The potential of Space Architecture as expressed through the 1970’s mega-urbanisms of the Hard Sci-Fi literary sub-genre

Science Fiction before the 1950s was plagued with vaguery and scientific inaccuracies. It was this lack of depth that led to the formation of the Sci‐Fi sub‐genre known as ‘Hard Sci‐Fi’, a literary genre characterized by an emphasis on scientific and technical detail and accuracy. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell Jr.’s “Islands of Space”, a story featured in the Astounding Science Fiction series. This date is relevant as it highlights the coincidence of the emergence of Hard Sci‐Fi and the beginning of the Space Race. Since then, Hard Sci‐Fi has run parallel to the space exploration sciences, testing the extreme possibilities of off‐world habitation and exploration, and the associated architecture and urbanism, in ways that are simply not feasible in real life.

Among the incredible urbanisms produced by this most exciting field of study there have arisen three formations for vast, man‐made world machines; the Cylindrical and Toroidal Colonies, and the Bernal Sphere. All three schemes presuppose a near infinite capacity for high precision manufacture, creating gigantic spacecraft reliant on centrifugal spin upon an axis to create artificial gravity, and inside which entire communities of people can lead lifestyles seemingly unchanged from the middle class suburban modes desirable at the time of their rendering. One of the most widely lauded proposals of this mode of space habitation is described the 1976 book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space by the physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, written following a co‐operative project with his physics students at Princeton University in the early 1970’s. While similar schemes predating O’Neill have been published, none were generally considered to be thought through as thoroughly. Earning such a reputation was no mean feat for an author working in a genre famed for its consumers’ demand for accurate scientific detail, but it was doubtless aided by O’Neill’s involvement with the NASA programme of the day. In the book, O’Neill proposes colonizing space in the 21st century.

Three reference designs were drawn up, consisting of two counter‐rotating Cylinders, each 8 kilometres in diameter and 32 kilometres long; and two Bernal Spheres of 512 metres and 1600 metres diameter respectively. In the cylinders, it was proposed that the interior surface would be divided in six strips, three of which would be inhabited by the occupants in a manner similar to the traditional treatment of the surface of the Earth. The remaining three strips would be extremely large windows used to illuminate the interior, simulating day and night via a system of reflective mirrors. In the spheres, it was proposed that only the equator would be populated. Following O’Neill’s publication, a NASA study developed an alternative to the sphere, resulting in the toroidal shape. It is interesting to note that again here the illustrations depicting the incredible future of seemingly endless technological ability still apparently refer to 1970’s American suburbia as the architecture of choice! Yet again the point is made that key to the evolution of space architecture as a field is the desire of the common man to buy into the idea of space habitation. It is for this reason that space architecture will become increasingly important within the space exploration field, and until such time as private space habitation becomes feasible, the authors and illustrators of science fiction continue to excite the imaginations of the public with wonderful possibilities.



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