The exhibition Unbuilt Washington surveys architectural paths not taken; some seem unthinkable beside the iconic forms actually built. Skyscraper designs appear particularly strange—revealing how a limit on building heights not only altered Washington’s skyline, but also expectations for how the capital should appear. In contrast, the cinematic city of the imagination is a place where limits are usually left in the dust.
Skyscrapers, elevated highways, electronic devices—the 1930s city of the future is not far from that of today. Yet, futuristic films of the Depression era reflect keenly on challenging times, shading the possibilities of technology with a strong dose of ideological zeal. The film that established the design vocabulary for these, and other futuristic films to follow, is Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis—unsurpassed in its artistic vision of a dystopian urban society.