Fictional City

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From the word “fictional city”, you might imagine some books written by Italo Calvino and Jonathan Swift, or sometimes Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. In the stage of their works, generally categorized as “Fantasy Literature”, practical causal relationships and dynamics are distorted, even making readers dizzied. However, any cities as the stage of stories are originally fictional, even if those cities are named and function the same as they are in the real world, in the sense that events and human lives occurred there are fictional. And in the most of cases, readers enjoy those fictions as something independent, detached from the real urban lives.


Illustration by J.J. Grandville for the 1856 edition of “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift.



Not only cities, which are created by individual imagination and presented as the form of stories, are the fictional cities. From Le Corbusier or Russian Avant-garde to radical urbanisms in 60’s (mainly characterized by Archigram and Metabolism) and even early OMA in 70’s, there have been many urban projects regarded as fictional, because of their unfeasibility and absurdity (at least for general public).

However, any projects on a city by architects, urbanists, and artists with urban vision, regardless of whether they are imaginary or realistic, are started as fictional, in order to represent the collective imagination of a society. They “project” on a city as fictions social requests and desirable futures, which are not yet clearly formed, and ask its actuality to the citizens. The represented collective imagination is given back to citizens, becoming a devise to arouse more imagination.

If a story is a fiction disconnected from the reality, a project is a fiction connected with the reality. When it is actually connected with the reality, or realized as urban development, the fictional aspect of the project finishes its role.

Rem Koolhaas, OMA, “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture”, 1972. Source:

Rem Koolhaas, OMA, “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture”, 1972.



It is not easy to differentiate reality from fiction in the contemporary cities, driven by information technology and global capitalism. In a sense, a contemporary city itself is already fictional.
This fictionality is characterized especially by the lack of the immediacy and originality of the place and human body in the cities, which are filled with numerous amount of stories.

Although those stories are sometimes related with certain places, they are limitlessly rewritable on the places. And although they are sometimes connected with physicality, our perception stays superficial because of the several layers of virtual body. Therefore the stimulating experience of immediacy and originality doesn’t exist anymore, which was the essence of the reality.

The main cause of this fictionality lies on the process of how the contemporary city generates stories. The contemporary city is a database which stores every information, and users gets any desirable stories by picking and combining any information out of it. Regardless of whether those stories serve purely entertainment purpose (games or communication through information technology), or help us to easily establish our identity by holding differences from others in a symbolic way (any branding strategy form fashion to urban development), the consumption of these stories is already necessary for contemporary urban lifestyle.

The stories generated from the database allow infinite simulation, resulting into the distortion of time and space in our perception. Furthermore the absence of imagination or subjectivity promotes the disappearance of immediacy and originality. This contemporary city with full of stories is the 3rd type of fictional city.
It should not necessarily be denied to enjoy the small narratives generated by the database, in the age where the “Grand Narratives” (Jean-François Lyotard) doesn’t exist anymore. However, if those stories are disconnected from our places and bodies, and exclude the possibility of our subjectivity and imagination, the urbanity or urban culture that consists of those stories will end up just as a temporal commodity, which is copied and consumed all over the world.

Location-based online game “Ingress” by Niantic, Inc. (2013- )

Location-based online game “Ingress” by Niantic, Inc. (2013- )


Food Culture and 4th Fictional City

In order to create genuine culture based on place and body, it will be a good way to start from basic fundamentals for human life: food, shelter, and clothing. Especially among these three, food has been deeply related with place and body, through the process of production, distribution, and consumption, and played an important role as one major aspect of urban culture. (These days, clothing has too much of symbolic feature as fashion, and shelter is also being absorbed in real estate image strategy, both losing its purity.)

However, the more food is regarded as fundamental for human life, it tends to be operated in a more systematic way: the rule that it should be produced, processed, and distributed with the maximum sufficiency based on the latest science and technology, and also should be circulated and consumed through the best market principle. As a result, food issue including food culture is absorbed in the contemporary fictionality: simulation of stories by the database, or the condition that the whole process is compressed in a story and presented to customers without the real value of food. Then it loses the sufficient power to intervene the reality as a fundamental element for human life.

What we propose now is the 4th fictional city as the miniature of the contemporary city. This sanctuary generates stories of a city through every type of fictionality: the strong subjectivity of the first type, the representation of collective imagination of the 2nd, and the utilization of the database of the 3rd. The story (=fiction) gains the immediacy and originality by the connection with place and body through the mediation of food. The paradox, or fiction as the platform of reality bridges to the new urban culture.

What was described above is the conceptual sketch of the project “Crack of Urbanity”, which we, theWorkshop is planning now. This theoretical project takes the form of food festival and is temporarily inserted in the urban space. A collective story is generated there by the interactive communication based on information technology, while holding the physical and cultural experience of food as the main axis. The site is planned to be in Bangkok, the global city with full of vitality and desirable nodes of several powers.

Conceptual diagram of 4th fictional city = “Crack of Urbanity”. ©TheWorkshop

Conceptual diagram of 4th fictional city = “Crack of Urbanity”. ©TheWorkshop

Hiroki Muto
Born in 1983, Nagano, Japan. He finished his bachelor in Department of Science and Engineering at Waseda University and then continued his Graduate School of Creative Science and Engineering at the same institution. From 2011 to 2013, he had the opportunity to continue his study at Berlage Institute, the Netherlands. Currently, he is one of the partners of theWorkshop,inc.