Keith Mitnick


Fictitious Space



Architects and fiction writers share a lot in common. Architects design fictions by inventing new worlds, and novelists create sympathetic settings for their stories. In this Thesis Studio, students have examined architecture in literature, written stories of their own, and used architectural techniques to translate literary space into design propositions.

In a certain sense, all buildings present fictions. At the Ise Shrine in Japan, two versions of the same building are dismantled and reconstructed every 20 years to tell a story about death and rebirth, and in the baroque French gardens at Vaux le Vicomte, anamorphic techniques distort relative distances to de-center the experience of perceiving subjects.

At times, fictitious portrayals of architecture influence how we understand our physical surroundings even more than actual buildings. China Mieville’s novel, The City and The City, is set in a divided post-war European city where two previously warring populations are forced to coexist while obeying one of two mutually exclusive spatial codes that require them to “un-see” one another. J. G. Ballard’s story “The Overloaded Man,” chronicles the demise of a solitary man living in a housing complex who teaches himself to “switch off” the significance of everything he sees. And in Patricia Highsmith’s story “Black House,” a group of men brag to one another about their various conquests by using an abandoned house as a symbolic receptacle for their fantasies and lies.

The semester began with us reading and discussing numerous short stories steeped in spatial ideas and continued with students selecting a narrative theme for further investigation. We conclude with the presentation of a short story written by each student, accompanied by a design proposition that both accompanies, and stands apart from, the written narrative.