Why JG Ballard’s High-Rise takes dystopian science fiction to a new level

Why jg ballard’s high-rise takes dystopian science fiction to a new level
Ballard was inspired by Balfron Tower in east London

Whether mazes, blocks or bunkers, Ballard was drawn to the psychology of enclosed, brutal environments. This inner space, rather than outer space, was his SF realm

JG Ballard’s High-Rise, published 40 years ago and soon to be seen on cinema screens in a film adaptation directed by Ben Wheatley, begins with one of the most arresting first sentences in 20th-century literature: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

High-Rise is the final part of a quartet of novels – the first three are The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974) – with each book seeded in the previous one. Thematically High-Rise follows on from Concrete Island with its typically Ballardian hypothesis: “Can we overcome fear, hunger, isolation, and find the courage and cunning to defeat anything that the elements can throw at us?” What links all of them is the exploration of gated communities, physical and psychological, a theme that is suggestive of Ballard’s childhood experiences interned by the Japanese in a prisoner-of-war camp on the outskirts of Shanghai in the 1940s. It was, he always claimed, an experience he enjoyed.

The built environment is not a backdrop, rather it is integral and distinctive in its recurring imagery – from abandoned runways, to curvilinear flyovers and those endlessly mysterious drained swimming pools. Perhaps more than any other writer, he focused on his characters’ physical surroundings and the effects they had on their psyches. Ballard, who died in 2009, was also interested in the latent content of buildings, what they represented psychologically. Or, as he once obliquely put it, “does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” – by which he meant that we project narrative on to external reality, that the imagination remakes the world. In Ballard’s fiction, nothing is taken at face value. []

Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today.
Aline Chahine
Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today. Highlights Aline founded Architecture Lab in 2008 Lead editor of dan | dailyarchnews since 2019 Founded and Creative Director of DesignRaid Licensed architect with creative sales and marketing experience Experience As full-fledged architect, Aline's background involved a great deal of research that lead to the creation of Architecture Lab as an online database of exemplary design. Her experience snowballed into founding two architecture platforms, Architecture Lab and DesignRaid. Education Aline received USEK’s Master of Architecture in 2004 and BA in English from the University of Toronto
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About Architecture Lab Architecture Lab is a MKR.S Media brand, a website devoted to extraordinary design and aesthetics aiming to promote exceptional aesthetic values and sustainable design in all it's shapes and sizes. Learn more about us and our editorial process and feel free to contact us if you would like to see something in particular on the website, our certified experts will get back to you with the most trustworthy advice as soon as possible. Read all articles by Aline | Follow her on LinkedIn

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