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paperspace 纸空间 N° 3: the FICTION issue

PAPERSPACE Editorial Team Jax Tan Sandra Lee Wynne Chen Ang Jia Cong Tan Qian Rou ___________ Issue N째3 // March - April Printed by Xerox Press Pte Ltd ___________ The Architecture Society National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment 4 Architecture Drive, Singapore 117566 Website:

___________ Paperspace is a bi-monthly publication by The Architecture Society.



___________ GAME/SPACE by tan qian rou 5 ___________ SITUATING NARRATIVE IN DYSTOPIA by sandra lee 14 ___________ CITIES IMAGINED 21 ___________ THE PLANE AND THE BEJEWELLED CORSET by jax tan 24 ___________ SOUND. by sandra lee & jax tan 26






GAME/SPACE tan qian rou

The thing about video games is that hardly anyone gives serious consideration to them as an art form. In magazines and newspapers, the names of games appear un-italicised and without quotes. To the masses, a video game is like a branded piece of clothing; a kind of commercial product designed to appeal to a certain demographic. Certainly not a work of art

as a kind of metaphorical homunculus, the player) creates opportunity

But the maligned video game has a truly unique means of storytelling. In no other art form is the audience member also the main character. Player interaction and immersive experience are paramount, turning human perspective into a valuable tool by which narrative may be crafted. A video game is so immersive that player agency is necessary for it to function at all. This is most obvious in first-person role-playing games, where the player experiences the entire game world and storyline as the main character does. The world inhabited by the main character (and

If architects are obsessed with the idea of documentation, or the exploration of space, it follows that that video games present us with a unique opportunity: dressed in the trappings of a narrative, much as real life is, the player explores a series of spaces in a way that is impossible in any other art form. It is a suitable coincidence, perhaps, that the noun ‘player’ is also a synonym for actor.

or danger, generating emotions—of awe, fear, bleak desolation. We, riding in the heads and controlling the arms and legs of these characters, are equally struck by the view from the top of the steeple, or the sad majesty of a crumbling temple.

As a tribute, then, to this surprisingly architectur al art form, this article will consider several ways in which architecture and space can be used to further a narrative.


The medical pavillion level in Bioshock. ORCHESTED SPATIAL DRAMA

furiously pounding on a door) and change in space to present a deeply emotional and gripping gameplay experience. Bioshock carries an air of theatricality; the color scheme is flamboyant and bright; tampered down ominously during the more tense sequences. Rapture is a beautiful city, drawing on Art Deco aesthetics, high ceilings and dramatically lit halls: an architecture that once represented the dreams and ambitions of a people.

The light fixture blinks urgently, as you navigate the hall, throwing a shadow across the wall- what was that? You move to investigate; whatever was there is now gone. You pause, duck under some rubble and head up the stairs. Just before you emerge into the brightly lit lobby, a figure darts across your vision. Suddenly you feel exposed. You cross the room to flatten yourself against a pillar; your unwanted company dragging his heels across the floor. Closer, and closer…

Using a linear storyline, Bioshock paces itself well, using corridors, events and open spaces to arrange exploration, combat and revelation in a way that leaves the player always tense while allowing them to come off the adrenaline high from the last encounter… only to stumble into a new one. That the highly orchestrated nature of Bioshock fits in well with its discussion about player autonomy and the theatrical experience of the game narrative is no accident, and this holistic approach makes it arguably one of the best games of the decade.

It’s practically a guarantee that this sequence exists in some shape or form in every horror or action thriller game that’s an empty cradle, a man furiously pounding on ever been made. The use of spatial juxtaposition, carefully spaced out and imbued with a narrative context, can invoke powerful emotion. Games like Bioshock combine atmosphere, a medley of timed events (the shadow of a woman huddled over an empty cradle, a man


and emphasize Garrett’s intrusion upon Shalebridge’s darkness. Each footstep you take furthers the dialogue between Garrett and the Cradle, and reveals an internalized struggle of Garrett’s dependence on shadow. An immediate task is to replace the fuse in the electric system. As the generator whirs to life, unceremoniously his/your shadow splays across the wall. The light exposes all, including whatever monstrosities pace the depths of this horror house. Including you. Shalebridge has committed the most horrific crime against you: it has turned the shadows into your foe.

