Corporate Dystopia: Liam Young Imagines a World in which Tech Companies Own Our Cities

What if the manufacturers of the phones and social networks we cling to became the rulers of tomorrow’s cities? Imagine a world in which every building in your neighborhood is owned by Samsung, entire regions are occupied by the ghosts of our digital selves, and cities spring up in international waters to house outsourced laborers. These are the worlds imagined by self-described speculative architect, Liam Young in his latest series of animations entitled ”New City.” Read on after the break to see all three animations and learn more about what’s next in the series.

Corporate Dystopia: Liam Young Imagines a World in which Tech Companies Own Our Cities  - More Images+ 3

Viewers watching "The City in the Sea" at full size. Image Courtesy of Liam Young

Liam Young’s London-based think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today explores the “consequences of fantastic, speculative and imaginary urbanisms” through techniques of fiction and film, with extremely high definition animations accompanied by short stories written by Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan and Tim Maughan. The imagery produced seeks to “help us explore the implications and consequences of emerging trends, technologies, and ecological conditions,” exploring emerging trends across media, technology, and popular culture in order to exaggerate them and better understand our own world alongside our future. The think-tank is being developed as a model for an architectural practice informed by research and speculation as products in and of themselves rather than buildings as final products. Animation is often employed by the think tank, as Liam Young tells ArchDaily:

“The skyline animations have been developed to be shown as super large scale projections, larger than the body so the audience has to move across the panorama, inhabiting it as they would do a city or building. Each animation is loaded with detail so as each time it is watched you might discover something different. The scale of the projections mean you are able to fully immerse yourself in the imaginary city and consumed by the soundscape you can sit and read the short story set in the city.”

From "Keeping up Appearances". Image Courtesy of Liam Young

This latest series epitomizes many of the goals of the think-tank by looking at cites on a macro-scale and exaggerating trends across various stages of industry. The animations produced in the series thus far focus mainly on the technology sector and take existing cities as precedents for an exploration of themes and subsequent social commentary. For example, in the animation entitled “Keeping Up Appearances” (see top video) a future city is imagined in which almost every visible sign in the urban skyline is an advertisement for Samsung and the glowing logo represents the ownership of that particular piece of real estate. Based on a phenomenon occurring in many South Korean cities in which Samsung has begun to move into property development, in this exaggerated scenario the idea of corporate entities as driving forces behind real-estate development and growth becomes disturbingly plausible, while highlighting the real-world fact that many corporations have revenues which surpass the GDP of some countries. Young comments:

“The branded skyline is just the most visible consequence of our gadget allegiances. What I am suggesting is that our relationships to technology are in fact generating entirely new forms of city, and new notions of place or site itself. Where we are in the world matters far less now than how we are connected and who we are connected to. We now see new forms of city generated around operating system choices, who we like on facebook, our twitter network and so on. I am much closer to my virtual community than I am to my physical neighbors. The network has allowed ‘non state’ actors to permeate every aspect of our lives.”

The next video in the series, entitled “The City in the Sea,” looks at the very real issue of outsourced labor and industrialized cities in the developing world. Taken to its extreme in this animation, the imagined city is completely detached from any kind of nationalistic identity and only exists to provide a corporate haven for manufacturers that is devoid of regulations and taxes. According to Young:

“The City in the Sea is a multicultural city collaged from photos taken on expeditions through the outsourcing territories of India and China. The floating corporate city is built on the Pacific Ocean garbage patch and drifts in international waters, outside of national labor laws to become a free trade zone supporting the mega companies based on land. It is a city that connects to a long tradition of free states, from the traditions of pirate utopias, islands that existed with their own laws and governance to the speculations of offshore data havens on the abandoned naval fort Sealand or Google’s mysterious barges. We also see the same desires to escape jurisdiction playing out on land with the formation of special economic zones and free trade regions. These forms of territory are forcing us to reimagine what a border might mean in the age of the network.”

The third video in the series takes on a much more ephemeral quality and symbolically represents an element that is vital to our everyday lives, yet invisible to most. The idea of our online identity has become increasingly tangible to anyone that uses Facebook or surfs the web. Each of us possesses vast amounts of important information that is stored in “the cloud” but this notion has very little physical connection to our lives. Most are probably not aware of where their data is stored, but it is usually held in large data banks in places such as the city of Prineville, Oregon. These unassuming cities hold some of the world’s most sought after goods: personal identity stored digitally. Young also foresees data centers such as this as a new architectural frontier and describes its significance:

“This part of New City is built for machines, it is the physical landscape of the cloud, our generation's cultural landscape. I am really interested in what these physical sites of the internet actually mean, they are a completely new cultural typology and architects need to take the data center on as a project. Is the internet a place to visit, are they sites of pilgrimage, spaces of congregation to be inhabited like a church on Sundays? Would we ever want to go and meet our digital selves, to gaze across server racks, and watch us winking back, in a million LEDs of Facebook blue? Every age has its iconic architectural typology. The dream commission was once the church, Modernism had the factory, then the house, in the recent decade we had the ‘starchitect’ museum and gallery. Now we have the data centre, the next forum for architectural culture.”

"The City in the Sea" on display at full size. Image Courtesy of Liam Young

It is clear that the technology sector has already played a transformative role in our global economy, and Liam Young’s work gives us a glimpse at how technology may finally influence our built world. By illustrating these potential future scenarios and exaggerating them, Young opens a platform for discussion on how to take control of our own built world. But what is next in the series? What other pressing cultural issues require attention if we are to understand our built environment? Young tells ArchDaily:

“I am interested in continuing to look at the new types of ‘city’ that are emerging out of the network. Cities are increasingly being designed not for the people that occupy them but for the technologies and algorithms that are being built to understand them and manage them. Cities developed based around the logic of machine vision, satellite sight lines, Wi-Fi weather systems and so on are all of interest. These technologies are fundamentally changing what cities mean and these types of speculative projects are critical to play out possible scenarios for discussion.”

Readers can view all three animations accompanied with short stories by Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan and Tim Maughan, at Liam Young's Vimeo profile.

About this author
Cite: Evan Rawn. "Corporate Dystopia: Liam Young Imagines a World in which Tech Companies Own Our Cities " 02 Apr 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.