MArch Unit 12: Fictions and Fabulations. An Instrument for Speculative Dreaming. Rahesh Ram, Lucy Sanders & Kieran Hawkins

Daniela Yaneva, Unit 12, 2019

In a profession where commercialism, pragmatism, and problem-solving seems to be prevalent, Unit 12 believes that there needs to be a space where experimentation and speculation should be the forefront of thinking; and this space should be in universities. Unit 12 has a tradition of experimentation and speculation, and this year, we will use Fiction and Fabulations as an instrument to investigate our world.

We live in a Fictional World

We already live in a fictional world. There are fictional narratives everywhere; religious ones, political ones, social, historical, futuristic, personal ones etc. They are all unreal and fabricated. Yet they form and create cultures, societies, communities and can manifest themselves in the physical world through artefacts such as literature, art, architecture and right the way through to whole cities.

Fictions are everywhere, and they create REAL worlds. 

Philosophers have long stated that fictions are thought experiments, and if you instrumentalise them, it can be used as a tool for speculation.

Fictions and Fabulations: An Instrument for Speculative Dreaming

As a response to the climate crisis, Donna Haraway, in her book, “Staying with the Trouble. Making kin in the Chthulucene,” uses speculative fiction, a form of conceptual storytelling, to creatively conjecture on how we could live on our damaged planet by radically changing our relationship with it and the other species that inhabit it with us. She is an exponent of using fabulations to question prevalent thinking to see possibilities on how we could inhabit our world differently.

The fiction within her book is extraordinary. She calls for a radical change in the human family structure by adding a symbiont animal to it. She further suggests that humans should genetically hybridise with different species to create a more profound relationship. To investigate these concepts, she fabulated on a connection between the Monarch Butterfly and humans. This concept may be radical and otherworldly, but the book’s purpose was to shake the foundations of our thinking. She was storytelling to change the world.

At a recent conference, Envisioning Architectural Narratives, I submitted a paper called ‘Architecture, Fiction and Thought Experiments’ where I explored how fiction could be instrumentalised to speculate on architecture in possible world scenarios. Fictions are calibrated possible worlds constructed out of the truth and untrue notions, partially composed of the actual world and a fabricated one. The collision between these components produces a fallout that can be surprising and, when reflected upon, can deliver new and unexpected insights. The imagination plays a vital role in extracting knowledge and uncovering new insights from this new world. The imagination is the cognitive ‘black box’ of fictional projects. These possible worlds could be radical like Donna Haraway’s speculative fiction is, but they can also be a gentler form of invention. Fiction as a provocation is where the value of fictional projects lie. One of the fundamental aspects of fiction that people often neglect to see is that they are an experiment and a provocation about the real world. However fictional a project may seem, such an experiment speculates upon what the actual world could be, or could end up being like.

We explore the plurality of possibilia to find out a suitable model for realia.” – Unberto Eco.

The prerequisite for undertaking this brief is that you will have to be able to think imaginatively and speculatively.

Creating Possible Worlds for Architectural Speculation                       

Fictional possible worlds are stipulated worlds with particular parameters. They are like experimental chambers where environmental conditions are set for a specific experiment to occur; once established, the investigation is observed in search of new insights. This form of speculation is a simulation-based account of the possible world.

Students will have to construct a world before undertaking such speculation. Their possible world can be near to the actual world or far from it. The student’s task will be to speculate on the architecture that would need to inhabit the context of this newly created possible world. The whole point of this exercise is to provoke questions in much the same way Harraway did in her speculative fiction. 

The constructed world will be based on the student’s interests. It can be social, cultural, political, economic, environmental, technological, or any other topic the student wants to explore. The hope is that students will leave the Masters programme by evolving their interests through imaginative speculative thinking.

Imagination is the Cognitive Black Box of Fiction

Imagination is needed to create fiction, their accompanying possible worlds, and extract cognitive fallout from new possibilities that inevitably appear. Still, one of the main reasons for undertaking the topic of Fictions and Fabulations is best explained through this quote by Sartre: 

“The real is never beautiful. Beauty is a value which applies only to the imaginary and which entails the negation of the world in its essential structure”. – The imagination, Jean Paul Sartre 

Imagination is the ability to conjure up ideas, simulate novel objects, people, places in the mind’s eye without any immediate input of the senses. It is a cognitive process used in mental functioning and involves thinking about possibilities. It is where the interpretation of the outer world and the artefacts within it can not only reveal insights and take you on unexpected lines of flight. Non-real, non-physical, and non-literal, non-scientific, sometimes irrational fiction can be drivers for creating fantastical objects (architecture) and artefacts (architecture), which can induce new insights and psychological interest in the viewer’s phenomenological experience. 

Objects can communicate ideas. They have a magical quality, and depending on their fiction (or narration), provide transcendental, transportive attributes that can make a multitude of connections to enable the mind to take flight. Just as in art, novels, films, an object can evoke tangential thoughts from sentiment to extravagant illusions. Objects are agents for imaginative fantasies.

Architecture holds within it much more than its physical and literal manifestation; it houses many fictional phantoms that stealthily move through the physical form, lingering in spaces and whispering messages – the physical architecture is merely a conduit for the release of these phantoms.


To undertake the task of creating architectural fiction, an element of fictioning needs to take place. Fictioning is the act of choreographing a number ‘artifacts’ by imbuing them with meaning through narrative association, mythological links, metaphoric impositions, usage of signs and symbols, iconography and decoration.

These non-real, non-physical, non-literal aspects of architecture are a phenomenon that is sometimes obscure and not always at the forefront of initial perception. However, look closely, and a spectacle can be observed that can trigger the imagination. Architecture is a magical object, an unlimited dream machine. It is an object that can deliver a metaphysical experience.

Unit 12 wants to assert that non-real, non-physical and non-literal is as real as the brick in the architecture. These aspects are objects in themselves, objects that are not real but tangible. 

Imagine inhabiting an architecture of metaphysical projections with the physical and the removed. 

Unit 12 does not just want to design a functioning piece of architecture but also design speculative architecture that use signs and symbols to create meaning that allows for imaginative projections.

Project: Architecture for a Fictional Possible World

Based on the student’s interests, they will be asked to recalibrate the actual world to create a possible world in which the architecture will reside; before designing that architecture.

Creating A Fictional Possible World: The context.

What: Subject matter of the fiction.

Who: Protagonist of the fiction

EPOCH/time: In the age of……….. (Myth-Science/ Myth-Technology/ Myth- Culture/Myth-Society)

Place: 4th Years, London but project-driven. 5th year, anywhere in the world but project-driven.

A Guide to Fictioning the Architecture: 

Narrating the Architecture: Plans, section and elevations to be driven by fictions and narratives – i.e.Functional fictions.

Language: Use of visual architectural language: Signs, symbols, iconography, decoration and material meaning. 

Metaphor: Non-literal association: guilty by association – the imposition of the metaphor on the design.

Heterotopia: Being in two places at the same time as an imaginary strategy. 

Complex Narrative: Where space and time collapse together (past, present, and future collapsed together).