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Folio: François Schuiten and Les Cités Obscures

Schuiten expresses his love of architecture through striking comics that critique the ‘Brusselisations’ of his home city

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Despite his love of architecture, François Schuiten chose not to follow in the footsteps of his mother, father and brother - all of whom studied to be architects - and instead unleashed his imaginary landscapes on the comic-book world. First appearing in Pilote, the birthplace of Asterix, and later in the sci-fi horror anthology Métal Hurlant, it was in the series Les Cités Obscures that Schuiten’s love of architecture came into its own. This series, published in the early 1980s with writer Benoît Peeters, took place on a parallel Earth, in which humans inhabit city-states with distinct cultural and architectural styles. Rich with depictions of fantastical architectural splendour - drawing heavily on architect Victor Horta and alluding to sci-fi, steampunk and the Gothic - the series was an escapist critique of the indiscriminate insertion of modern high-rises into Brussels’ historic fabric.

Shown here, an Art Deco, Empire State-esque skyscraper stands alone in an eerie plaza worthy of De Chirico, dwarfing the historical structures in the foreground as citizens are seemingly drawn towards it. We cannot help but be reminded of Michael Kimmelman’s indelible phrase ‘like a giant poised to squash a poodle’ - and the spate of über skyscrapers set to cast their long shadows across Central Park.

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