Summer Thesis Research & Experimentation : Fake Projects – Architecture as Fiction

“Alien Landscapes” by Alex Kozhanov

The notion of “architectural fiction” is fascinating when thinking about theories pertaining to the underground. We often see the subterranean world used by writers of literature as a symbolic sites for hidden and uncontrollable psychic forces, those of  which are less real locations than narrative symbols. Underground sites are typically deployed by storytellers less for their spatial or atmospheric qualities but for their interpretive flexibility. Architectural fiction similarly inhibits an intentional withdrawal from reality, opposed by the usual architectural approach of representing architecture as reality. A literary approach has the effect of shielding the idea from the effects of standard architectural criticism by putting the work into a fictional, unfamiliar territory, and allowing the focus to be on the idea rather than the entity. In other words, the project becomes a medium to frame a larger, more fruitful discussion.

Recovering Berlin – Protocol Architecture

In an approach they call “document based architecture”, Protocol has fabricated an entirely fictional world—one in which top secret underground research labs, militarized bacteria, artificial earthquakes, are all found conspiring beneath the streets of Berlin, Baghdad, and Istanbul. The group of architecture students based out of Columbia GSAAP, is pitched as a team that “investigates potentials for future design through the creation and analysis of hyper-fictional documents.” The result is something that may be more in line with a movie script or contemporary science fiction novel than a traditional architectural project, and questions “the role that fact and evidence plays in how we perceive our own history and our place as designers within it.”

The Rühmann Notebook

The project begins with the narrative of Berliner Martina Rühmann, who has “documented her observations of a linear pathway across former East Berlin. The path connected the Berlin Wall in the north to the wall in the south, cutting across the site of the former Palace of the Republic”, using an intricate series of maps, coordinates, and photos. This research, titled “The Rühmann Notebook” (above), led her to discover a subterranean network of “small but prominent science research centers” beneath the surface of the city.

      “It was believed that the hidden route (subsequently discovered and documented by Rühmann) was used for communication and transfer of scientific documents and material in the 1970s and 1980s between the East and West, a time when West German scientists were making significant early discoveries in the fields of microbiology and nanotechnology.”

We learn that these underground labs were created with an intent to “earthquake proof” the city of Berlin, using a series of underground injections of  “a bacteria with adhesive qualities (Bacillus Pasteurii)… to stabilize ground in earthquake-prone cities,” and Shewanella, “a bacteria capable of naturally producing electrically conductive nano-tube filaments, now able to produce nano-electric devices”. The whole scheme reminds me of one of my favorite science fiction books by Haruki MurakamiHard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, for which most of the plot surrounds an eccentric professor’s laboratory hidden in a subterranean network under a high-security office building in Tokyo. The proposed bacterial injections not only have interesting biological implications but architectural ones, if they were technically accurate, of course. What if we were able to harness this technology to create artificial caverns within the earth?

The Nesin Maps

The Nesin Maps are detailed examinations of these underground “concealed buildings”, and their locations in the city. The maps also show the known injection points of adhesive bacteria, which seemingly form a geometric pattern when mapped. The maps themselves are beautiful in and of themselves, although I am curious as to how they were created.

 “The Wilbert Contracts” concluded the project by examining the linear connections between these sites and inferring that  “certain documents from the US Army which are still classified imply that underground tunnel systems were dug between 2028 and 2030”. The tunnels were constructed by  “pre-programmed nano-bots”, in order to create a semi-mobile series of underground wormholes for which the US military could travel. In other words, the army is beneath our feet conspiring and digging around with robots in order to inject the earth with an adhesive bacteria that would prevent earthquakes! 

“Recovering Berlin” – Protocol Architecture


“Living underground, or in the ground, has the advantage of ubiquitous communication.  The earth is fully conductive where earth metals have encouraged Shewanella bacteria to release electric filaments, thus creating uninterrupted communication paths.  Guided by cognitive and physiological inputs that align with their quorum sensing, microbial processors and receptors expand the concentration of electrons in the soil.  Spaces in the ground expand on their own, but once people decide to inhabit them, they must build architectural prosthetics.  Floors, windows, doors, elevators and tunnels must all be constructed in order to make the spaces accessible.”

Aside from the intricate (and at times ridiculous) story behind it, the architectural implications of the bacteria research for use in man-made subterranean shelters is something to think about. Another related project related to this topic by Magnus Larsson where he proposes to harden and inhabit the sands of the Sahara Desert…


While  Recovering Berlin does have its faults in truly concluding something architecturally exciting for the immense build-up of data it holds, it is still a fascinating project in terms of imagination and research. The traditional architectural realm of representation  here is considered equally as truthful or fictitious as the words in a book. Revisiting Bernard Tschumi’s Spaces and Events, he states that, “if writers could manipulate the structure of stories in the same way as they twist vocabulary and grammar, couldn’t architects do the same, organizing the program in a similarly objective, detached, or imaginative way?” Architecture and fiction therefore can be seen as an dual entity, consisting of the intent, represented through drawings, words, and concepts, and the other as the reality, represented through the physical building and it’s actual use. To Tschumi, this “disjunction between the expected form and expected use” implies that all architecture begins with some form of fiction, that they are intrinsically interrelated. With the underground holding such a rich history of storytelling, it provides an interesting psychological counterpoint to the surface for which we live. Is the narrative behind architecture more important than the architecture itself?


2 thoughts on “Summer Thesis Research & Experimentation : Fake Projects – Architecture as Fiction

  1. Hey: This is some great imagery, ideas, concepts of site and program. I think a consistent visual language is beginning to emerge in the summer research. I also think the representative ideas in the Berlin project are potentially fruitful for the fall. Were you able to check out the rosalind williams book? It ties the underground to fiction in a very explicit way. I think the ideas of architectural fiction, the underground tie together well. Architecture fiction can be challenging when it comes to program, because it often takes on a fantastical guise – programs with a strong impossibility. This could be fine, but just consider the potential challenges of this when developing the project. But most of all, I think this new assembly of examples demonstrates how strong the underground idea is as some type of urban project. looks very good and keep it up!

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