John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A British architecture firm is pumping out some really eerie sci-fi animations.
Something terribly wrong has happened with civilization in the short films of Factory Fifteen.
In "Megalomania," a simple construction project has seemingly fallen out of control, metastasizing to every corner of the urban landscape. Buildings are choked in thick jackets of scaffolding, dwelling units cling like barnacles to the side of a Ferris wheel and mountain-sized towers stretch into the clouds as if trying to reach the moon. Just who's doing all the building is a mystery. The only living thing presented in the animated film is a bird, adding to the imaginary city's sublime creepiness.
In "Gamma," there is plenty of life, although it's not the kind you'd want to hang out at a bar with. Set in the years after a nuclear war destroyed eastern Europe, the story details a shady corporation's mislaid efforts to clean up radioactive waste. The creatures the company uses to eat the gammafied rubble turn out to have a nasty side: They spread like a scaly, evil fungus all over buildings, periodically ejecting streams of milky vomit. Although the narrative has holes and the editing recalls a political advertisement, Factory Fifteen's choice of shooting the movie in the contaminated ruins of Pripyat adds immensely to the unease.
It's hilarious that these dystopian visions of humankind's demise are being produced by the same firm that does cheery, bright renderings of commercial projects. I guess the money has to come from somewhere? Anyway, whether they're crafting 3D animations of a new city square or a crazy robot riot in NeoLondon, the team behind Factory Fifteen – architects Jonathan Gales, Paul Nicholls and Kibwe Tavares – ooze 50-gallon drumloads of imagination. Here's hoping somebody gives them a suitcase stuffed with money to pursue their sci-fi dreams in feature length.
Oh, right, about that robot riot: Here's the description of "Robots of Brixton" from the Fifteen guys, and below is the actual film:
Brixton has degenerated into a disregarded area inhabited by London's new robot workforce - robots built and designed to carry out all of the tasks which humans are no longer inclined to do. The mechanical population of Brixton has rocketed, resulting in unplanned, cheap and quick additions to the skyline.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of young robots surviving at the sharp end of inner city life, living the predictable existence of a populous hemmed in by poverty, disillusionment and mass unemployment. When the Police invade the one space which the robots can call their own, the fierce and strained relationship between the two sides explodes into an outbreak of violence echoing that of 1981.