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OSA REVIEW: CJ Lim, OxArch Resilience Lecture

CJ Lim returned to OxArch for a second time to promote his new book, Inhabitable Infrastructures: Science Fiction or Urban Future?. In his own words, he would not be here if he had not had a story to tell.

Credit: CJ Lim / Studio 8 Architect

Credit: CJ Lim / Studio 8 Architect; Routledge


"A storyteller won't tell you what to dream."


The lights go out and we dive into the ludic, rich world of CJ Lim. All of a sudden, the theatre becomes the perfect frame – it is here, in the dark, seated in front of the big, luminous screen, that we are confronted with ourselves. The scene becomes the dream, a dream for many dreamers – and we are here to listen.

Credit: CJ Lim / Studio 8 Architect; Routledge

CJ projected a series of case studies on the big screen – graphic, illustrative slides, often something straight out of Lewis Carol’s story books. His intricate imagery often reminds one of a fairytale – and perhaps this is the best way of describing his work. Fairytales are wonderous constructed environments that aim for the prolific impossible – highly ornamented, these creations of the human mind are nothing if not eminently rooted in the present. Every fairytale comes as a strong internal reaction to the external environment of its creator – the state of dreaming is always achieved through physical limitations; we would not dream if the world itself was a fairytale.

This very principle seems to have been the bricks and mortar of CJ Lim’s work – his speculative case studies are rooted in contemporary issues. Highly political and often satirical, the worlds on the screen tackle questions of economy, environmental awareness, identity, temporality, humanity. There are many what if’s - our future is decided today, every other today. In this context, CJ Lim stops and thinks for a while. What if we weren’t running, what if we dreamed of the future today? What if we weren’t building, what if we were speculating possible outcomes today?

Credit: CJ Lim / Studio 8 Architect

We are often afraid of dystopia. CJ faces dystopia upfront – we are not afraid to imagine a post-apocalyptic London where The Bartlett becomes the capitol; we are not afraid to let nature take over. Sometimes, in his case studies, humans become tertiary parts. The human being becomes lost in an environment that grows within itself. The human is not the creator anymore. Almost following Constant’s New Babylon, the inhabitants of the city of the future become ludic explorers – making the point here that sometimes we don’t have to know and, most of the times, we don’t have to be in control. In the London case study, a city that we know every inch of becomes something we’ve never seen before. London, for the first time in centuries, becomes the dominant, not the subservient.

Reviving the rich state of dreaming of the ‘70s, CJ Lim encourages the impossible.


"What if pigs were given equal rights?

What if we froze Denmark?"

(The Dynamic Duo/Denmark & Iceland)


Perhaps only faced with the prospect of utter improbability – triggering, spectacular improbability, one would break out of their old fashion ways. CJ’s approach to futurism seems to be one of placing ourselves in an uncomfortable environment – we should not be afraid to ask the tough questions and dream our ways out of it.

He places a significant emphasis on the collectivity of dreaming – almost discussing infrastructure as the meeting place for dreamers, architecture becomes a psychological guideline.


"What does a wall have the potential to become?

Does it imprison, does it protect? Does it preserve faith, does it give you hope?"


Infrastructure becomes the environment for everything – we design the place for gossips and eavesdropping as much as we design the place for eating or sleeping. We control the uncontrollable – just as nature takes over London in the previous case study, the unpredictable takes over our infrastructures. Inhabitation becomes an entity in itself, dominating, developable.

Credit: CJ Lim / Studio 8 Architect

It is the momentum of losing control that CJ builds upon in his work. It is about not trying to fix it, but understand it – what if the problem took over, what if instead of abolishing it, we worked with it?

CJ’s perspective is lush, extravagant, almost exotic in its limitless speculation – his architecture is not about buildings, it is not about physicality. He brings a bright spotlight and shines it to intellectuality, to the unbuilt nature of architecture. He reminds us all that architecture is a dream just about as much as it is a reality.

He reminds us all to break loose every once in a while and dream bigger and brighter than our computer screens, to value the imperfections, to see the world as a collection of paper structures that nature could take over at any point.


A Definitive Bibliography Sneakily Extracted from CJ’s Lecture

Wonder Stories (science fiction magazine)

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, P.D Smith

The Truman Show (film)

Metropolis / The Fictional City (film)

The Drowned World, J.G Ballard

The Prospect of Immortality, Robert C.W Ettinger

Open Source Urbanism, Saskia Sassen

News from Nowhere, William Morris

Equality, Edward Bellamy

Pleasantville (film)

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