Logan’s Run and the Architecture of Illusion
Logan’s Run and the Architecture of Illusion
The 1976 film Logan’s Run depicts a futuristic society as the second coming of civilization during the 23rd century, presumably after society as we now know it reached self-destruction. Viewed as a satire with undertones of humor, with a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, there are several strong themes to extract regarding overpopulation/population control, societal extinction, totalitarianism, finite resources, self-contained worlds, artificial vs. natural, and hedonistic distraction.
Central to the film are the issues of urban decay and societal extinction, both of which we are now being forced to address. This includes addressing the life cycle of a city, the death of which may occur with the decline of a supporting industry, or may be a result of climate change and rising sea levels, among other factors. Examples of such cities include Paris, Rome, and Venice – cities which during the height of their lives were thriving centers of dynamic social activity but now function as stagnant urban museums, displaying ruins as haunting reminders of the past. The outskirts and fringes of these cities (perhaps with the exception of Venice which is sinking) continue to expand to accommodate for the increasing population, while the cores remain inert. This is fundamentally an issue of preservation and urban planning. In this respect, Edward Glaeser claims that “preserving a city can, in fact, require destroying a part of it.”1 In essence, this is what Baron von Haussmann accomplished with Paris in the mid-1800s while demolishing more than half the buildings in the city. However, today the modern sentiment to retain Haussman’s Paris has led to the creation of a boutique city, to be enjoyed by the rich and the tourists. In Logan’s Run the ruin city is Washington D.C., almost entirely abandoned and overtaken by vegetation. This scene can be compared to the Forum Romanum or the Coliseum in Rome, among countless other vestiges of the past which are now slowly eroding – having lost their value as inhabitable buildings, and remaining as relics reclaimed by nature.
Overpopulation is another key theme in the film, relevant in our day in age specifically in cities exceeding their carrying capacity. China’s solution to this is their one-child policy, but the solution posed in Logan’s Run is population control through mandatory execution at the age of 30, veiled as ‘renewal.’ This represents totalitarianism with elements from Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Here architecture and contained space is a means of control through deception – more overt examples include the Fascist architecture of Hitler and Speer in Germany, and Mussolini with the EUR.
Also similar to Brave New World, in the futuristic society of Logan’s Run, romantic love is a foreign concept, and sex is unnecessary for procreation. Now predicated exclusively on erotic physical pleasure, casual no-strings sex reigns. This seems to be the basis of every man’s dreams. However, when anyone can fuck anyone and everyone, conventional sex loses its allure. There’s no element of seduction, no thrill in the chase – which is why Logan-5 finds Jessica-6 so appealing when she denies him. The unattainable and forbidden makes the blood rush faster, a rare experience when one becomes accustomed to instant access to naked nubile bodies. Will the citizens remain happy with their easily accessible Love Shop hook-ups? Or will they attempt to resist desensitization, trying to reach higher highs and stronger climaxes? And if so, when will kink and fetish become commonplace? The issue here is one of complacency, which extends beyond sexuality. This hedonistic society in Logan’s Run is given the illusion of freedom. It is a classic example of bread and circuses, a technique commonly used throughout history, harkening back to early Roman leaders who attempted to keep the citizens distracted from real issues of politics. Even today, we are brainwashed by the media to be distracted and absorbed by various celebrities, and encouraged to shop ‘til we drop. Margaret Crawford writes about this hyperconsumerist culture, posing that the dominant public space is now the shopping mall2 – a privatized public space – self-enclosed as a world within a world. As can be seen in Logan’s Run, the City of Domes is, in essence, a large shopping mall. In this youth-driven culture, you can get a new face, participate in an orgy, fly high on a mood-altering drug, and spend an hour at the gym, all under the same roof on the same day. If that’s not pleasure, I don’t know what is.
In the film, the City of Domes acts as a fully enclosed self-sufficient world within a world, and can be compared to several architectural precedents built and unbuilt. Aesthetically, it recalls the projects such as Buckminster Fuller’s Montreal Expo 67 Biosphere, Grimshaw’s ETFE Eden Project in Cornwall, and Greg Lynn’s 2007 competition entry for the BMW Design Headquarters. Each of these projects are internal stand-alone environments that seclude inhabitants to the interior. These differ from projects such as Constant’s New Babylon or Andrea Branzi’s (Archizoom) No Stop City, in that these are hypothetical megastructures that rise above an existing city. The former was based on sectors that would spread like rhizomes, lifted above the traditional city and landscape to merge together in a network which would span the globe. Once situated in New Babylon, homo ludens (man of play) would have the power to appropriate the labyrinthine passages as he wished. It is not a static space, but one that is continually dynamic, a place of becoming. The latter was meant to represent the fading away of architecture within metropolis, representing an infinitely extendable city to be appropriated by the user as desired.
In the self-sufficient City of Domes predicated on hedonistic pleasure, there is no need for human labor, and no need for production. Citizens don’t have to work a day in their lives (with perhaps the exception of the Sandmen…and really that’s just one big game). However, what the citizens believe is a self-sufficient city is actually not self-sufficient at all. The production of the city is exposed on the outskirts, with the Box-robot. Once run by the plankton in the ocean, this finite resource was eventually drained, and as such the city had to resort to freezing the 1,056 unaccounted for runners for a source of energy. Ironically, the city must feed on itself to stay alive: a cannibalistic urbanism. This serves as a subliminal warning against our contemporary abuse of non-renewable resources. The film provokes us to question that which we take for granted, to look past any constructed illusions, and to project ahead as designers to sustain the human population and the inevitably evolving urban conditions.
1. Edward Glaeser, “What’s So Great About Skyscrapers?” in Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (Penguin Press, 2011)
2. Margaret Crawford, “The World in a Shopping Mall” (1992), p. 23