The Oscar winning director, Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult sci fi movie, Blade Runner, has become the most credible cinematic futuristic manifesto of the 20th century. The film potrays a future Los Angeles and offers a deep insight into the future of architecture and urbanism, while also providing information on contemporary realities and trends.
The film devicts that by the year 2019, Los Angeles will be a city that supports a population of over 90 million people. The colonization of the elite to utopian “off-world” planets has resulted in the large scale immigration of the upper class, leaving the city populated by a mainly ethnic underclass( mainly Chinese people). The cityscape is in a state of urban decay and has become totally synthetic. The middle-class suburbs have been overtaken by the city administration, transforming them into a huge industrial zone, while huge mega-structures now dominate the center of the city.
Syd mead, production designer of Blade Runner talks about the motive and inspiration behind the set design:
“I took the two world trade towers in New York City and the New York street proportions as a .today’ model, and expanded everything vertically about two and a half times. This inspired me to make the bases of the buildings sloping to cover aboutsix city blocks, on the premise that you needed more ground access to the building mass.”
As metropolis and blade runner work on similar themes, a comparison between them seems appropriate. Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner share a sense of urban gigantism and geometrical form. While the “New Tower of Babel” dominates the skyline of Metropolis, here it is the pyramid of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters that serves as the city’s nucleus. The building’s presence is overpowering, in it evokes a strong sense of financial power. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) like Metropolis (1927) reveals class structure through its vertical architecture.
The Los Angeles of 2019 is essentially a city of contradiction; high rises, pyramids and glass towers intermingle with revival architecture, historical buildings, and the debris of past urban sprawl. The visual layering of architectural typologies from various cultural pasts creates a post-modern image of a globalized world.
Due to the drain of wealth that accompanied the mass immigration, the city becomes a place where the whole economic process is slowed down. The removal of old buildings begins to cost far more than the construction of a new ones. Instead of tearing down buildings or dismantling established technologies, modifications and additions are thus added to existing structures. What results is a deeply layered city, where new use has grown over and subsumed Los Angeles’ architectural history (the film utilizes such historical Los Angeles buildings as the Bradbury Building, Union Station and the Yukon Hotel for several of its most important scenes).
New structural elements extend through old buildings to support new construction above; while ducts, signs and service pipes run, snake like, over the old façades . As the cables and generator tubes delivering air and waste go up the old buildings, the street level becomes nothing more than a service alley to the Megastructures above.
“Things are retrofitted after the fact of the original manufacture because the old, consumer-based technology wasn’t keeping up with demand. Things have to work on a day-to-day basis and you do whatever necessary to make it work. So you let go of the style and it becomes pure function. The whole visual philosophy of the film is based on this social idea” Syd Mead.
The aesthetic of retrofitting is very similar to the adaptive façade concept of Archigram’s Peter Cook. His 1978 Trickling Tower project [Fig. 10] starts its existence as a polished steel Megastructure. Over time, the appearance of the building changes as new elements are added, and uses changed. Also, the externalization of infrastructural services (heating, cooling, water, gas) brings to mind Richard Rogers’ and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou centre, 1977 .
The thoughtfulness of the underlying concept, and the layering of images and associations, makes Blade Runner one of the most discussed and influential films of our times.
The film remains a compelling reminder of just how nasty life in the twenty-first century may eventually become. It depicts a road humanity is heading down now : class separation, the growing gulf between rich and poor, and the population explosion; but as such, offers no solutions.