Archifuturama: Sci-fi Architecture – Gattaca

        Gattaca is a Biopunk also known as Cypunk which is a subgenre of sci-fiction films that focus on biotechnology. It was directed by Andrew Niccol and released in 1997. Niccol depicts a sterile and frigid futuristic society that is driven by eugenics. A society in which children are born through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits. The destiny of an individual is determined by their traits. It is a time in the future where discrimination based on gender, religion or race cease to exit. It is replaced by genetic discrimination. The film is focused on Vincent who was born outside the eugenics program and struggles to overcome genetic discrimination to reach his dream of travelling into space.

IntroFigure 1: The film title comes from the first letters of the four nucleobases of DNA. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine

The plot of the movie revolves around the protagonist Vincent an invalid who is one of the last “natural” babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. He is short sighted and due to die at age 30 of heart disorder. He has no chance of a career in a society that now discriminates against the genetic makeup of a person. Going underground, he assumes the identity of Jerome, a high physically fit human who loses the ability to walk due to an accident. Vincent achieves prominence in the Gattaca Corporation using the false identity, where he is selected for his lifelong desire: a manned mission to Saturn. Constantly passing gene tests by diligently using samples of Jerome’s hair, skin, blood and urine, his perfect world is thrown into increasing desperation, his dream within reach, when the mission director is killed and he loses an eyelash at the scene. The police certain that they know the murderer’s ID, but unable to track down the former Vincent, they start to close in, with extra searches, and new gene tests.

Films that depict the future

Different movies depict the future differently each is driven by the plot that is told. The perfectionist synthetic world of GATTACA is manufactured to portray a sense of a futuristic modern environment that is surrounded by high tech engineering. When showing the GATTACA world the structures and setting uses minimalist architecture which shows that the human race is more focused in advances in technology than creating complex structure. Everything in the movie is clean, sharp, aspiring to perfectionism. In the pursuit of an ideal society Niccol gets rid of the imperfection that make people humans.

As a reflection to this theme the buildings chosen also have a minimalistic, high tech image, with a sense of coldness. This is seen in The solar energy generating systems and Sepulveda Dam spillway in California and the brutalist architecture of the California state polytechnic University in Pomona.

Fig2Figure 2:  Solar energy generating system in California

Jermon’s apartment was shot at the University of Pomona, the apartment is an example of a modernist style. The high ceiling design of interior tells us that the person who lives there is wealthy and has high taste. The symbolic feature in this space is the staircase. Several of the scenes shots are taking in front of it. The spiral shape of stairs represents the double-helix model of the DNA. It is a key theme of the movie as it represents the bases of the society. It also represents the parallel between Vincent and Jerome. At the end of the movie Vincent is film at the top of the stair while Jerome is at the bottom. Showing us that they have switched roles. They became the former version of each other.

Fig3Figure 3: University of Pomona

Furthermore, the stairs represent human drive and determination. This is shown when Jerome had to struggle to pull himself up the stairs since he is paralysed from the waist down. This is the first time were Jerome strives to achieve something.

Marin County Civic Centre

Producers tend to use real architecture building that are routed in today’s world even though the movies being shoot are taking place in the future.  Science fiction relies on presenting the world in a way that is believable to the audience. Before the current available advances in visual effects set designers had to choose between building spaces or finding an existing space to film in it. Building a stage is expensive and is limiting in terms of size. Therefore, in some cases the set designers lean towards shooting exciting architecture.  With the use of temporary set ups and smart camera work they try to reinvent the spaces.

One of the iconic building in Gattaca is Frank Lloyd Wrights building called Marin County Civic Centre. It was the last building built by Wright before he died in 1959 with his plans 90% percent complete.

Wright was selected for the project in 1957, winning a vote out of hope he would be able to best represent a democratic government open to the people through the Civic Center.

In April 1958 Wright’s project was approved, and the architect submitted his set of concept drawings exactly a year later.

It was built under the supervision of his wife and It represented headquarters of a futuristic aerospace corporation in the movie.

Upon his death, his protege Aaron Greene and his son-in-law William Wesley Peters continued with the construction, bringing Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs to reality. One of the most outstanding qualities of the project is that Wright didn’t stop at the architecture – he went on to design the door, the signs, furniture, and every last detail.

But the building was built with the thought that it should last for at least 300 years. There was a futurist approach to the design of the building.

