex is a game series made by Eidos Montreal. The game takes place in the future, where people use technology to advance themselves and Deus Ex wants to question how transhumanism can create sociological problems and how past and future can co-exist. Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletet believes that in order to advance something, we first have to understand it from its fundamental elements. While he was doing his research mainly using keywords like “anatomy,” “cybernetics,” “biology” and “genetics”, he started to see images of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical studies and a correlation with cybernetics. That’s why he started to look at the Renaissance. The Renaissance questioned and researched human essence and how human anatomy worked.

Cyber Renaissance

Therefore, Jonathan believes that the Renaissance was a stepping stone for Transhumanism because in order to upgrade something first you must understand it from its core design. That’s why they named this style Cyber Renaissance as a metaphor for transhumanism. While doing that and designing this world they do not just reference the Renaissance. In the Deus Ex world, you will see lots of references from the Baroque era and a fixation with myths, especially the Analogy of Icarus. We must first comprehend the connection between Baroque and the myth of Icarus in order to recognize this relationship’s affection to architecture and whole world style.

Daedalus, a mythical inventor created wings made of feathers and wax to escape from Crete, where he and his son Icarus were held captive by King Minos. Although Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the Sun his wings melted followed by falling into the sea where he met his end. This is the summary myth of Icarus. This myth is used very frequently in the game because, for Jonathan, it resembles transhumanism perfectly, humanity going upwards although reaching its doom however, it is a symbol of upgrading human life.

Cyber Renaissance
Flight of Icarus Symbolism | Deus Ex

However, why are the black and gold colors? In the game environment, there is lots of black and gold color usage through building to the fashion. The reason behind it is actually a connection to the famous Baroque, and Dutch Golden Age painters Rembrandt and Vermeer. In the game, you will see lots of references from this painter, especially from Rembrandt. In Rembrandts and Vermeer, you will see lots of black and gold color usage, but the main reason for these two colors is not because of that. The main reason is what gold and black represent. Gold represents the Golden Age of Humanism; therefore in Deus Ex it represents the Golden Age of Transhumanism, and Black is a reflection of the dystopia of cyberpunk.

When we get to the architectural language of this concept and the environmental language of the game, we will discuss it in three Cities that Deus Ex gives us. First Detroit, which represents a collaboration between the modern age and cyber renaissance. Hengsha, which is basically Shanghai, represents the dark path of cyberpunk in architecture and in the end, Prague. In Prague, we see more of the relationship between cyber renaissance and cultural heritages. How historical or cultural buildings connect with this new world.

In deciding the architectural language and aesthetics, artists blended cyberpunk aesthetics and Renaissance but by renaissance, they did not take the historical architectural language of it. They took the mathematics, perspective, and geometry of the Renaissance, especially the mathematical and geometrical drawings from Michelangelo and Leonardo, in the end, it has showed triangle patterns which they made more modern looking and made it one of the main languages of the Cyber Renaissance. In the end, the main keys were mathematical references, gold and black color plates, and triangles.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Detroit
Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Detroit

Detroit’s design was based on those principles with the mixture of the City’s character. In Detroit, we see lots of triangular facades and interior designs with a mixture of industrial design language and lots of high-rise buildings and narrow streets.

Hengsha is the most interesting part of the game. Hengsha is a city with no more land to expand. Therefore the city started to grow upwards. Skyscrapers began to work like columns, and in the end, the city had many floors. The bottom floor is mostly people with low income and a representation of corruption with no green area, while the upper floors are a place for people with higher social class. Therefore they get to see the sun and have more green areas.

This idea actually came up from a Mockumentary about Hong Kong. The mockumentary was about whether Hong Kong has no more space to expand since it is an island. That idea was the same, building a second floor with huge pillars, and in that mockumentary, they are talking about how the architecture will be on upper levels, what will happen on lower levels, and how they will have air circulation with pipes in the pillars.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Hengsha © Reddit: u/WeekendBard

Hengsha (Shangai) is a great representation of the chaos of the future and corporation while Detroit shows us how can be the near future could look like with more philosophical reference. Although we didn’t talk about how past life and future life will connect, what kind of relationship will they have? In the second game, Mankind Divided, we see Prague with its rich architectural language and how it has adapted and co-lived with cyber renaissance language.

Prague is a challenging design for the Deus Ex game series because it shows the dialect between technology, transhumanism, and fundamentalism, humanism. This is a great scene for the second game because in the Human Revolution, the main story was about how technology causes corruption with the tools of media and many more. However, the second game, it talks more about the polemic between humans and augmented humans. Due to terrorist attacks by augmented people, people started to think of them as a thread since they are upgraded persons. Is augmented humans better than humans? If so, what are the roles of humans in this new society? Which caused a civil war and a new kind of discrimination against the people.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Prague
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Prague

This story is also being told in architecture as well; in previous games we mostly saw how architecture symbolizes advancement and corruption in society. In Mankind Divided, we see a lot of traditional architectural buildings that work with new futuristic architectural buildings. It also symbolizes a unity, a symbiotic relationship between old and new. Sometimes that relationship can be brutal by connecting them with cables, like forcing that connection.

Although in some areas we see some traditional architectural buildings have been upgraded or installed technological and media ornaments, like adapt it to the current era.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Artwork © Nivanh Chanthara

Even in some areas, it shows technology taking the place of history, new replacing the old. Traditionalism dies as time passes.

Deus Ex series not only opens a philosophical conversation about transhumanism or the social impact of augmented prosthetics but also discusses how the past can affect the future as well, as how it can affect future design. When we talk about Cyberpunk or Cyber cities most common image we have in our mind is spaces with lots of neon lights and rectangle, functional structure. However Deus Ex series opens a different perspective to the future in design terms. It still has the chaotic theme of cyberpunk but also it starts to debate on how Cyber Renaissance and with that it also talks about how past and future can co-exist or can they co-exist?

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