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Retrofuturistic Architecture Takes Center Stage In Daniel Arsham’s Beguiling New Film

The Snarkitecture founder’s film also stars Juliette Lewis and a donkey.

An abandoned research facility and the sci-fi styled house of a mysterious millionaire set the scene for artist Daniel Arsham‘s new film. The release is part three of Arsham’s nine part Future Relic series, telling an elusive story of a post-apocalyptic future, narrated by a young girl and her adult self, who is played by Juliette Lewis.

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Arsham, who was trained as an architect and works in every medium under the sun–including sculpture and photography–spent the last few years making objects of the present look like millenia-old artifacts. And it was while casting cell phones, laptops, and other tech ephemera in geological substances like rock or crystal that inspired the latest installment of Future Relic.

“I was asked questions about the worlds in which these objects would exist,” Arsham told Co.Design on the inspiration for the film. “I thought, I could write that story.”

“If I’m trying to generate what this future looks like, I need to look to the past,” Arsham thought. With this in mind, he sought out retrofuturistic, architecturally dazzling locations to shoot. And that’s how Bell Laboratories’ ominous, sprawling Holmdel Complex in New Jersey ended up as the backdrop of Lewis’s monologue. Her character speaks to a statue of her father, an important scientist who disappeared under suspicious circumstances when she was a child.

Other scenes show her younger counterpart exploring the iconic Sheats-Goldstein Residence, an incredible, futuristic house built by architect John Lautner in 1963. Lautner’s house’s glass walls and geometric designs were so ahead of their time, they could easily feature in a sci-fi film today. These spaces are so stunning to behold that they end up functioning as fully formed characters in the film, telling their own story. And given that Arsham’s script feels a little staid–an amalgam of many dystopian sci-fi tropes that don’t noticeably distinguish themselves–it’s beneficial that the aesthetics are the real draw here.


Arsham stresses using the past to make the future more believable. “The future I’m interested in is pedestrian and everyday,” he told the New York Times. “It’s broken, but there is also a lightness to it.”

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The artist wants his films to feel real, and his use of technology and design follow suit, using objects that wouldn’t stand out on the street today. “I always liked futuristic films where there’s stuff that was around 30 years ago [in the timeline of the film],” he says. “When films overdo the [futuristic elements] they often feel removed from reality.”


In his own life, Arsham is ambivalent about the role of technology in defining our future. He calls climate change “one of the most pressing issues that we face,” and yet admits he “doesn’t have high hopes” for our ability to remedy it. Referencing a line from the movie Interstellar, he says “tech for the sake of tech doesn’t help us. Is [this gadget] beneficial, or is it just another thing?”

As for the Apple Watch? Yes, he’s getting one. Future Relic 3 is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Arsham expects the entire series, which will add up to a feature length film, to be completed by next year.

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About the author

I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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