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I'm currently creating a world that would have both fantasy and sci-fi elements. What I want to convey is a fantasy feeling within a sci-fi world. To achieve that, I have magic, different races, political houses, spaceships, probably FTL (didn't think this through, yet), etc.

But I don't think it's enough. While I was writing, I was bothered by the fact that technology is everywhere. I was thinking of a pure, white, stainless world with skytowers and stuff.

I'd like my readers to think more of a medieval-like world. The technology would have fortified and modernized the way of creating buildings, and they would surely use different materials to create it, but I'd like to know if it could still be possible to have castles, manors, mansions, etc.

In short: Is there any reason to keep a medieval-like architecture, when creating new buildings, when you have a sci-fi technology?


EDIT: As most of you have pointed out, it seems Fashion is one of the major reasons. I think I will develop the background a little more to define exactly what races and/or political houses would have this kind of architecture. I gave up on making the whole universe that way: I'm already thinking of some of my political houses that would have absolutely no reason to have such an old architectural style.

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    $\begingroup$ The whole warhammer 40K universe has gothic (in the architectural meaning) fashion. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Apr 14 '16 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ Just look at aJapan. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Apr 14 '16 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Attack on Titan!!! $\endgroup$ – Luis Masuelli Apr 14 '16 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ The Stargate (sci-fi tv shows) had similar worlds sometimes $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Apr 14 '16 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of answers about fashion already so just a comment, but "just because" is as good a reason as any. For example, Iain M Banks' Feersum Endjinn is set in a multistate megacity designed as a castle; so "states" are actually rooms, and the king lives in a "castle" that's actually a giant reproduction of a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the main hall. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Apr 15 '16 at 10:01

17 Answers 17

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The simplest route to go with for a world like this is Fashion.

There is nothing to stop a future world using a medieval style, but as you have pointed out, there are unlikely to be specific benefits, but as architecture goes through phases - we have architects who produce Tudor, Georgian, Gothic and Edwardian styled buildings now - all you need to do is define a reason why your population want this style.

  • a ruler who liked the period
  • regulations requiring that style
  • a worldwide fad combined with cheap building materials and tools
  • etc.
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    $\begingroup$ add in 3d-printed building parts and every level of ornamentation is only a question of taste and cost is hardly a factor any more $\endgroup$ – Burki Apr 14 '16 at 10:41
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I don't see why not.

To someone 100 or 200 years ago, our world is "futuristic". But we still have a lot of medieval architecture.

(a) People may value old buildings because they respect their history.

(b) People may build new buildings in an old style because they think it's pretty, if absolutely no other reason.

There are times when functionality wins over fashion. Few modern Americans or Europeans would live in a mud hut, no matter how pretty or quaint they thought they looked, because it would be too uncomfortable. But I don't have a hard time imagining a fad where people become fascinated by mud huts, and have houses built that look like mud huts, though they are really made of more modern materials, have electricty and internet connections inside, etc.

The army is not going to build medieval-style castles to defend the border in an era of tanks and jet aircraft. But a military academy might well be built to resemble a medieval castle. Lots of colleges and government buildings are made to look somewhat like ancient Greek and Roman buildings. Etc.

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    $\begingroup$ 100-200? Heck, to someone thirty years ago, our world is "futuristic"! $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Apr 14 '16 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Like in Demolition Man, where they actually had a radio station dedicated to jingles... those annoying few second advertisements that were played on the radio, with absolutely no purpose (the products themselves seemed to be discontinued), yet were reveled as classic modern music. $\endgroup$ – phyrfox Apr 15 '16 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think most people realise just how uncomfortable castles really are. They're bloody cold, for one thing, and dreadfully expensive to keep heated to modern standards. If any reasonably-European-based world had "modern" buildings that looked like them, they wouldn't be anything more than facades. $\endgroup$ – S. G. Apr 15 '16 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ @S.G. I've never lived in a castle, but sure, I imagine if someone built a castle today just because they liked the look, there would be all sorts of structural differences from actual medieval castles. That's the sort of thing I was talking about with my comment on mud huts. $\endgroup$ – Jay Apr 17 '16 at 6:04
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Stone and wood are the best building materials : the planet's crust is largely made of one, and the other literally grows on trees.

