Urban planning is a complex discipline that affects the design and management of cities to ensure that they meet the needs of their inhabitants. While real-life cities provide many examples of effective urban planning, several fictional universes can provide valuable insights into urban planning principles. But where do we get unique ideas for the cities we build?
In addition to the historical, political, and economic factors that shape urban spaces, fictional universes, such as those found in books and movies, can also have a significant influence on our visions for the cities we build.
Fictional universes often feature imaginative and unique city designs that can inspire architects, urban planners, and other professionals. For example, the futuristic cities in fictional films such as Blade Runner and The Matrix have inspired urban designers to incorporate high-tech elements into urban plans. By studying and learning from these fictional designs, we can gain new insights into urban planning that can be applied to real-life cities to create more functional, sustainable, and meaningful urban spaces.
Fictional universes often reflect the cultural values of the societies that created them, and these values can be conveyed through the design of the cities within them. For example, the Harry Potter Universe features places that are designed to be cozy and magical reflecting the values of the wizard community, individuality, and creativity.
As fictional universes can influence public imagination and expectation. For example, science fiction universes often feature cities that are futuristic, high-tech, and sustainable, which can shape public perceptions about what is possible in urban design. This can lead to an increased demand for innovative and sustainable city designs in real life, as well as a greater awareness of the environmental and social challenges that cities face.
In this article, we will explore some of the fictional universes. (Warning: There may be some “spoilers” in this article.)
The Lord of the Rings
Let’s begin with the best fictional universe (and one of my favorites), the settlements in the Lord of the Rings universe, which demonstrates examples of urban planning that prioritizes livability, sustainability, and integration with the natural environment. Hobbiton, for example, is intended to be compact and walkable, with small, cozy homes that foster a strong sense of community.
Minas Tirith is the capital city of Gondor, a human kingdom in Middle-earth. The city is built on a series of levels, with the royal palace and other important buildings located at the top. The lower levels of the city feature market, shops, and other commercial buildings, as well as the homes of ordinary citizens. The city’s walls are also an important feature, protecting against invading armies. The design of Minas Tirith is influenced by the natural environment, with the white stone buildings and walls blending in with the surrounding mountains and hills.
“For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so the paved way that climbed toward the citadel turned this way and that and then that across the face of the hill.”
On the other hand, Moria (Khazad-dûm) is an ancient city of the Dwarvish community that is abandoned and overrun with dangerous creatures. The city is known for its impressive architecture, with ornate carvings and stonework adorning the walls and buildings. The city also features a complex system of tunnels and chambers, with each area of the city designated for a specific purpose such as mining, manufacturing, and living quarters.
In Start Trek, places are often designed to be energy-efficient, with sustainable transportation options such as high-speed trains and advanced public transit systems.For example, Star Trek often portrays environmentally aware designs for buildings and transportation systems.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, for instance, the USS Enterprise (starship) features a hydroponic garden that provides fresh food for the crew, as well as a recycling system that allows for the efficient use of resources.
Many Star Trek societies prioritize the creation of public space as a means of encouraging community and cultural exchange. For example, the Klingon homeworld (Qo’noS) features large communal gathering spaces where citizens can come together for public events. Also, in the Star Trek Universe, transportation systems are often integrated into urban planning. If you already watched the series, you will remember that space stations and planets are connected through transporters, shuttlecrafts, and other forms of transportation, creating a network of interconnected communities.
Many of the cities and settlements in the Star Wars universe are built upwards, with towering skyscrapers and elevated transportation systems such as speeder bikes and airspeeds.
In the star Wars universe, cities have diverse architectural styles and building materials. This is particularly evident in the planet Coruscant, which serves as the capital of the Galactic Republic and later the Galactic Empire. Coruscant is home to a dizzying array of architectural styles, from sleek, modernist towers to ornate, classical structures. This diversity reflects the planet’s role as a hub of intergalactic commerce and diplomacy. The city is divided into multiple levels, with each level designated for a specific purpose such as government, residential, or entertainment.