SPACE & HUMAN INHABITATION Thief: Deadly Shadows manipulates its spaces in a different fashion to achieve a different effect. The hallmark of the franchise lies in stealth; the player is forced to operate mainly from the shadows, thanks to protagonist Garrett’s pathetic health bar. This established premise allows the sequence of the Shalebridge Cradle, once an asylum and orphanage (simultaneously), to instill such fear. Shalebridge is quintessential horror game architecture: constricting corridors where your footsteps sound, large rooms with too many corners and too many opportunities for death. You move cautiously through darkness so thick you can scarcely get your bearings straight. Nothing leaps out. There is only you. Nothing attacks and you’re practically begging for it; in the absence of conflict, the full intensity of the space- echoes and darkness and deafening silenceweighs down on the player, oppressive and intimidating in its emptiness.

Truly paralyzing terror stems from something primal within us: the fear that we may be detected by a presence unknown and more deadly than ourselves, the subversion of elements of safety- in this case light- is also used to create an unbalanced, horrific mental state. Thief manages it without the need for decaying corpses and bloody walls, through a carefully controlled space and the device of light and shadow. The build-up of terror through space strengthens the narrative of Shalebridge as a sentient entity, an architecture that overpowers, consumes and assimilates its inhabitants, defying and subverting its role of shelter and harbor.

Thief represents a gallery of games that characterize architectural space to further or strengthen the narrative, usually via atmosphere. In Shalebridge a lack of any visible foe serves to unnerve the player The darkness of Shalebridge Cradle.


that no two jumps are identical, no two obstacles can be predicted the same way.

PROPRIOCEPTION Of course,Thief would not be able to achieve tension and drama without proprioception: an awareness of the location of our bodies in space. In Thief you constantly see Garrett’s limbs as you climb, crouch, draw back a bow, jump, cementing the playeras-protagonist’s self-actualization in the gamespace. He is certainly one of the two characters in recent years to possess a lower half, the other being Faith of Mirror’s Edge.

Through all the action you are constantly aware of the existence of Faith’s (and by extension, your) presence. Faith’s arms swing as she runs, her feet come into view when she prepares for a landing. You see her fingers as she climbs. She breathes hard and groans as she hefts herself up. Heck, she even examines her nails when idle. Yet, true proprioception comes not from these visual reminders, but from playing the game: from assuming Faith’s bodily mechanics as your own. Success in this game, both narratively and mechanically, is defined by how totally the player can immerse themself spatially in Faith’s body. How fast can she run? Will she make that jump, given her momentum? Is this angle enough to hit that ledge? It’s only through fall after fall, death after death, that you learn how to play the game, because until you learn to move in Faith’s body, until you learn to be Faith, you will never conquer this sky-lit, massive skyscraper world.

Faith acts as foil to the world of Mirror’s Edge. Narratively she is a reaction against an Orwellian society and the cruel, utilitarian architecture it breeds: a rebel against the system of control and technology, using her athletic capabilities to smuggle printed information across physical space. Mechanically, Faith is the vehicle via which the player experiences the spatial drama of Mirror’s Edge. Every space is composed such that different routes are possible. Velocity, intention, chain of motion and even time are all permutated, such An obstacle in Mirror’s Edge.


Batman looking down on Gotham. into a forest. This occurs in many first person shooters: Crysis and Halo also employ the same technique. This helps inform a narrative of the colonial protagonist, traversing the landscape in the name of conquest, where the world is yours to take and you’re the man with the machine gun.

SPATIAL PROPORTION The discussion thus far has looked mostly at games which occur within a limited space, affording designers control over the theatricality of the space; how then, can pace and speed in a more open-world setting be timed to create a narratively suitable mood? This is where spatial proportion comes in, as in Far Cry 2. Far Cry 2 is remembered as being highly irritating due to its lack of a quick travel function. Imagine trekking across the entirety of the map to get from one quest to another. Realistically, that journey would require at least a couple of days, and Far Cry depicts it as such: you’ll be thrown from day into night halfway through your travel. Yet in reality, it takes you perhaps 15 (painful) minutes.

Other games such as the Arkham franchise use exaggerated proportions to a different end. One of the key gameplay features of Arkham is Batman’s use of vertical advantage over enemies to remain unseen. In many of the interior levels he crouches on gargoyles overlooking the combat zone, swooping from perch to perch and descending on unfortunate thugs. Realistically, these spaces are least 1.5 time their actual maximum height; yet the combination of camera angles, the established image of Batman as a omnipresent figure in the shadows and general dramatic style mean that this is never immediately noticeable (if at all). In doing so, Arkham creates a suitable atmosphere of control, which gives direction to the game both in narrative and gameplay.

