'High-Rise' movie, based on the novel of the same name, headed to theaters

The story, which was originally thought to be a critique of London’s city planning, takes place in a high-rise divided to mimic the historical class structure of Western society.

March 18, 2016 |

The 1975 novel was first published when the Barbican Centre towers were being built in London. Photo: Riodamascus, Wikimedia Commons

Architects typically are a bit underrepresented when it comes to movies, television, and literature. Sure, there’s Mike Brady and Ted Mosby on the TV side of things, Doug Roberts from The Towering Inferno on the silver screen, and Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. But the humble architect is nowhere near the heights set by police officers, businessmen, or politicians for being represented in fiction. But, as Tech Insider reports, "High-Rise," a new movie based on the book of the same name, is about to add to the list of stories about fictional architects.

It should be noted, however, that the architect in "High-Rise" takes on the role of the villain. The story centers on a young doctor who moves into a brand new high rise that contains everything a person would ever need. There are swimming pools, a school, and a supermarket all located within the large, brutalist structure. Additionally, the building divides its occupants into lower, middle, and upper class in literal terms, as the lowest floors are meant for the lower class and the top floors are reserved for the upper class.

It doesn’t take long for the fancy parties and opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the top floors, but not the bottom, to breed violence and fighting among all floors. Elevators and swimming pools are fought over and floors begin attacking each other for control of the building.

Meanwhile, our evil architect, Anthony Royal, sits in his top-level penthouse and watches with delight as the building and all of its tenants descend into madness.

So, yeah, it’s a pretty dark story, but it also offers some timely social commentary about the state of modern architecture. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright writes that the quote featured on the cover of the novel that reads “A hideous warning” suggests that Ballard’s intention with the story “was a damning critique of the inhumane direction modern architecture had taken.”

While the story is about much more than that, issues steeped in architecture and city planning are still definitely explored. For example, the lower class residents in the story at the bottom floors of the building strike up memories of “poor doors” (separate entrances for low-income tenants), which were just recently banned in New York City. Additionally, as luxury skyscrapers grow taller and taller, they sometimes end up blocking the sun at street level, prompting worries that sunshine could become a rare commodity in the urban landscape of the future for anyone not equipped to afford the high cost of living associated with these luxury buildings.

This London-based film arrives at a felicitous time for London, specifically. The city has plans for over 400 tall buildings to be constructed over the next few years. Many local residents are worried the addition of so many tall skyscrapers will prove to be a blight on the London skyline and ruin the aesthetic of the historic city.

Another somewhat frightening parallel that can be drawn between the story of this film/novel and reality comes in the form of the Sky Mile Tower, which Kohn Pedersen Fox recently revealed research for (although, no construction plans currently exist). This mile-tall building was designed with a similarly self-contained nature reminiscent of the fictional "High-Rise" building, such as including restaurants, hotels, gyms, libraries, and clinics, all within the structure. While the Sky Mile Tower is still a work of fiction itself, it is a little unsettling to see the similarities.

"High-Rise" comes to theaters on May 13th in the U.S. View the trailer here.

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