One of the famous Star Wars cities, Naboo, on the other hand, features a more traditional urban design that is integrated with the natural environment. The city is built around a central lake, with public spaces and buildings blending seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. The city is also designed to be energy-efficient, with buildings featuring solar panels and wind turbines. And also Anakin Skywalker once said about Naboo, “If I grew up here, I don’t think I’d ever leave.”
The world in Harry Potter provides an example of urban planning that emphasizes the integration of magic and the natural environment. For example, Hogsmeade is a magical village located near Hogwarts. The village is known for its cozy and inviting atmosphere, with colorful buildings that are designed to blend in with the natural surroundings. The village features a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues that cater to the needs of the wizarding community. The village is also designed to be pedestrian-friendly, with narrow streets and alleyways that encourage walking and socializing.
Another place probably we all remember, is Diagon Alley a hidden street in London that is only accessible to the wizarding community. The street is known for its quirky and whimsical design, with shops and buildings that are designed to cater to the unique needs and preferences of the wizarding community. The street features shops that sell magical supplies, such as wands and broomsticks, as well as bookstores, restaurants, and other businesses that cater to the needs of the community. The street is also designed to be secure, with magical protections in place to prevent access by non-wizards.
“There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon…”
These designs demonstrate the importance of integrating the needs and cultural values of a community into the planning process, and of designing cities and towns that are both functional and reflective of the community they serve.
The urban setting of The Matrix contrasts with the sterile and gritty, decayed landscape of the real world. The Matrix is portrayed as a sleek, high-tech cityscape, complete with towering skyscrapers, neon lights, and cutting-edge transportation systems. The real world, on the other hand, is a desolate wasteland littered with ruins, rubble, and debris. This contrast between the two worlds emphasizes the importance of urban planning in shaping our physical environment, as well as the dangers of poor planning and neglect.
Another important aspect of The Matrix’s urban setting is the way power and control manifest themselves through infrastructure. The machines that control the Matrix are housed in a massive, sprawling city known as “Machine City” in the film, which serves as the Matrix’s power structure’s hub. The city is portrayed as a vast network of cables, wires, and machinery, emphasizing infrastructure’s role in shaping and controlling urban spaces. Furthermore, the film’s portrayal of the Matrix as a digital construct controlled by machines emphasizes the importance of information and data in shaping our urban environments.
Mega City is a sprawling, densely populated metropolis that is depicted in the Matrix as the last remaining human city, which has survived the onslaught of the machines. The city is home to the last remnants of humanity who have not been enslaved by machines. The Machines created Mega City as a fictional living place for human minds while their bodies were used as “batteries” in the Machine power plant. Mega City simulates conditions and technological levels similar to those of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, prior to the war between humanity and machinery. Agent Smith said once, “Billions of people living out their lives… oblivious”
The film also presents a critical commentary on the role of technology in urban planning. In the Matrix, technology is used to control and subjugate human beings, reinforcing the power dynamics of the ruling machines.
Last but not least, one of our favorite dystopian architecture and urbanism example, Blade Runner.
The dystopian future depicted in Blade Runner provides a cautionary example of urban planning that prioritizes function over livability. The city is overpopulated and polluted, with massive buildings and advertisements towering over narrow and crowded streets. The city design is oppressive and dehumanizing, serving as a warning against the dangers of unchecked urban development.
Also, Blade Runner portrays a future in which cities have grown to such an extent that they have become cruel, polluted, and dysfunctional. The film’s vision of urban decay and social inequality serves as a cautionary tale for architects and urbanists about the potential negative impacts of uncontrolled urban growth. The film’s use of advanced technology, such as flying cars and androids, has served as inspiration for designers seeking to incorporate innovative solutions into their work.
In conclusion, fictional universes can have a significant impact on our visions for the cities we build in real life. By providing imaginative and unique city designs, reflecting cultural values, and shaping public imagination, fictional universes can inspire urban planners to think creatively about the cities they build.
Examples from the Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Harry Potter universes show how urban planning can prioritize livability, sustainability, and integration with the natural environment. By studying and learning from these fictional designs, we can gain new insights into urban planning and design that can be applied to real-life cities to create more functional, sustainable, and culturally meaningful urban spaces.
Finally, maybe we can directly use ideas from these universes but they provide a valuable tool for urban planners to expand their creative horizons and shape the cities of the future.