After the last tutorial the project idea shifted away from simply responsive architecture towards the exploration of the concept of psychological space within a virtual reality.
Precedents for this concept can be found in a number of films:
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): The Tesseract
Cooper finds himself in the tesseract after travelling within the black hole; as such we do not know where the space is on the spectrum from physical to virtual. The space incorporates time – it is Murphy’s bedroom represented at all moments in time simultaneously, and through this Cooper manages to communicate with the Cooper and Murphy of the past. However, the space could also be read as a representation of Cooper’s psyche. The tesseract contains the moment that haunts Cooper – his decision to leave Murphy and the rest of his family – seemingly replicated an infinite number of times. At the point he enters the tesseract, he believes his mission has failed, meaning he has made the wrong decision and left his family for nothing. This makes the space a nightmare-scape where he must relive his worst moments – although he tries to communicate with his past self, he is unable to stop that self from leaving for the space mission.
As he realises he can pass the data needed to save Earth through the tesseract to Murphy, the nightmare is resolved: the mission has succeeded after all. One theme of the film is love transcending time and space, and it is because of Cooper’s love for Murphy that the memory of leaving her bedroom is the lynchpin on which his psychological state and all his feelings about the mission are hinged. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the tesseract takes the form it does.
Inception (Christopher Nolan): Limbo
In contrast to the tesseract, in Inception we are explicitly told that limbo is ‘raw infinite subconscious’ – ‘unconstructed dream space’. Those who enter this world can create anything they can imagine, and indeed Cobb and Mal, who spend 50 years in limbo, create an entire city for themselves, which includes their previous homes recreated from memory. The danger of limbo is that anyone who spends too long there will forget that it is not reality (due to the immense time distortion), and will not be able to escape. As this is the realm of the deep subconscious, the physical body is not affected by the space – although the dream is set to a timer, one’s mind could be lost by the time the timer runs out in the real world.
Ariadne: But how long could we be stuck there?
Yusuf: Decades! It could be infinite! I don’t know!
Eames: Great. Thank you. So, now we’re in Fischer’s mind battling his own private army. And if we get killed, we’ll all be lost in Limbo until our brains turn into scrambled egg.
Mal, of course, does lose her grip on reality in limbo, which carries over to the real world when she wakes up. This is due to Cobb’s inception of the idea that her world is not real – triggered by setting her totem spinning in the very deepest recess of her subconscious, a safe in the dollhouse of her childhood home. Added to the danger of simply being lost in limbo, there is also the possibility that the actions taken there are able to destroy the mental stability of the person in the real world.
I found the visual elements of the cityscape that Cobb and Mal built in limbo to be an interesting decision – what does it say about their subconscious that when they have the power for limitless construction, they create a rather brutal, cold and imposing city?
The films of David Lynch
It could be said that all of Lynch’s films use architecture as a reflection of the characters’ psyches or mental states. In the dream interpretation of Mulholland Drive, the first three quarters of the film is fantasy space – emphasising the cheerful nature of Betty’s character in Diane’s fantasy or the dark goings-on in the film industry. The spaces turn darker when reality begins to slip through, such as in the scene where Betty and Rita go to Diane’s apartment and find her corpse on the bed.
In Eraserhead, the architecture similarly seems to reflect the unease within the main character’s mind. From the concrete structures that dwarf Henry to the room where he lives with his wife and ‘child’ and the stage within the radiator, the architecture in the film is also part of the psychological experience for the viewer – we begin to feel as uncomfortable as Henry, building upon other methods of achieving viewer unease like the unpleasant sound effects.
Blue Velvet is another film where the space leads to psychological experience, both for characters and viewers. As Slavoj Žižek describes;
‘Dorothy’s apartment is one of those hellish places which abound in David Lynch’s films. A place where all moral or social inhibitions seem to be suspended, where everything is possible… the deepest level of our desires that we are not even ready to admit to ourselves, we are confronted with them in such places.’ (From ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’).
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
It is also possible to apply psychology to film spaces through the application of psychoanalytic theory, as Slavoj Žižek demonstrates in his reading of the three levels of the house in Psycho.
‘Events took place at three levels, first floor, ground floor, basement. It is as if they reproduce the three levels of human subjectivity. Ground floor is ego. Norman behaves there as a normal son, whatever remains of his normal ego taking over. Up there, it’s the superego. Maternal superego, because the dead mother is basically a figure of superego. And down in the cellar, its the id, the reservoir of these illicit drives. So we can then interpret the event in the middle of the film, when Norman carries the mother … from the first floor to the cellar. It’s as if he is transposing her in his own mind as the psychic agency from superego to id.’
Although the spaces themselves do not have any surreal quality, this interpretation gives them a new layer of psychological meaning.