Friday, June 25, 2021

Architecture and Horror


Architecture is the visual language of habitation. Through design, colours, shapes, textures, the architect reveal the aesthetics of his soul, and the values of his times. In fiction, architecture establishes setting, tone, mood, history, culture. It evokes atmosphere by provoking the audience.

And it tells you what characters can, cannot, must and must not do in a space during a tactical situation.

With the Babylon series, I intended to pay special attention to architecture. More than just a playground of destruction, architecture was a way for me to show the influence of the New Gods in the world, to emphasise the dark and oppressive environment, and to illuminate spots of hope.

Inspired by this thread from Mencius Moldbugman and the pro-traditionalist tweets by Wrath of Gnon, I began with a simple rule. Traditional architectural styles and designs at the human scale signal sanctuary, sanctity, and dignity. Places that follow this aesthetic are areas that stay true to the human soul. Ultramodern and unnatural architecture evoke feelings of disgust, confusion, and fear. These are the places occupied by the New Gods.

ArchoShanti is a prime example of the first style. Following the principles of arcology design, the district is extremely dense and ecologically low-impact, but it is also designed at the human scale. Walkability is paramount: pedestrian streets and paved alleys connect every point of the district to every other point. Buildings are four to five stories tall, tall enough for a person to comfortably take in with a single glance. Bicycles are common, but cars are rare. High population density is achieved through narrow streets and mixed-use complexes that combine residential and commercial spaces. Signs and decorations add a human touch to the streets and buildings.

Vernacular architecture takes advantage of local materials and knowledge, building in harmony with the local environment and human needs. Reflecting local culture, it represents time-tested aesthetics that have lasted for centuries. In the context of Babylon, vernacular architecture also represents aesthetics that have survived the corruptive influence of the New Gods.

Moreno Island, off the coast of Babylon, demonstrates this. The city of Saint Lucille and nearby towns are almost entirely designed according to American architectural principles. The roads are long and wide, buildings are dispersed, and in Saint Lucille, high-rises violate human scale with casual ease. In residential areas, in the farms and the swamps, shotgun houses and American-style barns predominate.

Traditional architecture is architecture that nurtures the human soul. In Babylon Red, they are places of rest and healing. But they are not safe spaces.

The New Gods and their minions are everywhere. Every incursion into a traditional space is nothing less than an invasion. They may come as an army of watchers, as a squad of killers, or as real estate developers seeking to remake prime property, but their purpose is the same: to further degrade the human soul. Every foray feels like a violation, a breaking of unwritten rules, and is all the more outrageous for it. It reinforces the idea that nothing is sacred to the New Gods, that they will not stop until they consume all in their path.

The construction of buildings is intimately and unconsciously linked to human biology and psychology. Gazing upon a deformed building creates the same feeling as gazing upon a deformed body. The New Gods pervert and corrupt the souls of men, which is reflected in external manifestations. Horrific architecture signals the presence of horrors, and their intentions for humanity.

Brutalist structures are buildings shorn of all identity and distinguishing features, leaving only raw materials and bare facades—a reflection of what the New Gods plan to do to humanity. Gargantuan buildings crush the human spirit under their mass and size. Repetition of elements, such as windows and cookie-cutter homes, erases individual identity, transforming the space into a cancerous tumor-like mass, with each window or each house simply one aspect of a larger fractal horror.

Hybridized materials, clashing colours, and smashed-together styles immediately evoke feelings of forced conjointment, distortion and parasitism. It is the idea of two separate things being stitched together to create something worse than both. Weird angles, distorted lines, and crazed spirals evoke feelings of mind and body being compressed and contorted until they break.

The headquarters of the Babylon Police Department was designed around these ideas. A sprawling spire of painful angles and weird shapes, it was supposed to be a beacon of law and order in a beleaguered city, but in reality, it is a nerve center of demonic intrigue. Everyone who climbs the career ladder becomes as warped and twisted as the building itself, becoming puppets of the New Gods. The few good cops that remain in the city do their best, but are outnumbered and outgunned by the legions of cultists and monsters stalking the streets. The cops handle street level crimes and inconvenient citizens but leave the New Gods alone, plunging the city into a permanent state of anarcho-tyranny.

The name Babylon recalls the infamous Tower of Babylon. In the Bible, all the world’s people spoke one language, and gathered in the land of Shinar. They decided to build a tower tall enough to reach Heaven. To punish their hubris, God scattered the peoples across the face of the Earth and confounded their language. The Talmud adds that the top of the tower was burned, the bottom swallowed by the earth, and the middle left to decay over time.

Nova Babylonia is the inverse of this story. The New Gods took the scattered peoples of the world and concentrated them in the region of Babylon. While there are other peoples and nations, the city of Babylon contains the most diverse concentration of peoples in the entire world.

The multiple architecture styles in this series are a reminder of this long-ago trauma. Different architectures exist side-by-side in uneasy cohabitation, reflecting the unnaturalness of the world, and the enormity of the powers that created this situation.

The city of Riveria fuses Japanese and Western aesthetics in a schizophrenic mix. The many districts of Babylon have their own architectural styles, revealing the histories of the people who had settled the region—and the corrosive influence of the New Gods. Many places and names of key locations within the world are lifted from real-world places, reinforcing the idea that the city of Babylon is an abnormal place created by the artificial concentration and mingling of separate peoples.

The external appearance of a building brings out what lies inside the heart of the builder. Some of the finest horror creators in the business understood the power of architecture. H. P. Lovecraft’s imagery of cyclopean towers, strange angles and shunned houses linger in the mind long after you close the book. Uzumaki by Junji Ito uses the motif of the spiral to signal a descent into madness, while The Town Without Streets employs malevolent architecture to mark the plunge into horror.

With Babylon I tried to do something similar, evoking horror through architecture. As to how well I succeeded, you can find out here in the IndieGoGo page for Babylon Red.

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