‘Storytelling is a critical act of architecture’: Liam Young

Australian educators are working in schools of architecture all over the world. Here, SCI-Arc Fiction and Entertainment coordinator Liam Young ponders, in widening the scope of architecture beyond buildings alone, could architects design the next Hollywood blockbuster or video game landscape?

How we perceive the cultures and spaces around us is largely determined by mediums of fiction and entertainment. These extraordinary shared languages are the vehicles through which we exchange ideas and engage with our environment. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of media in the production of culture. In film, video games and literature, we have always imagined alternative worlds as a means to understand our own world in new ways.

Architects once speculated on the impacts of industrialization and then mass production. Now, the forces that shape our cities and spaces fall, to a large extent, outside the remit of what we traditionally understand as architectural practice. In the context of network technologies, autonomous infrastructure, immersive and pervasive media and a collapsing climate, it is urgent that we widen the scope of architecture beyond buildings alone. Too often, architecture programs are training students for a profession that no longer exists or that is, at best, struggling to remain relevant. Why shouldn’t architects design the next Hollywood blockbuster or virtual reality environment, video game landscape, marketing campaign or network platform? Ideology rarely evolves at the same pace as technology but, through these practices, we can imagine and speculate on the implications and consequences of these systems. In this way, storytelling is a critical act of architecture.

I run the postgraduate Master of Science in Fiction and Entertainment at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles. In this one-year degree, students work with world-renowned professionals in the worlds of film, fiction, animation, games and documentary making to build new forms of architectural practice. We deploy techniques from these popular media to visualize new worlds and to prototype the architectural and urban possibilities of emerging technologies. Across the degree, we don’t just design singular buildings but, rather, we animate scenarios, narrate stories and visualize speculative worlds in which we can project new cultural trends and environmental, political and economic forces. We travel out on location shoots to document existing phenomena, exaggerate present trends and project possible alternatives. Project work slips between the real and the imagined, between the documentary and the visionary, where speculative fictions become a way of exploring a world that the everyday struggles to grasp. Deeply embedded in the entertainment industry of Los Angeles, this program is a place where we tell new kinds of stories about the alternative realities of the twenty-first century.

In Fiction and Entertainment, we develop the role of the architect as visual storyteller, world builder, director. The work of the program is designed to echo far beyond the traditional reach of the architecture discipline and to broadcast to a wider public critical stories about the developments that are changing our world. In the tradition of the visionary project, the program is simultaneously an extraordinary and wondrous image of tomorrow and a provocative examination of the pertinent questions we are facing today.

Australian educators are working in schools of architecture all over the world. Here, six educators respond to questions about the state of architectural education and its future trajectories, a nd the commonalities and differences with architectural education in Australia.

Liam Young is a speculative architect and director; coordinator of SCI-Arc Fiction and Entertainment in Los Angeles; and founder of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today and Unknown Fields.



Published online: 28 Apr 2020
Words: Liam Young


Architecture Australia, January 2020

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