Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Architecture: Blends Through The Years

Here's something about world building that I've never really consciously considered until reading this lovely TalkToYoUniverse blog: The architecture of a city changes over time, yes? But it doesn't just change whole-sale. No one takes out an eraser and says: 'Well, we're a bit over Gothic architecture, let's just pull it all down and start again'.

No, they just build new houses in the newer styles. Thus you can get a crumbling old Roman-era fort surrounded by, I dunno, wattle-and-daub houses with a Gothic-era church sat in the middle of the whole town*.

Sometimes they renovate older buildings, perhaps leaving the gargoyles, but replacing the Gothic windows with ultramodern tilted, computerised windows that adjust the darkness gradient depending on how much light should be let in (an extreme example, but I'm hyped up on sugar so there you go). More often they'll renovate the interior, or part of the building (especially if it's been damaged by fire or the elements) than the whole thing. Buildings in the midst of renovations would be interesting to see in Fantasy as would buildings that are very old and aren't up to code and might dump the inhabitants through three floors into the basement if they're not careful.

Sometimes they'll just build on top of / over the older construction. The blog post mentions a Roman construction underneath a small, ancient church, that can be found inside a bigger, more modern church! Sometimes it won't be that obvious. Sometimes it's only when the owners decide to open up that painted shut door, delve into the basement, renovate the property, that they locate old rooms and basements and sub-basements from where the building had been build on other buildings or rooms pasted over.

So yes, have a think about the next time you're designing a place, whether in Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Contemporary fiction, and think about just how likely it is that all the buildings in that village, town, or city look the same!

*This is based on examples to make you think. I haven't researched the architecture here and cannot vouch for the authenticity of these buildings sitting side by side! These are really, really, really not examples of my researcher credibility...


  1. Thought-provoking take on architecture. Knowing Europe, I can quite believe those kinds of side-by-side juxtapositions regardless of whether or not those specific examples are authentic.

    I love buildings and often include references to them in my writing. I usually put some thought into the historical context, for example some scenes describe the weight of antiquity in a palace over 8000 years old.

    So, I do give thought to the age of a building, but putting in those kinds of contrasts is a neat idea. I do have a brief and superficial example of that in a story recently up for review on CC.

    Certainly something to bear in mind if you ever want to add depth to a scenic description.

  2. Of course, the trick is that you want to include such a contrast to develop history without doing it TOO much. I think that's why the best examples of architectural contrast are in Contemporary fiction. When you describe a Gothic church surrounded by New York skyscrapers, you don't really need to put much effort in the contrast because people already have a base image of New York. Or an old haunted manor house surrounded by cookie-cutter suburbia, you can just describe the odd one out.

    With us Speculative Fiction writers we need to give them an idea of each point of contrast and we can't even generally resort to terms like 'gothic' or 'georgian' to quickly get our point across. Ahh, the pain of SF writers ... so much to describe, so few words to describe it in.