An exaggerated sense of time is not uncommon in any game, but it is the complimentarily exaggerated spatial proportion of a game that creates realism. The landscape in Far Cry seems vast, yet in ten minutes you stumble from a savannah


SPACES BEYOND INTERACTION Another aspect of the game world which is more noticable is the unplayable spaces, the ‘window dressing’. These are most obvious in open-world and sandbox games such as Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row. In games such as Bioshock where there is certainly a lot more world that you can see outside of what you can play, often players feel confined to a small space, so focused is the design on internal space. Another example, Far Cry 2, frequently disrupts that feeling of openness with how quickly the landscape changes during travel (missions don’t subtract from that openness as they tend to occur within the confines of a focused area). One recent game that does well in creating a sense of continuity between playable space and unplayable space is Dishonored. You play as Corvo, a bodyguard turned refugee turned assassin, hunting those who have framed you for the murder of your charge, the Empress of Dunwall. Corvo can be played either as a stealth character or head-on killing machine. Either way, the game sees you traipsing across the city of Dunwall. And although each mission is confined to a district, with segments of the mission further restricted to a certain indoor or outdoor area- typical of many games- there is always a feeling that Dunwall is so much


more than whatever sewer or tenement you are navigating. Whether it is the constant wail of sirens, the tall buildings invading the skyline as far as the eye can see or the architectural elements that carry through districts, Dunwall is always there. The narrative of Dishonored carries the theme of karma: revenge against those who have committed traitorous crimes. Corvo’s subtlety and kill count translate into the number of weepers (a more scientific variant of the zombie) and guard patrols. The less destruction you inflict, the less obstacles are put in your path. Subsequently, the landscape of areas you may revisit in more than one mission changes to reflect that. This paints Dunwall as a city, an overall space interacting with its inhabitants, growing outside of the player’s immediate presence. Consequently, the player subconsciously acknowledges currently uninhabited spaces as being connected to their actions and inhabited space; the confinement of player and character to a space is also taken not as a mechanical limitation, but as the narrative element of quarantine and being hunted. Unlike Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry, where you impose your violent will on the city, the interaction between Corvo and Dunwall in Dishonored fits in with a narrative of cutthroat politics and consequence of different actions.


the narrative. And on the flipside, as in real life, the play area in certain games may be inhabitable without being architecture.

VIDEO GAMES AND ARCHITECTURE The less successful game uses architecture as mere window dressing, something to pretty up what is otherwise a vanilla series of corridors and openings. A good game takes advantage of the ability to create interactive spatial experience to tell a story and create enjoyable gameplay. The examples given are only several in the everexpanding library of games. Game designers are beginning to understand and explore the possibilities of player-environment interaction, leading to games that are more spatially layered. Like architecture, certain games are a beautiful arrangement of spaces, where the orchestration of the space and other elements may be interpreted both architecturally and literarily form a discourse which informs

The study of how architecture, space, and inhabitation are linked is fundamental to game design. To be truly immersive, the game must invite the player into its environs. The person holding the controller must feel as if they are in that city, holding that weapon, looking for that item. To look at the fictional architecture of video games, therefore, is not merely an exercise in analyzing the creation of space. It also deals with how a message, a statement, or a story may emerge through experiencing both gamespace and literal space, and how game designers make use of the player’s real life experiences and awareness of space to craft their fictional landscapes.




In 1997, a young Japanese architect left New York City to return to Japan. He did not apply to any architectural firms in Tokyo. No—Tsutomu Nihei went to Kodansha Ltd. to ask to join them as a manga-ka. Tsutomu Nihei’s work clearly betrays his background. His comics open with vistas of mega-structures and cities, lovingly shaded architectonic structures. His frames are reminiscent of Piranesi’s Carceri prints, or even Archigram’s Walking City. Nihei’s work, it seems, is the dream of every urban theorist: he explores and imagines the existence of landscape through a narrative. His most compelling work so far, the manga Blame!, is the greatest example of this. Blame! is set in a dystopia of gargantuan proportions, in a sprawling, futuristic super-city. The narrative follows the travels of Killy through a mega-sized landscape of crumbling concrete and steel enigmatically called ‘the City’. Killy, armed with an incredibly powerful weapon known as a Gravitational Beam Emitter, is searching for humans who possess Net Terminal Genes—a possibly extinct genetic marker that allows humans to access the ‘Netsphere’, a kind of computerised control network for the City. Blame!, much like the Matrix, uses technology as its central theme. The narrative as it is is compelled and moved by the nature of the technology of the universe. Character motivations and literal physical movements are likewise affected by


physical ‘meat’ form has when compared to the vast and infinite reality of the Netsphere.

the technological constructs around them. Nevertheless, the one notable thing about Blame! that sets it apart from other science fiction (or even, other manga) is the fact that the thing the reader is most engaged with is the fictional City.

