Monday, May 2, 2011

Symbolic Urban Design

In the anime series, Full Metal Alchemist, in a world where alchemy is a commonplace (much like gasoline or electricity in our world) the Fuhrer King rules the city of Amestris. The king is in turn just a part of a shady group of people who is in control of the country. In the series, it was revealed that this group has planned to build the city from the very start into a form of a transmutation circle. A transmutation circle is a symbol, which when tapped correctly by a skillful alchemist, can give great powers to its designer. The King's group (the Homunculi) has an end game of turning the city into a transmutation circle which will transmute all its citizens into a powerful philosopher's stone, a relic capable of multiplying the powers of alchemy of the user.

I was intrigued by the concept of a whole city being built for one sole purpose, as an aesthetic or perhaps a functional symbol such as a Transmutation Circle. This concept has also been glossed over by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in their book Good Omens. In this book, they explained that the highway M25 in London is created in the image of the Dread Sigil Odegra. They also explained that this is the reason why motorists who pass into this highway seem to be possessed by evil and never reach the exit without experiencing carnage and frustration through out the route. According to the book, this feat is an acomplishment of the devil Crowley and that he considers this a "bad job well done".

In the US, conspiracy theorists have long believed that the country is being controlled by a group of individuals linked to Satanism or Freemasonry. They show as proof the Washington street layout which, according to them, forms a Luciferic symbol of an inverted star representing a goat's (devil's) head. This has become a center of many fictional works from authors like Brad Meltzer and Dan Brown.

It's interesting to know that it is possible for a whole bustling city or urban sprawl to be built just to serve one purpose; as a symbol, a sign, a building block, a unit which fits into a space of a larger puzzle.

A Grand Design as one might say. Every component, sub-unit or area of the city consciously or unconsciously is contributing to one purpose. In Amestris, the buildings form the symbol (the circle) while the citizen form the ingredients. In the M25, the highway itself forms the sigil while all the motorists become some sort of sacrifice to feed the dread sigil. While in the case of Washington, the streets form the symbol.

A common denominator for the designs is the existence of an overseeing entity to make sure the vision is complete, whether it is the Homunculi, the Devil himself or the Illuminati. I wonder if there are other real cities formed in similar circumstances?

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