We have gone through an era of cheap but environmentally destructive energy, and expensive manual labour, when it was cheaper to let crude machinery pulverise stone in one place, ship it to another, and reconstitute it as ugly concrete.

But now, the drudgery of manual labour is largely the province of robots, and laser cutting uses a bare minimum of (solar generated) energy so it's once again cheaper to open up the old quarries and borrow pits, and laser cut masonry blocks with interlocking joints that shed water.

Laser sawmills in the forests provide accurately formed timber components with minimal waste, so the bulk of your house (unless it's older than the 22nd century) was probably quarried and felled less than ten kilometres from its current location.

Internally, of course, the facilities are anything but medieval, and the solar panels mounted over the thatched roof would raise a medieval traveller's eyebrows, but the basic form of today's houses is that of a fine stone manor house or cottage.

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  • $\begingroup$ I suspect thatch wouldn't be used for roofing much, but otherwise, not a bad answer. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Apr 14 '16 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay Why not thatch? I assume it would be treated, or even grown, to resist pests and fire. A roofing robot (very long telescopic legs, but otherwise small enough to clamber around a thatched roof) would visit each house regularly to keep it in repair. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '16 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Mostly fire (code) issues -- you'd need to stuff it full of fire retardants to get it to not burn. Better to start with rocks to begin with. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Apr 15 '16 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ Clay or slate tiles would be more likely. The cost to gather thatch at that technology level wouldn't be much lower, but the durability of the roof would be significantly reduced. $\endgroup$ – Perkins Apr 15 '16 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Perkins On the other hand, a tile falling on your head is much worse than a piece of straw. Durability would be handled by roofing robots doing frequent maintenance. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '16 at 1:34
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A couple of small steps towards the look and feel you want ...

  • Get cars out of the cities, and keep the rich in. That can be done by manipulating tax codes and environmental regulations. Say within the old city limits ancient tax privileges apply, and there is no political will to change that.
  • Keep the buildings low. A simple law that one does not build higher than the balcony of the palace, whatever the real estate prices. This regulation could be tied into the tax breaks mentioned above, so even rich landowners don't want to touch the town charter because everything would be up for grabs.
  • Keep the streets narrow, crooked, and bustling. That can be explained by the lack of cars, plus the inability to build high.
  • Encourage the use of stone blocks rather than steel, glass and concrete. No need for steel if you can't build all that high, anyway.

That makes it possible to have a market street with merchants, porters, etc. instead of multi-lane roads.

  • Discourage absentee landlords, encourage a manor economy. Your setting could have tax privileges for the estates of nobles if they actually live in their manor and collect the rent from their tenant farmers in produce.
  • Make rental housing tenure inheritable.
  • Make it difficult to sell part of an estate (e.g. sell the lands, keep the manor house) or to split it (e.g. in the case of inheritance).
  • Give the big estate owners tax privileges in exchange for specified services to the community (providing a fire engine, a grader, a dump truck for the surrounding villages). Those vehicles would have the noble's coat of arms.

That might help to give the countryside the right look and feel.

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  • $\begingroup$ Within the old city limits ancient tax privileges apply. This is no stretch. The City of London has special rights even today, and many of them come from "time immemorial", meaning that it has those rights for the simple reason that it always has had them. $\endgroup$ – TRiG Apr 14 '16 at 22:04
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I can't think of technical reasons why you couldn't build structurally sound medieval-looking buildings, especially with unspecified advanced construction materials and techniques.

Design is the function of aesthetics and, well, function. Medieval fortified castles are more functional than renaissance style castles. Medieval fortification would make little sense if you have spaceships and therefore orbital artillery than can obliterate pretty much anything on ground.

So it would be a question of esthetics. Maybe there's a particular architectural style associated with the kingdom/empire/republic (I'm thinking Greek-style columns as a symbol of power or somesuch), maybe it stems from religion/mythology (the reason we built ginormous cathedrals). Or more generally, evocations of a glorious past or preservation of cultural heritage.

It's likely that a multi-cultural city would feature several styles of architecture. Maybe your medieval-looking architecture would be a result of that multi-culturality, a fusion of different style and more or less a symbol of unity. Or maybe it's one of the several style prominently featured, with a medieval district amongst other more modern-looking or just different.

