Top 10 fictional buildings | Books
ROn the other hand, since everyone supposedly thinks it contains a book, I wonder if every novelist thinks their mind contains unbuilt architecture. I know I do. Not the technical stuff, of course. Trigonometry and structural engineering. I mean the thrilling piece of freehand sketching at the start. The dream of the existence of a building that did not exist before.
Of course, evoking fictional structures on the page goes far beyond simply satisfying unfulfilled ambitions: buildings have done a tremendous amount of work in many fictions, shaping and expressing the lives of characters, fleshing out themes, grounding stories in time and space.
My first novel, Peterdown, involved imagining many such buildings. In the universe of the novel, a new five-runway airport has been built in the Thames Estuary, and work is about to start on a Japanese-style high-speed train line that will link the airport to the regions. My fictional town, Peterdown, was chosen as the site of the railway split station, but to make way for the station, a building in the town will have to be demolished. On the shortlist – next to a dilapidated digital arts center and football stadium – is Larkspur Hill, a sprawling brutalist housing estate that I was free to dream up without having to worry about budgets, restrictions planning or its potential. blow in the wind.
Needless to say, the estate is in good company when it comes to fictional buildings. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Late Howard by E. M. Forster
We might as well start with Howards End, one of the best-described buildings in all of literature. “It’s old and small, and utterly charming – red brick…there is a very large Virginia elm…leaning a little above the house and standing on the boundary between the garden and Meadow.” It is consciously modeled on Rooks Nest, the Hertfordshire house where Forster lived as a child, and as Oliver Stallybrass puts it: “carries as great a structural load of values as any fictional house”. Forster was unambiguous as to its significance for his vision: “In those English farmhouses, if anywhere, one could see life steadily and see it as a whole.”
2. High-Rise by JG Ballard
Forster was not alone in believing that buildings are places that can shape the character of the people who live there. Ballard’s unnamed skyscraper, a 40-storey glass and concrete behemoth, which stands by the river a few miles west of the City of London, is a “gigantic vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked on top of each other. The fact that they are gilded cages, owned and occupied by lawyers, doctors and academics, does not prevent the residents from descending into a state of orgiastic barbecue-dog savagery: “In many ways, the skyscraper was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of truly free psychopathology.
3. The Cortlandt Housing Project in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
The architect behind Ballard’s skyscraper gets roughed up, but Rand is much nicer to Howard Roark. His masterpiece is the Cortlandt Housing Project, which he conceives as “six 15-story buildings, each in the shape of an irregular star with arms extending from a central shaft… buildings, in cast concrete, were an intricate modeling of simple structural features; there was no ornamentation; none were needed; the forms had the beauty of sculpture. Unfortunately, when made, it was distorted by a gang of “junk dealers.” Roark, being one of Rand’s typically improving and compromising types, blasts him with a charge of dynamite.
4. Chez Mr. Biswas house from A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
Not all fictional buildings would need dynamite to knock them down. A single, well-aimed kick would probably do the trick for Mr Biswas’ house: ‘two of the wooden pillars supporting the stair landing were rotten, shrunken down and green with dampness… at the slightest breeze , the sloping corrugated sheets rose in the middle and gave out snaps that were like metallic sighs. For all its faults, Biswas’ house is proof that he is a modern man, a self-authored and proprietary individual, and this means that he will not have lived “without even trying to claim his share of the land; to have lived and died as one was born, useless and without accommodation.
5. Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It is impossible, on a list like this, to overlook Austen, with her strong sense of ownership and central role in the British class system. Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey, so “rich in Gothic ornamentation”, might have worked, but Darcy’s pad, Pemberley, gets the nod: “It was a large, fine stone building, set well on a plot sloping and backed by a ridge of high wooded hills… Elizabeth was thrilled, and who wouldn’t be?
6. Franz Kafka’s Castle
Kafka’s castle is located on a hill above a village: “It was neither a fortress nor a new mansion, but a rambling heap of countless small buildings huddled together and a or two floors.” Protagonist K’s relationship with the castle could represent man’s alienation from totalizing bureaucracies, or our never-fulfilled yearning for religious salvation. Either way, it’s an example of what David Foster Wallace identified as Kafka’s central joke: “That our endless, impossible journey home is actually our home.” Which would make it an odd choice, one would have thought, as the inspiration for a real building, but Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill disagreed, using it as a model for a building in 1968.
7. The Ministry of Love in 1984 by George Orwell
You get a better idea of the architecture of the Senate-inspired Ministry of Truth – “a huge pyramidal structure of glistening white concrete” – but this is the Ministry of Love, or Miniluv as it’s known in Newspeak, who stays with you the longest. “It was a place impossible to enter except for official reasons, and only by entering a maze of tangles of barbed wire, steel doors and hidden machine gun nests.” The building has no windows and houses the most famous room in all of literature, located “several meters underground, as deep as it was possible to go”. It is, of course, room 101 and “the thing in room 101 is the worst thing in the world”.
8. 11 rue Simon-Crubellier in Life: a user’s guide by Georges Perec
It was hard to overlook the old building in Tom McCarthy’s splendid Remainder, but when it comes to buildings in experimental fiction, it’s hard to look past the building at 11 rue Simon-Crubellier. . By a staircase “of dubious cleanliness”, the reader wanders in the building from the large apartments on the lower floors with Louis XIII armchairs to the accommodation of the servant of the butler Smautf in the attic. The effect is like a cutaway illustration of a building where the front wall is removed, allowing you to peek at the oversized figures inside.
9. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve avoided fictional buildings in fantasy fiction because you could easily fill a Top 10 with them alone (Gormenghast, Bilbo Baggins’ hole, etc.), but I couldn’t not include the incredible Library of Babel from Borges. It is composed of “an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, interspersed with vast ventilation shafts, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons, one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The library is comprehensive and contains every possible book, including the autobiographies of the archangels and the treatise Bede might have written (but didn’t). It “can only be the work of a god”.
10. The Cathedral in the Spire by William Golding
It’s a shame that Lord of the Flies swallows all the oxygen when it comes to William Golding because his other books deserve a lot more attention than they get, especially his book on Neanderthals, The heirs and, above all, this visionary masterpiece. Almost all the action takes place in a fictional cathedral on which a single-minded dean, Jocelin, asks the builders to graft a new 400-foot spire when everyone has warned him that the building’s foundations will never support a such weight. Throughout, the reader perceives the cathedral from the dean’s respectful perspective. It is, as he says, “The Stone Bible.”