August 8, 2023

Designing Dystopia: The Subtle Power of Furniture in Creating the Blade Runner Universe

Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design Category: magazine

Designing Dystopia: The Subtle Power of Furniture in Creating the Blade Runner Universe

Since the inception of film, this medium has offered thrilling opportunities in portraying fantastical elements in a photorealistic manner. A pivotal moment in this evolution was Fritz Lang's expressionist film, "Metropolis," released in 1927. Not only did it become the highest-budgeted film of its time, but it also marked the first extensive use of worldbuilding in cinema. From that point on, worldbuilding became a star in the realm of science fiction, taking its place as an equally crucial element alongside characters and plot.

The art of worldbuilding has since flourished, with production designers unleashing their imaginations to depict futuristic worlds with groundbreaking concepts. Among the various tools at their disposal, furniture plays a significant role in shaping the atmosphere of these future realms. In this article, through the lens of Blade Runner and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, we delve into the topic of depicting the future in film and explore how designer furniture found its way into the sci-fi genre, playing a pivotal role in creating immersive and believable environments.

One of the most iconic shots in sci fi: skyline of future Los Angeles © Warner Bros.

Undoubtedly, when it comes to depicting the future in film, Ridley Scott's 1982 film, "Blade Runner," stands as one of the most renowned and influential works of its kind. Despite initially underperforming at the box office, the film's captivating worldbuilding and atmospheric setting, coupled with its thought-provoking themes, gave it cult status over time. Audiences worldwide were enthralled by the film's portrayal of a post-industrial, decaying Los Angeles set in an advanced era of late capitalism.

Drawing inspiration from the visuals of "Metropolis", while infusing them with the dynamic cityscape of Hong Kong, Scott's vision of the future Los Angeles diverged from the conventional portrayal of an ultra-modern metropolis. Instead, it masterfully depicted a post-modern city marred by decay and remnants of its past glory. This unique approach to worldbuilding set "Blade Runner" apart, leaving a lasting impact on the science fiction genre and becoming a quintessential reference point for futuristic settings in cinema.

The film's interiors play a crucial role in creating the distinctive and immersive atmosphere of its world. The production design, led by Lawrence G. Paull and art direction by David L. Snyder, created visually stunning and memorable interiors that reflected the film's noir and cyberpunk aesthetics. The set design was influenced by various architectural styles, incorporating elements of Art Deco, Brutalism, and Asian-inspired designs to portray a rich and diverse futuristic urban landscape.

"Blade Runner" creates a visual distinction between the living spaces of the wealthy elite and the marginalized population, effectively conveying the film's central themes of inequality and social decay. The interiors inhabited by the impoverished are portrayed as cluttered, reflecting the harsh realities of their lives. In stark contrast, the living spaces of the rich are depicted as vast, minimalist, and impeccably clean, emphasizing their privilege and power. A key contribution to the film's unique aesthetic is the blending of futuristic industrial elements with antiquated classical designs, resulting in an eclectic look. This creative amalgamation of styles adds depth to the film's world, showcasing a future where remnants of the past coexist with cutting-edge technology.

Argyle Chair © Powerhouse Collection

In both "Blade Runner" and its sequel, furniture plays a significant role in enhancing the films' overall aesthetic. Among these notable pieces is the Argyle Chair, originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1897. Unlike many designs of that era which aimed for mass production, Mackintosh insisted on his creations being handcrafted and produced in limited quantities. The chair's most striking feature is its remarkably high backrest, which later became a distinctive hallmark of Mackintosh's seating furniture and first appeared in this specific model. In the film, the Argyle Chair is showcased as part of the protagonist Rick Deckard's apartment, contributing to the eclectic aesthetic of the space and establishing a visual connection with classic noir films by which the film was inspired.

Ribbon Chair © Artifort

The Ribbon Armchair, an iconic piece included in the prestigious MoMA furniture collection, was designed by Pierre Paulin in 1966 and continues to be produced by Artifort to this day. Its defining feature lies in the elegant and flowing loops of its shape, made possible by the technological advancements of the 1960s, particularly the availability of inexpensive synthetic foams. Known for its memorable advertisement campaign, showcasing the Armchair on a runway, with a soaring jet flying above it, the Ribbon armchair is an iconic example of the 60s futuristic design.

Luv's office in the Wallace building © Warner Bros.

In the 2017 sequel "Blade Runner 2049", the Ribbon chair makes an appearance in the office of the main villain's henchman, the replicant Luv. The film's art direction and set design intentionally portray Luv's office, along with the rest of the villain's building, as utilitarian and sparsely furnished. The intentional use of empty spaces in this opulent setting highlights the immense wealth and power of the villain, who can afford to have unused space in a city that is overpopulated and where most people struggle to find enough room. The presence of the Ribbon chair adds a layer of retro-futurism, for which the Blade Runner films are known.

E63 © Tacchini

The E63 table lamp, designed by Umberto Riva and produced by Tacchini, is another representation of 60s futurism. With its precise design and simple lines, it has timeless elegance. The lamp's broad surfaces and solid form seemingly encapsulate and protect the light source like steel armour, which adds to its striking visual appeal.

LAPD's office © Warner Bros.

In the dystopian setting of "Blade Runner 2049," the inclusion of the E63 table lamp in the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) police station adds to the overall ambiance of the film. The lamp's stark, cold appearance complements the portrayal of a futuristic police force in the film—an apparatus that needs to precise and strict to keep order in a crumbling city.

Blade Runner continues to hold its position as one of the most impactful films in history, particularly in shaping the visual representation of the future. Its influence has extended to a multitude of creators across various media worldwide, with contemporary works such as Altered Carbon, Akira, Judge Dread and Cyberpunk 2077 all drawing substantial inspiration from Blade Runner's distinct style. The sequel, Blade Runner 2049, successfully upheld the legacy of the original while skilfully amalgamating traditional and modern film techniques, resulting in an atmosphere that is equally captivating and immersive as the original. While often overlooked in discussions about Blade Runner, this article has shown that furniture plays a subtle but highly significant role in crafting the film's immersive dystopian world, and contributing to the portrayal of its key characters.

August 8, 2023 Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design Category: magazine
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