In fact, the primary antagonists are a race of adapted silicon-based beings: a physical manifestation of the fight between reality and the cyberspace, carbon versus silicon. The City itself has a near mythical origin story which begins with Earth, thus setting the story of Blame! somewhere in our future. In the distant past a race of super machines named Builders (kensetsusha, literally: Architect) were used by ancient humans with the Net Terminal Gene to build the City. For some reason, the Builders started building without end, constructing a megastructure that expanded outwards into the universe,

To begin with, the usual physical construct that engages the audience—the physical main characters—are shown to be less tangible than the City they inhabit. Technology is so deeply interwoven and interchangeable with real life that it is difficult to differentiate the online sphere from reality. Humans can upload their memories onto the net and transfer them to a new body, thus emphasising the lack of importance that the



end, constructing a megastructure that expanded outwards into the universe, capturing moons and planets within its structure. There is no inherent logic to the City; the only predictable thing about it is the fact that it will continue to grow. The immense scale of the City, visualised by the author through perspectives that extend towards the infinite, relates more to the Builders than that of the inhabitants. These frames commonly show space stretching out in every direction, though there is a fixation with the vertical axis that is dramatically depicted with bird’s and worm’s eye views through voids in the City. The City’s layered construction in the vertical axis is hard to penetrate through, and therefore dictates the movement of and interactions between its inhabitants. Communities between the layers are cut off from inhabitants living beyond their immediate layer. In many ways, the fictional construct of the City and the interactions between the characters and the City are more of a driving narrative force than the actual relationships between characters. The overwhelming



scale of the constructed space and sparse human encounters help to convey a sense of isolation and bleakness of the present. The boundless space continuing into infinity also hints at the futility of Killy’s efforts reach the last layer of space. This effectiveness of the fictional construct and graphic style in communicating the mood of the scene reduces the need for dialogue. In turn, the minimal dialogue and lack of introduction of characters allow the reader to be focused on the spaces that the main character transits through in his journey to the top layer. As such, this manga reads more as an exploration of the fictional city than as a progressive plotline. Contrary to other manga that focus on character development and narration of the plot, little is revealed of the main character’s background as the story progresses. This reversal of the importance of the character in relation to the constructed environment perhaps suggests the existence of the idea for the City before the narrative.







CITIES IMAGINED Cities occupy fictive spaces in our imaginations. We all know or think we know what New York is like without ever having been there. Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo- these too are cities that seem to have a certain place in our imaginations, cities that are constructed

to take place within close proximity of each other, with the option of being confined conveniently within each block, and always precisely located as in “three blocks away”.


chaotic, implacable, shrouded in masses of screens and layers of black-suited people in which we lose ourselves- along with any sense of self. It’s no wonder Tokyo was the inspiration for the dystopian, coagulated mass of the city in Ridley Scott’s blade runner, with its portrayal of a city that seemingly emerges from the collected rubbish of a million people living in close quarters.





If Manhattan is readily ordered by a system of gridded lines, then Tokyo is its opposite--


Perhaps it is because we come to know these cities through films, as silent characters in every movie. In New York, people are always running into each other at street corners, or dashing hurriedly across streets, every one looking very much like every other, but in reality are probably always the same few even if they are shot on location. Instantly recognizable, the grid that is so completely inscribed across Manhattan certainly plays a role in its filmic incarnations, allowing for any number of incidents however diverse

Nothing like the real Tokyo of course, but in the world of Hollywood, Tokyo has always played the role of the city in which the individual always becomes lost and alienated in. In our imaginations,Tokyo is a cybernetic carcass, video game metropolis, exotic


oriental megalopolis, made up of objects layered obsessively- flashing signboards, vending machines and lamp posts with hanging wires that expose its electronic underbelly. But what of Singapore? What does it look like in our imagination? I think many of us must suspect that we live in a rather unremarkable city. When we try to describe Singapore to others what are the words we most often reach for? “Clean”, or “green”, or perhaps “garden state”? Or for those who would like a longer (if more cynical) conversation, we can suggest that Singapore is “Disneyland with a death penalty”. We could perhaps tell a story about our draconian laws, about how chewing gum is banned (it’s not anymore) or how littering is punishable (not always) or the particularly finicky rules on our local trains (nothing compared to Tokyo). None of this, of course, is even remotely

close to a description of any city. It’s hard to imagine that the most distinctive trait of a city can be cleanliness or greenness. Being “clean” or “green” is hardly a distinctive trait and Singapore as a garden city is about as old as the bougainvillea that line the main boulevard to Terminal 1 and its orchid carpeting (now redone). It’s well… nothing. We seem to live in a city that is constantly defined by what it isn’t. We are only clean because other cities are dirtier, and convenient when others are congested and plagued with an inefficient public transport system, and the idea of Singapore as a garden state is no longer as potent as it once was, since the idea of greening cities has become common. In order for Singapore to be the internationally recognized city it desires to be, it needs to create a specific identity for itself. That is why the recent debate on the publication of the white paper is missing


out on an opportunity, which is the opportunity to inspire and to offer an image of what the city wants to be. The white paper can be taken to be in some sense as a piece of fiction, suggesting a fictional city – an imagination of what the city of Singapore will be like in 2030. And wouldn’t it be interesting for it to be seen as such? A fictional appraisal of the city can serve to extend the debate beyond the realms of economic or social realities, and question fundamentally the kind of city we would like to live in.

