Space Opera Architecture in Guardians of the Galaxy

Space Opera Architecture in Guardians of the Galaxy

hi I’m Noaa and welcome to Architecture
in sci-fi film. Today I’m going to talk about a part of the Marvel Cinematic
Universe that just celebrated 10 years. Since there are a lot of movies in this
cinematic universe I divided them into two major categories: earthbound and
space opera and even doing so there is a lot of ground to cover. This video is
going to be part one of the space opera and I will be addressing Guardians of
the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2 and in the next video I will address Thor all three
movies released so far. When the first Guardians of the Galaxy was released in
2014 we were introduced to a colorful team and an even more colorful world
outside Terra. Previous to this movie the only realm in the MCU we saw other than
our own planet was Asgard, a world on a platter the size of a city. Thor calls it
a planet who am I to disagree with the Lord of Thunder… God of Thunder – I’m sorry.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe expanded greatly in the recent years with the
introduction of many alien races and several planets that accompany our band
of heroes in their space adventures. This type of planet hopping film is not
something new but it does come with a lot of challenges especially to the
production design team. If in most movies the art department has to develop one
alien civilization, in space opera they design a variety of locations and
creatures each with a distinctive look and all of them have to work in this
fictional universe. So how do you make a mosaic of worlds believable? First of all
the teams behind guardians of the galaxy took a page from Star Wars book and
rooted their designs in this world’s rich history. Secondly, although the
source of inspiration is existing architecture, no real buildings can be
recognized; some details and elements are used in different compositions but not
an entire building. This was an actual request from director James Gunn. It’s
pretty much the advice from Inception: “never recreate places from your memory
always imagine new places you gotta draw from stuff you know right? only use details,
a street lamp or a phone booth never entire areas”. Let’s dig into this: the two
movies take us on seven very different locations: Morag, the abandoned planet
at the beginning of the first film. Xandar, the capital planet of the Nova
Empire. the Kyln, a high-security prison in space. Knowhere, a shady mining colony.
The Sovereign, a collective of planets Contraxia, a frozen world and Ego’s
planet. Each has their own traits and it is easy recognizable regardless of their
screen time. Speaking of screen time, only three locations get more of it: Xandar
Knowhere an Ego so I’ll discuss them towards the end. First one we see is Morag
a planet with an unfriendly environment that was once inhabited. The
ruins, both their physical remains and their virtual reconstruction look inspired
from Egyptian temples combined with ones from Cambodia and some Indian details.
The massive colonnades and the two registers resemble the Luxor
Temple, the side towers look like Angkor Wat but a little tweak and the interior
details are inspired by old Hindu temples. The enormous element above them
almost feels drawn at a different scale and considering the contemporary design
of its shape I believe it was intended as a later addition, an extension of the
old temple in a later period of this civilization. Moving on we have a prison,
the Kyln. Like any other facility in space it is designed as a ship or a
Space Station sealed off from the vacuum with everything pointing inwards which
also makes sense here for security reasons. I don’t have any buildings to
talk about being mostly corridors and rooms but what I can say is that from the
outside it looks like an offshore oil rig with docking platforms. In the
opening sequence of the second movie we see the Sovereign: a genetically
engineered race of people that live on several clustered planets with the same
name. From a distance it reminded me of Coruscant but on a closer look we see
everything is gold… even the people. Also almost every building has round or
spherical elements in their design, from the elevated platform to the
neighboring skyscrapers and culminating with the palace. I believe this was
inspired by Newton’s Cenotaph designed by Étienne-Louis Boullée. the Cenotaph is just a
study and was never built but the shape’s perfection has a hold of our senses and
its use here comes to support the story: a race obsessed with genetic
perfection that see themselves as superior and majestic will certainly use
this geometric language to their architecture. From gold and spherical
perfection we switch to container like boxy buildings and colored neon lights
in the disreputable establishments on Contraxia. It is rather strange to
place a red light district on a frozen environment but I guess they take their
pleasures wherever they can. We don’t get to see too much of it and what we do see
is covered in colorful advertising inspired by 1950s neon signs. the
buildings are low-tech with a look of dirty metal and everything has a retro
feeling to it almost like a shabby strip mall where the pretty lights are just
makeup to cover the rust. But the majority of Guardians of the Galaxy
volume 2 story takes place on Ego’s planet. While most of the planet is
natural landforms and vegetation there is one building, a palace so in tune with
its environment it seems more grown than constructed
which makes perfect sense considering the origins of Ego. Ask yourself this:
what would a celestial being’s creation look like? It has to be complex to
reflect its superior nature and at the same time it must be constructed so it
has the be logical, mathematical and also aesthetically pleasing
so… fractals. This entire world is designed by making heavy use of fractals.
It is unique and very strange at the same time. The building combines Gothic
elements like sharp pointed arches and buttresses with Art Nouveau graphical
details in a composition resembling an organic Cathedral. When asked if he’s a
God Ego said “small G” so it’s no wonder why his house looks like a Cathedral.
Instead of stained glass the building uses bioluminescence to give it that
extra eerie feeling again making perfect sense in this context: you don’t need
fire or electricity. Also a common geometric element used is the circle
again for the same reasons as before because we associate it with perfection