Fig 5Figure 4: Marin County Civic Centre

Due to the way it has been designed the Civic Centre has had a history with Sci-fi movies.  Director George Lucas’s shot his first film THX 1138 in 1971.

In this film, the human race has been relocated to a underground city located beneath the Earth’s surface. In the underground city, the population are entertained by holographic TV which broadcasts sex and violence and robotic police force enforces the law. In the underground city, society controls all life, all citizens are drugged to control their emotions and their behaviour and sex is a crime.

The film was mainly shot in San Francisco such as Bay Area Rapid Transit subway, the lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Marin County Civic centre and the San Francisco International Airport. All this places have a similar post-modern futuristic style.

Later Lucas used elements of the Civic Center design in the design of the structures in Naboo in the Star Wars universe. The gentle blue domes and scalloped roofs in the other worldly can be easily recognised by Star Wars fans.

fig6Figure 5: Marin County Civic Centre

In Gattaca, it becomes the headquarter of the Gattaca space program, the pride of the movie’s engineered Upper-class. Indeed, the centre resembles an alien ship that has mysteriously landed on the California hillside. Its simple clean lines conveyed just the impression we sought-a future where everything is orderly, sterile and well planned.

Films released around the same time

 Futuristic films depict the future differently this can be seen by comparing movies that were released at the same time as Gattaca. One of those movies is Twelve Monkeys a neo-noir science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam, which was released in 1995. It depicts the future as a low-tech/high-tech future which takes place in 1997.  According to Roger Ebert a film critic, there is similarities in between this movie and Blade Runner. The future world is painted in a condition of chaos and doom. Unlike Gattaca which does not take place in a dystonia future.

fig7Figure 6: 12 Monkeys different worlds

Fifth Element


Figure 7: Groundless city of The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element another movie that was released in 1997. Is a dark, satirical science fiction film directed by Luc Besson. The future in this movie takes place in the 23rd Century. Unlike Gattaca, the world of the fifth element is not a decaying abandoned civilization with pollution and smog covering the sky yet similarly it lacks in plantation. Mankind were able to continuously develop space technology which made inter-galactic travel possible. The city is developed into a dense inter-connected city that allows hovering vehicles, high skyscrapers. Throughout the duration of the film, there is a lack of scenes in the ground level. The emphasis is on the high towers, high-speed elevators and hovering cars.  This gives the movie a more positive and less dystonia society.


fig9Figure 8: The Matrix

The Matrix a futuristic film released in 1999 directed by The Wachowskis. Depicts a dystonia future in which the majority of the human population’s reality is a simulated reality. Meanwhile their bodies are placed in incubators to be used as sources of energy. Therefore, the City scape and the future that is depicted in this movie varies greatly from Gattaca. The real world is dark and gloomy unlike the world we live in today. The main constructed architecture is the incubation hubs that host human body as an energy source.


Figure 9: The Matrix

Comparison with other films that depict the future:

Blade runner

Ridley Scott’s release Blade Runner in 1982, a film that portrays a dystonia future. In which its oppressive built density produced a new era of production design and spawned a whole generation of computer games graphics, featured the distinctive architectural language of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, a building in which several major films have been shot in Hollywood Walk of Fame. The houses used in the movie were inspired from Mayan textile blocks which spoke of ancient decay and a civilisation past its prime.


Figure 10: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House

Aeon Flux,

Aeon Flux, released in 2006, made use of Berlin’s Baumschulenweg Crematorium  and the Tierheim Animal Shelter to create a home for a future Utopian society – glossy and calm on the outside but greatly troubled beneath the surface. These building in Aeon is what give it its realistic credibility. Both structures have aim to create an artificial calmness. In a sense these structures are the closest to the image that the world Gattaca aimed to create. They have the sense of simplistic modernistic style that is close to the concept of perfectionism.   fig12

Figure 11: Berlin’s Baum Schulenweg Crematorium


Figure 12: Tierheim Animal Shelter

These pieces of contemporary architecture sit easily within a vision of the future because that is exactly where they were intended to reside. They were an outcome of prediction and visualisation of what the future would look like. They also provide the films in which they have featured a level of authenticity and realism which convince and engage an audience.  Although in most cases these buildings are involved with a future gone wrong from the dark foreboding environment of Blade Runner to the clinical and menacing world of Aeon Flux, the fact that these buildings are chosen to be part of a movie that depict the future is a compliment. As this shows that these contemporary design did in fact succeed in creating architecture that belongs in the future. An acknowledges that the architectural profession is an important leader in shaping the future.