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Utopias, Dystopias and the architecture of J. G. Ballard (B.Arch Thesis)
Author: Brenda Ciríaco / Advisor: Ana Rolim
Catholic University of Pernambuco (UNICAP), Brazil

Presented as a full paper in ARCHDESIGN '18 / V. International Architectural Design Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia

This B.Arch thesis explores the intersection of modern architecture and literature through J. G. Ballard’s novels: High-Rise (1975), Crash (1973), and Concrete Island (1974). It delves into the historical significance of literature as a critical tool for understanding urban and social issues, particularly in the post-war era, which gave rise to both utopian visions and dystopian realities.

Focusing on Ballard's depiction of dystopian scenarios within the context of modern architecture, the study proposes an architectural representation of the fictional skyscraper featured in High-Rise. By revisiting Ballard's narrative, it aims to enrich the architectural discourse beyond pragmatic concerns, fostering new perspectives on form, space, and societal implications.

High-Rise serves as a poignant example of Ballard's exploration of the dystopian consequences of modern architectural ideologies. The novel portrays a vertical city plagued by social and cultural conflicts, reflecting the failures of utopian aspirations. Ballard's narrative resonates with real-world instances of brutalist architecture, highlighting the disconnect between architectural ideals and lived experiences.

Through a visual representation of Ballard's narrative, the thesis seeks to spark discussions on the legacy of modern architecture and its impact on contemporary society.

Modern utopian social housing buildings from 1950s: gradual failure turned these structures into dystopian scenarios, leading, in many cases, to demolition.

Brutalist social housing complexes in the United Kingdom: mostly were either demolished or imploded.

The historical context in the Twentieth-Century and examples of utopian literature produced.

The literary works by J.G. Ballard focused on this study, particularly the novel High-Rise.

Overall diagram: the contrast between townhouses and the new residential towers, just like Ballard's High-Rise.

Conceptual section of a modern high-rise and its impact on the existing cityscape

Interpreting the idea of the "cliff" façade based on J.G. Ballard's description of the High-Rise.

Two of the recurrent elements in buildings of the period: brise-soleil and the concept of "streets in the sky" created by British architects, Alison and Peter Smithson.

The brutalist appearance and desolate ambiance of the skyscraper suggested by Ballard: a confined planet of glass and concrete.

Floor plans reflect Ballard's high density High-Rise and recurrent in many buildings in the United Kingdom and abroad in 1950s and 1960s.

Building section: 1K inhabitants occupy 37 residential floors plus 3 levels of common spaces.

A duplex apartment: in Ballard's High-Rise, the higher his characters lived, the richer they were and, as a consequence, their apartments were larger.

Building section: voids and protrusions from the cliff façade scheme generate staggered volumes in the interior

According to Ballard, the vertical stacking of terraces looked like bird cages: the building façade reflects the literary narrative

Ballard narrates that the spectacular views of the High-Rise causes ambivalent feelings on the main character, the environment had not been designed for the man, but for his absence.

The incidents in the High-Rise illustrated the profound antagonisms increasingly present in the building: depiction of some these events.

Ballard's High-Rise was a sort of parallel reality expressing the future, and London belonged to a different world, in time and space: the clash between dwellers was expressed in the program, with common spaces and smaller apartments on lower levels.

Common spaces were designed for those who could not afford the larger flats, located on the upper floors.

The High-Rise brutalist balconies are like cages with wild creatures inside, says Ballard: here's detail in a larger flat with an open balcony.

Spatial representation of the penthouse apartment which belonged to the architect that designed the High-Rise, Anthony Royal.

Ballard states that these giant buildings were the first to colonize the sky: façade detail

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