4/28/2008

Reason No:546 why having the IQ of an amoeba is good news for science fiction writers

It occurred to me the other day, while referring to an online series of photographs of unfinished hotels lost in the Egyptian desert, that I've always had a certain fascination with architecture. This interest stems from my childhood, when I liked to build weird houses out of lego bricks. It reached its culmination in my just pre-teens, when I had to sit an IQ test of some sort. One of the questions - and here, I only vaguely recall something almost certainly coloured and changed by the intervening years, although it stands out sufficiently that I recall little else from that time - involved a series of highly simplified representations of a 'house'. Each drawing consisted of a simple rectangle with a roof - a low triangle - on top. Each had little squares or rectangles for windows, a door and a chimney; each had the door, chimney and windows arranged in different patterns. The question required me to pick whichever was the 'correct' house.

In retrospect, I believe the author of the test required me to pick the rectangle that had four window-squares neatly tucked up close to each corner of the main house-shape; a door, standing at the middle and bottom of the house-shape; and the upright chimney-rectangle positioned on top of the roof but slightly to one side. A classic child's drawing of a house, in other words.

Unfortunately, the author of said question perhaps hadn't anticipated it being answered by a kid obsessed with Marvel Comics and classic science fiction who admired not only the range of architecture evident in films like Logan's Run or Forbidden Planet, who not only held a special place in his heart for the underground lair of the Mole Man, an early nemesis of the Fantastic Four, but had also created several line drawings in the past of his own preferred abode, namely a continental truck-sized mobile home with caterpillar wheels, two levels, a roof-mounted observation bubble, and a tidy little fusion reactor for power where the engine should have been.

I picked a different house for my answer. Not the wrong answer, you understand; another answer. I knew they wanted me to pick the 'right' house, but I was already far too contrary and disinterested in other people's ideas of the right way to do things.

I picked the one with three windows, running in a diagonal line from the top left corner of the house-shape to the bottom right, with the front door squeezed in between the bottom right window and the very edge of the house-shape. My reasoning was simple; obviously the house was open-plan (a personal favourite), with an open stairwell running from one end of an attic-space that had been opened up for a second bedroom down to a front door to one side of the building, while interior dividing walls had been replaced and the supporting columns integrated into the general look-and-feel of the interior space. This struck me as a much more interesting place to live.

I stand by my decision. I suspect that if I'd answered the 'right' way I would now be a moderately successful Call Centre Manager rather than a moderately successful science fiction author. But then, later in life, I did another IQ test out of a book owned by a flatmate and proved to have an IQ of 17, so perhaps you should take anything I say with a pinch of salt.

The point of all this stems from the fact that what most impressed me about my visit to Malaysia was some of the architecture, specifically the twin towers that dominate the skyline there just as much as the equally lofty Taipei 101 tower dominates the skyline of Taipei, in a very science-fictional way. I could tell you about my visit to the bird sanctuary, or my tour around the Chinatown night-market next door to a gigantic mosque, but I can't deny I found myself constantly staring at certain examples of gargantuan architecture with a deep fascination.

So it was with some relief I read an article in the Guardian Online that proves I'm a long, long way from being alone; it seems the British Dan Dare comic strip, with its alien skylines and imagined architecture, was a massive influence on many modern British architects. I like to think the architects mentioned might have sat similar tests, and might also have picked the 'wrong' answer.
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