By Matt Keay
Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities is a rare tome, one that fuses a grand scope with a heart to match. We can easily notice ourselves in this book; we can identify with the way in which both the past and the future can meld, creating an existence of hope and searing potential.
Having set up a popular Twitter account (@Oniropolis), which gathered a large following very quickly, Anderson draws on the fantastical land and cityscapes he shares on his feed to explore the nature of both the cities we inhabit and the philosophy of the physicality of the world we share. Anderson’s mantra? That, ‘the cities we live in are every bit as fascinating as the cities we imagine’. His exploration of the mythical structures that we create is what drives Imaginary Cities.
The popularity of the images tweeted from @Oniropolis revealed that others shared his interest in the otherworldly nature of the illustrations. The feed created a virtual representation of the perspective we have of our infrastructure, both geographic and personal. The central theme of Anderson’s book is our scrutinisation of cities through time, their founding, evolution and the effect they have on mankind. However the cities discussed are not necessarily those which we can visit. Rather, cities that exist in legend and in the history books, or only in the sketchbooks of lofty architects, brains hazy and full with possibility. The influences and causality of these cities is what moves Anderson’s book forward.
What follows is a challenging, enlightening, and intelligent meander through time, and through the space where the imaginary cities defined within the pages of Anderson’s book alter history, and shape our understanding of our place in the world.
Throughout the book Anderson invites us to question how we perceive civilisation, using various real and imagined reference points. Examples include the sabotage of the industrialisation of Mordor by the Fellowship of the Ring and the idea of power as control of our space; exploration that an Emerald city requires emerald mines, but that everyone must be happy; idealisation hiding behind the art deco of Miami Beach or The Shard; the secrets of Parisian graffiti; the city of Rapture in video game Bioshock, and how humans bring beauty to ruin. The book is rich and textured, delivering familiar yet abstract counterpoints to our own experience.
What is most compelling about Anderson’s voice is that he has a knack of grounding our realities while enhancing the power of our fantasies. In truth, we as a species are woefully ignorant of the world in which we live, and Imaginary Cities sets out to illumine the shadow in our architectural history; factual and fictitious. Seduced by the bright lights of the cities which we are told to like, (Paris, New York, London), we are invited by Anderson to look beyond the concrete and steel to discover their secrets. The ever-shifting evolution of these metropoles are the counterpoint to our idleness, the impetus to explore.
Imaginary Cities is a powerful journey through the geography of both the vast planet we could not hope to fully explore and the imperative city blocks and side-streets of our own and others’ minds. Victor Hugo once posited, ‘There is nothing like a dream to create a future’. Anderson has equipped us with the tools to construct a new future; for ourselves, and for the dreamers still to come.