The architecture in sci-fi films tends to be fascinating – and a source of inspiration for future architects and urban planners. But thanks to visionary storytellers and designers, we can already get a feel for the future metropolis.

Towers, bridges, carriageways. And swathes of buildings, stretching all the way to the horizon. Picture the ultimate Star Wars city: Coruscant, a metropolis that has engulfed the entire planet and become one with it. An intergalactic nerve centre.

What could earthbound urban planners learn from such extremes? We already have skyscrapers in the middle of deserts and urban canyons far removed from natural daylight that resemble dark scenes from the “Blade Runner” universe.

Sci-fi architecture: Marina One in Singapore
Sci-fi architecture by Christoph Ingenhoven: the building complex Marina One in Singapore.
Foto: Ingenhoven Architects / HGEsch

Anyone interested in a brighter take on tomorrow’s cities should head for Asia instead. In China, Taiwan and Singapore, planners are currently creating ultra-dense XXL-size metropolises. Just recently, German architect Christoph Ingenhofen raised a huge hybrid of concrete and nature in the latter city-state: four 50-floor office/living combo-skyscrapers hide and shelter a precious green heart, right in the centre of Singapore.

green center of the building complex Marina One.
The green center is surrounded by flats and offices.
Foto: Ingenhoven Architects / HGEsch

The resulting futuristic Marina One might look like it’s been transplanted from a faraway solar system, but its soul and spirit are all about sustainability. Peter Cachola Schmal, director of the German Museum of Architecture, even considers such structures a possible solution to the expected “hyper-density of our urban future“.

gardens of the building complex Marina One
The building is supposed to serve as an international role model for living and working space.
Foto: Ingenhoven Architects / HGEsch

Between Hollywood and modern metropolises

While Coruscant highlights the victory of technology over nature, terrestrial city planners prove that synergies between metropolises and jungle are possible.

Amazon's campus in Seattle
Spheres: Amazon’s futuristic campus in Seattle.
Foto: Amazon

Occasionally, we even spot surprising parallels between reality and science fiction: The spherical hothouses of Amazon’s Seattle “Spheres”, for example, resemble eco ships like the Valley Forge from “Silent Running”. And architectural visions of floating cities and aquatic oases compete with what might be sci-fi’s prettiest city, the cloud city of Bespin by ingenious world builder Ralph McQuarrie.

After all, it was this former Boeing illustrator who managed to translate George Lucas’ over-the-top flights of fantasy into tangible imagery, thus building the basis for fascinating new cinematic escapes and environments.

inside the greenhouse of Amazons's Spheres
The circular glas cubes resemble eco ships in sci-fi-movies.
Foto: Amazon

Images are the currency of city planners and sci-fi fans alike. And it’s not always obvious who’s been cribbing from whom.

Overwhelmingly huge and not of this world

These ultra-realistic images with a touch of tech have become firmly lodged in our collective brains. During the presentation of his iPhone 4, even Steve Jobs admitted just how much science fiction had influenced him. “I grew up here in the US with Star Trek and communicators, dreaming about video calling, and it’s real now!” Nowadays, almost no one leaves the house without their tiny portable computer.

sci-fi inspired architecture from the 60s
This project from the sixties also offers a futuristic look: …
Foto: Flickr / m-louis (CC BY 2.0)

On the other hand, it was architects like Kenzo Tange who, back in the 1960s, tapped into a futuristic spirit with their visionary, megalomaniac projects: overwhelmingly huge and not quite of this world. Concrete megastructures and icons of modern architecture started to play starring roles in sci-fi films, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House from 1923 doubling as Rick Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner.

close up of the memorial hall by Kenzo Tange architects
… the memorial hall by Kenzo Tange architects was built for students who perished in the war.
Foto: Flickr / m-louis (CC BY 2.0)

Science fiction inspires modern architects

This constant interplay justifies the obvious question: How does science fiction influence contemporary urban planning?

the Ennis House in Los Angeles
A building goes Hollywood: The exotic Ennis House in Los Angeles …
Foto: Flickr / evdropkick (CC BY 2.0)

If you think about it, many of today’s fifty-to-sixty-year-old architects – i. e. people in the prime of their profession – soaked up stirring images of alien civilisations and exotic planets long before they experienced their first long-distance trip. Now, they’re shaping cities and skyscrapers that appear almost alien in their size and complexity. The sheer dimensions of their buildings have transcended anything we might have come to consider “normal” architecture.

exterior of the Ennis House in Los Angeles
… was featured in the science fiction movie “Blade Runner”.
Foto: Flickr / evdropkick (CC BY 2.0)

Skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa (829.8 metres high) or cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, accelerating to mega metropolis status within less than two decades, conjure up their very own imagery. Skyscrapers are becoming vertical cities with tens of thousands of residents; cities turn into cityscapes with their very own rules.

After a certain size, sci-fi and architecture start to blend. What used to seem unthinkable has long become standard. Even extreme variations like Coruscant are seeping into our collective consciousness, ready to emerge somewhere else … in a different size or guise.

So, the future is already here – we only need to get used to its look.