This course explores the urban design in dystopian novels and films. A critical component of urban planning, urban design in large part dictates how cities look and feel, as well as influencing the importance given to the conservation of historic resources.
With an emphasis on discussion, critical analysis, and creative response, this class will explore the following questions: What makes the cities in Blade Runner, 1984, Brave New World, or Metropolis such places of despair? How can we use each image of the city to understand the historical context in which they were produced? How can urban dystopias be used to improve our understanding of the built environment and historic preservation today, and improve it in the future? This course will delve into the urban designs of these seminal dystopian narratives in order to learn about the time period in which they were created and their relevance today. This will include a grounding in urban design history and theory, with use of works by planners, designers, and sociologists.
Readings & Films
Atwood, Margaret (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale
Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
Stephenson, Neil (1992) Snow Crash
Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1921) We
Textbooks & Reference Text:
Legates, R. & Stout, F, Eds. (2003) City Reader, Third Edition.
Campbell, S. & Fainstein, S. , Eds. (1996) Readings in Planning Theory.
Blade Runner (1982) Dir: Ridley Scott
Brazil (1985) Dir: Terry Gilliam
Gattaca (1997) Dir: Andrew Niccol
Logan’s Run (1976) Dir: Michael Anderson
Metropolis (1927) Dir: Fritz Lang
The Truman Show (1998) Dir: Peter Weir
Screenings of films will take place at times and dates TBD. Students are highly encouraged to attend the screenings. Students unable to attend one or more screenings are responsible for watching each film before the relevant class discussion.
Graded Course Requirements
In Assignment 1, students will discuss a dystopian environment of their choice and explain what makes it a dystopia. Students should be sure to refer to urban design concepts as discussed in the readings and in class. Details regarding assignment 1 will be handed out on September 2 and the Assignment will be due on September 21.
In Assignment 2, students will describe one particular aspect of the built environment that appears across at least two dystopias (e.g.: lack of transparency, homogenous design, urban decay, lack of transportation options, etc.) Students should make sure to explain how that feature is similar in both dystopias, and relate it to the real world. Was this aspect of the environment a real concern? Has this issue been addressed, or is it still current? Details regarding Assignment 2 will be handed out on September 23 and the assignment will be due on October 14.
Assignment 3 will be divided in three parts, listed below. Detailed instructions for each step will be given in class. Proposals will be due October 26. The presentations will be given during week 15 and the essay/creative projects will be due on December 9.
Essay: Students will describe their own current/future version of a dystopian environment. What does it look and feel like? Students should refer to at least three dystopias, and discuss how their conception of dystopia relates to them. Students are strongly encouraged to be creative and use their own experiences and tastes to elaborate their dystopia. Proposals must be approved before the final project is undertaken.
Creative Project: Students will produce a drawing/collage/model/other artistic project from the built environment described in a dystopian novel or one based on individual conceptions of a current/future dystopia. Proposals must be approved before the final project is undertaken.
Presentation: Students will present both their conception of a dystopia and their artwork to the class. Emphasis will be on speaking skills.
Examples of the artwork part of the project from previous students in “Cities of Nightmare” are below.