Sci-fi classics: Syd Mead’s sets create future scenarios for cities: culture

The fact that the future has always just begun was a popular science fiction topos in the 1970s. The best future projections are fueled by the intersection of the known and the unattainable. Designer Syd Mead says the same thing in an interview film produced specifically for the “Future Cities” exhibition. In the project rooms of the architecture firm O&O Baukunst, 30 elaborate storyboards and sketches by Meads are actually visionary concepts of megacities – in powerful colors, which still retain the optimism of a desirable and at the same time livable future.

The irony is that much of the images at the O&O Depot were made as sketches for Ridley Scott’s dystopian classic Blade Runner: 1981’s vision for a distant future in November 2019. Scott’s Los Angeles was a giant wet skyscraper from the rain, which stretched to the sky, and gigantic monitors among which futuristic vehicles fly. However, the models the director referred to lack Scott’s pessimism. Mead is not a technocrat, but a humanitarian. He wanted to make the future beautiful, he says in the ten-minute film. “We have to work for a future where everyone works together. If it doesn’t work, we have a problem. “

Pioneer of industrial design

Mead is as important to the history of industrial design – he worked at Ford’s Advanced Styling Center and designed the interior of the Concorde – as important to the iconography of science fiction cinema. His production design for “Blade Runner”, his second Hollywood job after the film “Star Trek” (1980), is still the visual reference par excellence for our image of a possible future. It is no coincidence that Tesla’s new “Cyberttruck” is reminiscent of the cars in which Harrison Ford’s bounty hunter Rick Deckard hunts for replicas.

The “Future Urban Architecture” design from 1979.Photo: Syd Mead

So if you step back from the Charlottenburg exhibition to reality in November 2019, the year of Blade Runner, you will once again remember how ambitious the future predictions of the past were – from “Metropolis” to “Blade Runner”. The “Cybertruck” still looks like it came out of a science fiction laboratory. And instead of Scott future used Aesthetics between patinated materials and futuristic shapes dominate this part of West Berlin, still a worn-out present.

The designs selected by curator Boris Hars-Tschachotin in gouache – Mead’s favorite material because, like watercolor, it has an eye-catching opacity and luminosity, which in turn benefits his painstaking attention to detail – but they also have an intriguing vintage quality. A striking contrast to the fluid CGI worlds in current science fiction cinema, which Mead occasionally enriches with his ideas (eg the ring-shaped space station in “Elysium” with parks and highways). He calls his “Retro Deco” style, a mix of different eras. In “Blade Runner” the Mayan pyramids stand next to an overwhelming futuristic architecture.

The 1981 “Cityscape Lightening” design inspired by the Tokyo skyline.Photo: Syd Mead

“Blade Runner” in the Museum of Architecture

It is significant that in the year of Blade Runner it is not the museum of cinema (Hars-Tschachotin had already curated the exhibition of Kubrick and the James Bond designer Ken Adams there) but an architecture firm that pays homage to Mead. O&O has won the tender for an area at Gleisdreieckpark, where they want to test some of Syd Mead’s ideas in real conditions.

The fact that his urban development plans have found little acceptance in practice may be due to the fact that Mead was influenced by Tokyo’s topography, which is difficult to transfer to Western metropolises. Some of these designs, in which details you can really get lost in, can also be seen at the O&O. Mead is ultimately more of a “visual futurist” (to use his film credit), a theorist with a strong gift for visualization, than a realist. But what is science fiction for, if not for spinning?
Until January 16, O&O Depot, Leibnizstr. 60, Mon-Fri 15-19

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