Imagine a world where Samsung built and owned your residential building, where “patriotism” defined your allegiance to your preferred cell phone manufacturer, not your country, and bringing a corporate rival’s product into your apartment could be grounds for eviction. This is one of the bleak urban environments depicted in self-described speculative architect Liam Young’s series “New City,” a collection of futuristic animations inspired by various scenarios of technopocalypse.
For the project, Young’s London-based urbanism think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today has developed three imaginary, dystopian cities where current trends are satirized and exaggerated to provoke discussion about the impact technology has on our world. These cities are illustrated in panoramic, 4K resolution digital animations, accompanied by short stories written by notable science fiction writers like Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan, and Tim Maughan.
Young begins the design process for each panorama with a large database of images culled from research trips to cites all over the world and from photos found online. He starts with a real city–like Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro–then begins to stitch in other photos, exaggerating the height and density of urban features like skyscrapers, manipulating the look of the city by removing windows or adding more lights. Designed as large-scale projections, the images are highly detailed. Look closely into a window of the Samsung city, and you can see the arguing couple featured in Tim Maughan’s accompanying short story “Keeping Up Appearances.”
“I tell stories about imaginary places and the implications of technology in the city,” Young tells Co.Design. “Cities are where the vast majorities of us are going to play out our lives,” he explains, and “the forces that are increasingly shaping our cities are increasingly not physical–they’re networks, they’re Wi-Fi.”
“The Samsung city is based on this strange condition in Korea where Samsung, the tech company, had moved into property development,” Young explains, describing a series of Samsung-branded tower blocks that got him thinking about the fact that Apple has revenues comparable to the GDPs of some nations. “What would happen if we started to form brand and nationalistic allegiances to tech companies in the same way we do in countries?”
“Edgelands,” by contrast, began with a trip around the U.S. tracing the fiber-optic cable network that supports the Internet. Though the aesthetic of the panorama was based on the the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the inspiration came from the city of Prineville, Oregon, where companies like Facebook and Apple have data centers. The Edgelands, he says, is “a strange new city where no one lives, purely populated by machines. But in another way, every person who uses the Internet on the planet has a home there. My Facebook self, my emails and photos live there.”
“The City in the Sea,” his last animation so far (more are in the works), plays off the idea of outsourced labor in an ever-connected world. Inspired by present-day cities in China and India, Young envisions a multicultural floating city in Asia where Western companies export their labor. “It literally exists in international waters,” Young says.
These dystopian futures are exaggerated, but close enough to reality to be uncomfortable. The panoramic urban illustrations, brought to life with the hisses, clanks, flashes, and yells of city life. Not much action occurs in the four-minute-long animations, but the urban landscape in each scene changes just enough to feel like you’re looking in the midst of a live, bustling city. Inspired by contemporary micro-trends, Young follows current attitudes toward technology to their logical endpoint, showing us the end of the road we’re on. This is the future, up close and disturbing, and immersing people in it visually is the easiest way to get people debating it–and maybe changing things for the better.
See all the videos and read their accompanying science fiction stories here.