Studying Architecture Aids in World Building
Art School, Mar 19, 2022
Painting by Kristen
When crafting an original series, the setting is just as important as the characters. This is the place where their lives are shaped, and they interact with one another. Cities, for example, are much more than a jumble of rectangular boxes. They reflect the aesthetics and culture of the time period in which they were built, providing a window into the past and a deeper understanding of its people.
There is no greater example than Batman's Gotham, with its towering old world buildings flanked by gargoyle statues overseeing the crime and grim of the city. The Gothic Revival cathedrals ironically create a hellish skyline and nearby Art Deco skyscrapers house the most corrupt corporations. A landscape of harsh industrial areas and rusting factories signal an erosion of values and the hemorrhaging middle class. Gotham is a metaphor for industrial might, with American prowess encouraging greed and corruption, allowing only a select few to enjoy the city's wealth.
Batman concept art by Nigel Phelps for Burton's film (1989)
The storyline of 1992's Destroyer
addresses the architecture directly, following a villain who sees himself as a vigilante for art. His mission is to resurrect Gotham, "an older city, of improbable curves and angles-- a city forgotten, that has been overshadowed and buried, suffocated by the towers of the 20th century." He proceeds to bomb these new buildings, revealing the Neo-gothic architecture of the city's original designer, Cyrus Pinkney.
The late 90s anime Cowboy Bebop
also utilizes architecture for storytelling. Known for blending various cultures into its 26 episode run, each world explored showcases unique cultures. Whether it's in Tijuana saloons, a Las Vegas-inspired casino satellite, or Calisto's Post-Soviet frozen wasteland, Bebop's settings tell a story. The usage of Victorian cathedrals
as a symbol of Spike confronting his past is a common motif throughout the series. These eerily beautiful ruins of a bygone era aptly symbolize this allusion to an abandoned way of life.
"Ballad of Fallen Angels," Cowboy Bebop (1995)
Architecture also helps Faye recall flashbacks by jogging her mind. While rewatching her film, the viewer is shown the Merlion statue, Singapore's most iconic landmark. Similarly, Ed uses these clues to pinpoint Faye's exact location. These details help to flesh out Faye's backstory and give a clearer idea of where she came from.
Hunter X Hunter
creates an exotic environment for its Japanese audience drawing inspiration from Western worlds throughout the series. Gon, the main character, is from Whale Island, a rural and faraway place. Fittingly, he lives in a cute Tudor style home with Aunt Mito and Grandma. This British design, which arose in the late fifteenth century, is characterized by its cream facade, bay windows, and exposed wooden frame. The romantic image of a countryside is embodied by charming, old world Tudors, which are frequently seen in fairy tales and, recently, in the cottagecore aesthetic.
"Ging x And x Gon," Hunter x Hunter (2011)
The city York New, as the name suggests, is directly inspired by New York City featuring Renaissance Revival, Victorian
and Art Deco designs. The Chimera Ant Arc covers an array of regions, and often depicts Victorian styles
. The Hunter hideout, where Kite's body is held, is inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th-century Bavarian palace. The city where Gon and Killua train before returning to the NGL also feels European, and the town featured Phantom Rouge
bears a resemblence to Brasov, Romania.
Choosing the right settings communicates the story just as much as the plot does, if not more. Consider who your audience is and whether you want the environment to feel relatable or exotic. And when all else fails, take a trip! Exploring new cultures or revisiting favorite places is a guaranteed source of inspiration.