Learning From Flying Saucers

This post is about buildings that look like flying saucers. First up, is Matti Suuronen’s Futuro House from the late 1960s. They say only 100 were ever built but wherever I go in the world I seem to see one in some state of disrepair, and I’m not that well travelled. Weburbanist has some ultrafab pics.

And thanks mischief, for the floor plan – I’d never seen it before. Very Jupiter II*!

Next, meet the Evoluon – “a conference centre and former science museum erected by the electronics and electrical company Philips in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in 1966″. They’ve got the look. Saucerish, strut-like supports, small and regularly-spaced peripheral windows, central domey skylight spacelight. Metallic. Even more Jupiter II-ish.

You’d think many other examples would be from the 60’s as well, but no – these alien buildings are still here among us, PERHAPS EVEN MORE SO! Here’s the Singapore (“To Superintend the Administration of Justice in Singapore”) Supreme Court by (“the building takes its cue from the scale of the neighbouring civic buildings, offering a modern re-interpretation of their colonial vernacular to convey an image of dignity, transparency and openness”) Foster & Partners, circa 2000. What can one say? – “Welcome, alien overlords!”

This jolly little building is the Biblioteca Sandro Penna (2004).

What generally turns people away from libraries is the ‘character’ of the buildings that contain these spaces, frequently evoking an idea of separation, of exclusivity and often a dusty and melancholic idea of literature. By contrast, Italo Rota’s Perugian library, which takes the shape of a large disc, presents itself as a foreign object, though a gentle and delicate one: it is similar to the optimistic 1980s vision of the extra-terrestrial ET. Its form and use of colour, its transparency during the daytime, and the light it emits at night create a new landscape.

Thanks – nice one Mimoa! Keep it up, Italo Rota! Next up, the Shanghai Expo Cultural Centre (2000). Who designs these things? Oh, here were are – Shanghai architect Wang Xiao’an. He won a prize, it says.

I like the way he evokes that “Close Encounters OT3K” lighting effect. Awesome.

More recently (2012),

Roberto Sanchez Rivera built his home in Puerto Rico to look like a spaceship, with lights and audio effects.

Back in high school, he decided that one day he would build a house that was unlike any other. And after getting a degree in fine arts and studying industrial design, he had the ability to do that. [!]

Thank you, New York Times Home and Garden. And thank you, Roberto. Party on!

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What’s one to make of all this? OK. Flying saucer buildings are classic examples of Shape to Alienate. The idea of ‘flying saucer’ itself is an idea that contains a notion of being different – of not being from Earth, and also an idea of not being a what it is – a building, in this case. Whenever these two types of ideas occur together  without any visual OR conceptual unity, what we are left with is the appearance and feeling of “alien”. The idea of flying saucers itself isn’t novel, but comes into and goes out of fashion. It endures however, because ‘not from here’ has meaning for anywhere, anytime. Moreover, the idea of ‘flying saucer’ can be easily evoked by:

  • Colour (by making it metal and shiny)
  • Pattern, (by giving it round windows around the periphery)
  • Shape (by making it saucer-shaped, duh!)
  • Position (by making it look as if it’s just extended its landing gear)
  • Alignment (by making one direction no more important than the others)
  • Size (by either making it mothership large or captain-and-crew small)

“Obviously” the attributes of craft capable of intergalactic, interstellar or even interplanetary travel are unlikely to resemble those we expect of mere buildings. The environment in space is far more extreme than anything we can manage here on Earth. The most challenging environments we have down are occupied by structures such as oil rigs,

and polar shelters,

whilst the closest thing we have off Earth is the International Space Station.

None of these are saucer-shaped or streamlined to reduce heat build-up upon re-entry. However, all are designed to allow human beings to survive and function normally in environments that are hostile to human life. We might want to think more about this.

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