A “kampong bugis” or “manhattan in the north and bali in the south” are tantalising idea, or perhaps we could live in an underground metropolis, with automated trains cycling endlessly, ferrying passengers and goods, with no day or night for the 24 hour city. What other fictions can we dream of for the city?

Can we offer instead an alternative idea of what the city should be? Something more than that originating “concept” of the city of Singapore set out in 1971, which followed closely the dutch model of the randstad and its green heart, a system in which a series of well-connected small towns preserve a central green space in the country.



In the last five years, the greater part of architecture projects in Singapore were built not so much for cultural importance but for financial and corporate muscle. This brought about a boom of monumental buildings designed to generate revenue and bolster the economy. More importantly, it seems that these architectural projects are designed as part of an obsession with national image-making, fuelling an exotic vision (and version) of Singapore in priority over the citizens’ experience of familiarity and home. Consequently, this dependency on global titling has morphed into a denial of the future generations of their architectural heritage and identity. In particular, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, two of the most expensive architectural ventures in recent

years screamed money as much as they screamed material, and certainly bought Singapore its title of a “global city”. It is arguable what good the title brought to our quality of life, but our government assures us that we are doing well, that this title validates economic development and competitiveness. For one, global investors continue to pour into Singapore, and the image of the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands overlooking the Singapore City has quickly circulated in virtual space as one of the world’s swankiest. Not merely satisfied with conquering hearts through architecture wonder, Singapore has also constructed the Gardens by the Bay to share its global collection of Mother Nature to the world; all of these are curated in its two air-conditioned conservatories.


We may already own claim as “City in a Garden” with our balance of green landscape and lush bodies of canopies throughout the country, but Gardens by the Bay with its Supertrees and collection of imported plants from foreign climates are certainly not exemplary of our tropical heritage. Instead, what is presented is an image of artifice where nature is harnessed as a component to this little rich girl’s show-and-tell. What an effort has been put into the detail of its “national” display!

Meanwhile, developers have brought in new architecture to the mix. Iconic starchitecture designed by none other than foreign brand name architects are being brought to Singapore at neck-breaking speed. Old memories are being sacrificed as fast as new architecture designs are realised. Monumentally scaled, shiny, and expensive, these architectures call out to the global elite, too ahead and too exclusive for their locality.

As new architecture (whether or not designed by local architects) is constantly generated to add to Singapore’s city credentials to the world, old architecture that contribute significantly to our local memory are quickly being stripped away. Amongst the most mentioned en-bloc sales are the Famous Five: Beverly Mai, Futura, Golden Mile Complex, Pearl Bank Apartments and The Ardmore Habitat. These architectural pieces are definitive to Singapore in the crucial period of her growth spurt, and most of these are designed by local architects who had struggled and then succeeded in developing a formal

Is Singapore’s development and yen for validation a capitalist fixation of racing alone to be the most liveable/most clean/ most green/economically robust city? Eager to please for global approval, our young nation seems to think that it is not too fast or too furious to strip bare of its built memories and heritage. Is this strip-tease the cost for her sustainability as a leading and global city? How will we not become the caricature of the “poor little rich girl” whose daddy keeps buying expensive things to invite the envy of on-lookers, but forever stays spiritually unfulfilled and culturally worn?




------------------------------------------------Broken Social Scene - All to All Forgiveness Rock Record (2010) Of Monsters & Men - King & Lionheart My Head Is An Animal (2012) Oh Land - White Nights Oh Land (2011) Cloud Cult - Hurricanes & Fire Survival Guide Feel Good Ghosts Tea Partying Through Tornadoes (2008) Animal Collective - In The Flowers Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build A Home Ma Fleur (2007) M83 - Midnight City Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011) The Intuition - Watching The Last Sunset On Earth The Intuition (2009) Kanye West ft. Bon Iver - Lost In The World My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) Lykke Li - Window Blues Youth Novel (2008)


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The FICTION Issue|| Mar-Apr 2013 Issue N°3  

To the world of image and images.