and ego sees himself as this perfect being so his designs reflected it.
From one celestial to another but leaving perfection behind we moved to the
chaotic environment of Knowhere: a mining colony inside the severed head of an
ancient celestial being. Obviously they have been mining it for some time
because the head is mostly hollow now and people have built a ton inside it.
It’s a city all right with different districts that seem centered around the
collector’s museum which makes sense since it’s Tivan who started the mining
operations. I found the way they built Knowhere
particularly interesting: using the existing structure of the skull and
adapting to it similar to the sprawl of Mexico City with one major difference:
there is no horizon here. There is a lot of work in its designs but the action is
fast paced and it’s rather dark so unfortunately we can’t really see too much
of it. The few buildings we actually get to see clearly look like retro dinners
covered in exposed pipe work, cables, satellite dishes and all sorts of wiring.
This tech punk architecture looks made from secondhand materials covered in
dirt and is pretty much what you’d expect from an illegal mining colony.
No big surprises here. Being built inside the giant head I thought there might be
more bridges or cable ways crisscrossing this spheroid. But they resumed to just mold
the shape. Looking at it now gave me the feeling of a technological ant colony
that’s slowly devouring a carcass covering almost every inch of it till
there’s nothing left. But switching to a lighter tone I left the best for last:
Xandar, the capital city / planet of the Nova Empire. It’s obvious a lot of
work went into its design and since it’s a bright environment we get to see it
all. Its main source of inspiration was Singapore and the team also borrowed
elements from Dubai and Shanghai. Besides its unique stellar shape the first thing
that we see it’s the abundance of vegetation and my mind immediately
associated it with Garden by the Bay. Also a little detail I noticed was the
interpretation of Art Acience Museum also from Singapore aka the lotus flower.
Another big influence was the Liege train station by Santiago Calatrava with
its white concrete and steel structure. Calatrava has such a personal style that
it’s hard not to recognize it so I wouldn’t encourage people to use it,
pretty much like Frank Gehry. Also the bridge is inspired by Norman
Foster’s Millennium Bridge and in a later sequence the metal staircase
details from Lloyds building also in London are visible. Most buildings are
white and light gray, there’s a lot of glass and some have metallic finishes
and that works very well in this colored environment. In a natural context such as
this if you wish to achieve a refined look your buildings should not add too
much color but instead play with their shapes and that’s exactly what they did.
Some of these designs are questionable in the real world regarding their
usefulness but here we see playful, novel designs that are a perfect fit for the
joyful tone of the movie… except two: the Nova Core headquarters and the
monstrosity that I have no idea what it is. They look like they were designed by
someone else for a different setting and just got dropped in this model. Nova
Core HQ is a collage of metallic plates looks like a modern fortress with no
windows although the scenes inside are bathed in natural light and it seems
unfinished but this didn’t bother me as much as the gigantic structure that’s in
almost every shot. I honestly thought it was meant to be a defensive building or
some sort of machinery but it’s only purpose in this movie is to get
demolished by the villains ship. For a moment I thought they tried an Eiffel
Tower effect but there are at least two such structures so that’s out the window.
In any case it is grossly oversized, doesn’t match the delicate and light
designs of the rest of the city, serves no real purpose and it looks plain wrong.
If it was meant as an industrial platform or as a building under
construction it’s unclear. That is my only complaint to this otherwise impeccable
city. So to sum this up, when dealing with many worlds developing distinctive
designs for each setting is key. To make an analogy to our own blue marble it’s
like traveling from one continent to another meeting different cultures and
styles. To achieve this pick references from all over the world and from
different time periods. Get inspired by real buildings but if you want to get
that advanced civilization look check architectural competition entry
and look for those building studies that were never made. In a previous video I
stated that if you want to make a civilization believable its cities
should hold some history to them so try mixing styles. That’s very difficult and
time-consuming when faced with multiple planets and cities but depending on
screen time this can be really rewarding Xandar is the prime example of this.
Otherwise simplify and choose one unique trait, a dominant feature to
convey the backstory of that particular location. Also when going for that pour
and overpopulated feeling the obvious technique is crowding a lot of elements
together to denote that lack of interest in the aesthetic of the built
environment and for an extra retro look add mechanical controls and less digital.
That’s my take on part one for architectural space opera and I hope you
enjoyed it. I will also encourage you to subscribe and if you want to further
support this channel while getting a look behind the scenes you can become a
sponsor on patreon link is in the description below. Thank you for watching
and I’ll see you guys next time “what should we do next? something good, something bad?”


  • Norbert Gardonyi

    May 4, 2018

    The background sounds are a little bit loud (compared to your voice), but nice job, keep up the good work!

  • Catalin Oncescu

    May 9, 2018

    GOOD JOB!!!!!!

  • Fallen Zippo

    May 13, 2018

    opened my eyes on some stuff that i have not noticed .. nice job 😀

  • Visual Learners

    July 16, 2018

    Marvelous job man (pun intended),though try improve the quality of image. Again, wonderful job, loved it!

  • Top Model

    August 10, 2018

    Asgard please 🙂

  • Alfishan Ali

    September 8, 2018

    Waiting for your next video

  • Emanuel Barbito

    November 20, 2018

    wow. your work is great. learnt alot. thanks

  • Alan Jenko

    December 13, 2018

    How do you not have more subs ….. I love these videos of yours


Leave a Reply