“Towards the south-west, in the direction of nineteenth-century Banstead, I observed far off, a vast structure. It was much larger than the largest ruins I knew…”

In ‘The Time Machine’ H.G. Wells describes the architecture of the future as being “large”, “vast” and “colossal”. Now although I greatly admire the magnificient, epic post-apocalyptic renderings of massive ruined buildings shown in my previous post, I have to say my real fascination lies with real photographs of real derelict old buildings like this unassuming, chunky little red-brick pumping station situated near Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire on the A513. I’m not entirely sure that the building was a pumping station, perhaps it may have been an electric substation, but whatever it’s function, there is beauty in it’s simple, clean lines. This bold and optimistic building was almost certainly constructed sometime around the 1930s and is a modest example of ‘Art Déco‘ styled architecture.

The photo was taken on a hot summer’s afternoon and later processed on the computer when I got back home to leach out most of the colour and give the image a blurry and grainy effect, basically degrading and aging it. To me, processing the picture in this way adds some more interest—the mind is having to work a harder to figure things out what’s going on because there’s more ambiguity, and ambiguity is a good thing. It allows the subject (the viewer) to form their own interpretation to some extent and, the human imagination is a powerful thing—no amount of epic scale, lavish graphics or computer enhancement is going to match that. Standing outside the building in the warmth of the afternoon sun, I was curious as to what lay behind those narrow, dark windows in the dim coolness…

But I’m rambling—this isn’t a photography tutorial. I do like the qualities of real photographs though and their potential to bring a greater level of realism to The Time Machine musical art than paintings. And, if they were rendered in black and white or sepia and distressed, they could be seen as the photographs the Time Traveller had taken and brought back from the year 802,701 A.D.—that might help us suspend our disbelief of his incredible adventures.

I like art déco too. If you think about it, at some point in the early 20th century, art déco was what we once considered the world of tomorrow would look like. In the novel ‘A Modern Utopia’ (written in 1905) H.G. Wells tells a tale of two English travellers walking on the Swiss Alps that fall into a space-warp and are suddenly whisked off to a utopian world. The ever prescient Wells describes in great detail the clean, minimalist and functional design of the houses in this utopia—his description reads like a definition of art déco design.

So in my mind the architecture of the future is art déco-styled. I’m not alone on this. Others have used the clean, simple lines of art déco to create stunning futuristic visuals, for instance in Fritz Lang’s famous sci-fi film, ‘Metropolis’ made in 1927. The colossal scale of this old movie brings us full circle back to epic architecture and the work of architect and pencil sketch artist, Hugh Ferriss. You can find examples of Ferriss’ renderings of colossal imaginary buildings in his book ‘The Metropolis of Tomorrow’ published in 1929. Ferriss also influenced popular culture, for example, Gotham City the setting for ‘Batman’.

Ferriss’ futuristic renderings of the architecture of tomorrow marry perfectly with Wells’s vision of the future. Although his work has been used extensively for visuals in comics and the movies, I still think there’s scope to come up with a new creative angle by taking that little pumping station and scaling it up in stature, whilst retaining the pastoral quality of the setting, lighting and atmosphere, and transforming it into an epic, photo-real version of a Hugh Ferriss pencil sketch. Now all that’s needed is an incredibly talented artist who’s up to the challenge of bringing yesterday’s dream of tomorrow to life…

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