1984 is one of the most intelligent and terrifying dystopias ever created; George Orwell's vision is probably the defining dystopia of the 20th Century. The novel depicts an oligarchical, collectivist, degenerated workers' state society where life exists in a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, & relentless public thought conditioning and control. The individual is always subordinated to the masses, and it is this philosophy which allows the political apparatus to manipulate, oppress and control humanity. The novel is an account of one man’s struggle to conform to, and desire to rebel against his society. Over the intervening decades since its original release, 1984 has become chillingly relevant once more, in our age of ubiquitous surveillance, and the rise of totalitarian ideologies with democratic overtures.
> Architecture as Dystopian Tool?
In 1984, society largely lives in poverty; hunger, disease, filth and social decrepitude are the norm and ruined cities represent the physical manifestation of the consequences of perpetual war and a totalitarian regime hell-bent on complete societal domination. When travelling through the urban environment, Orwell’s imagery is littered with rubble, social decay and wrecked buildings. The sole components of the city that received any architectural attention in the pursuit of the political agenda of Ingsoc where the four centres of power, the ministerial pyramids. Each building is described as being grand in scale, visually oppressive and as dominating the skyline completely. They are beacons of the total social and political dominance of Big Brother, and not only accommodate all functions of the Party, but also serve as a reminder to the citizens that the Party’s control is comparative to the pyramids’ dominance of the urban domain.
> Architecture: The Defender of Individual Urban Autonomy?
1984 has become alarmingly relevant in the 21st Century, not only in contemporary political and social discourse, but architectural and urban design discourse also. We are witnessing a real departure into the dystopian hell of Orwell’s masterpiece, with the modern city becoming a place of total control and ubiquitous surveillance, where public and individual freedoms are being curtailed at every street corner through a combination of political and corporate machinery. Perhaps, as urban designers, we should heed Orwell’s warning, and be prepared to defend the autonomy of the individual within the urban landscape, and pursue the democratisation of public space, and urban life as a whole, more rigorously.