Tomorrow Now : When design meets science fiction
Tomorrow Now
When design meets science fiction
Alexandra Midal + Björn Dahlström, December 24, 2007
Despite stories of invasions, extraterrestrials, robots, mutants and cyborgs that take place in spaceships, on Earth, in the galaxy or beyond, or even inside the human brain, science fiction offers its own reading of contemporary society. Often considered as a minor genre of literature or simple speculation concerning an improbable future, science fiction acts like a distorting mirror presenting caricatures of the world and extreme scenarios whose starting point is anchored in the present. Although a primary source of inspirationfor the cinema, the visual arts and architecture, science fiction’s closest links are, however, to design.

Following the example of science fiction, design anticipates the mutations of the world, sometimes pushing them to extreme limits, the better to show their consequences. They share the same territory and both pose the same questions: what sort of relationship should be maintained with technological change and what might the impact be on Man, his behaviour and his physiological and mental capacities? And perpendicularly to this axis, there are numerous simultaneous multidimensional worlds through which certain individuals move.

Ant Farm_Enviroman, 1969_Chip Lord
Ant Farm_Enviroman, 1969_Chip Lord
Encounters between design and science fiction have been determined by three eras. The first is linked to anticipation and innovation with the invention of the term “science fiction” in 1929 by Hugo Gernsback, an immigrant from Luxembourg living in the United States, and the Universal Exhibition in New York in 1939 which presented the Futurama, a giant model of a futurist city devised by the designer Norman Bel Geddes. It was exhibited in the General Motors pavilion and is the most premonitory example of science fiction and design working together to show how technology can be put to the service of mankind. It was at this international exhibition that designers who traditionally anticipated the production of industrial objects seized on that of private, public and urban spaces.

The second encounter between science fiction and design took place in the post-war period when the dream of space conquest was becoming more and more realistic. The possibility of discovering new intergalactic territories, counterbalanced by the stress placed on interior worlds, inspired designers. Indeed, they took inspiration from the imaginary aspect of science fiction, creating a myriad of capsule-like forms, and also borrowed from it the fictional mode which, when diverted, either validates technology or denounces it.

The third bridge between design and science fiction is based on the postulate of the existence of a fourth dimension, that of time, which, when associated with the other three dimensions, becomes a gateway to a parallel world. Breaches in space-time may be found through these “wormholes”, teleportation doors and other black holes. Neither anticipation nor prediction nor retro-future, these parallel worlds are juxtaposed with present reality.

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