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    $\begingroup$ FYI it's "aesthetics" not "esthetics". $\endgroup$ – WorseDoughnut Apr 14 '16 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @WorseDoughnut At least some regard them as variant spellings, or Commonwealth/US spellings. This was asked about on ELU.SE. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Taylor Apr 14 '16 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Whether to spell it "aesthetics", "esthetics", or "æsthetics" is really a matter of... 'sthetics. $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder Apr 14 '16 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'll make all Brameradian English speakers happy by using both. Hopefully it will close the debate. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Apr 14 '16 at 15:08
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It entirely depends on the mechanics of your world/universe. Medieval castles weren't built that way for looks - every part of it served a defensive purpose, and if you read up on the history of any castle then you see all those parts changing over time as the needs changed.

If you've hypothesised a world where life is not highly valued, every high-status person has to defend themselves and their family against regular attacks, and banditry is rife, then congratulations - you have the preconditions for castles and fortified manor houses. Now you need to work out why magic and laser-rifles are ineffective against those fortifications.

Frank Herbert gave one possible answer to this in Dune. Shields stop anything fast but are ineffective against anything slow. The result is that most combat is hand-to-hand.

Or you could be looking at a fallen civilisation. A few people have relic weapons and maybe some of the tech still works, but the most your average thug can manage is a big stick with nails in it, or at best a sword. There aren't enough relic weapons to fend off a serious attack by people with primitive weapons, so you end up with a medieval castle mostly using medieval weaponry, with advanced weapons held back for reinforcement in the same way as a drug baron in a gun battle with the police might hold back their black-market LAW until there's a really good target.

Or maybe there's some other reason. You're the world maker, surprise us. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ The fallen civilisation option sounds a bit like the post-Change world in S M Stirling's Emberverse series. $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Aburrow Apr 14 '16 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @YvonneAburrow Or Stephen King's Dark Tower series, or Mad Max, or The Passage, or Station Eleven, or The Tripods, or numerous worlds in Warhammer 40K (check Dan Abnett's various contributions), or ... (fill in your own favourites)... There are a lot of precedents, but equally there are so many ways that civilisation can fall and so many ways that it can pick itself up afterwards, that there are still plenty of ways for authors to say new things about it. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 14 '16 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ Oh absolutely - wasn't suggesting that the idea was un-original. $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Aburrow Apr 15 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ @YvonneAburrow It's more that the basic concept is not original - in fact there is tons of "prior art" in the various fallen civilisations over the last 7000 years or so of Earth history. Olaf Stapledon's "Last and first men" is probably the first book to extrapolate from the present day in the same vein, although it's not very readable. But the ideas about how that could play out for the people involved, that should be original if the author is any good. So the worlds of Ember, the Dark Tower and WH40K have some things in common, but much more that's different. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 15 '16 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. Most stories have been told before in some form - it's the telling of them in new and interesting ways that creates the originality. $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Aburrow Apr 19 '16 at 8:57
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A lot of people are mentioning fashion, but architecture often goes much deeper than that. Case in point: Captain Man mentioned Washington D.C.'s architecture.

That architecture is from the Neoclassical movement, which was a whole art movement that reflected a growing feeling around the world (not just in the USA) of free thinking and independence. It brings to mind the democracies of Greece and the Republics of Rome. (The USA is pretty big on democratic republics)

So think about how your architecture reflects the culture of the people in the story. Are they trying to create a heavenly space in reference to their religions (Gothic architecture), are they seeking independence from oppressive rulers (Neoclassical, Realist), are times changing and tumultuous (fin de siecle), are they longing for simpler times (thatched huts), and so forth.

tl;dr Yes it's possible, but make sure to include a compelling political and/or cultural reason, or else it'll just feel like a world where the author wanted to have medieval buildings.

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Poverty.

The end of the industrial age resulted in most labor being surplus; the work you could do with your brain or your hands wasn't worth the resource diversion to feed you compared to just having an AI with a teleprecense robot or bioengineered meat-puppet do the work.

So now we have legions of the poor. Their only hope for sustenance lies from the charity of those with resources, or providing services to people with resources that robots/meat puppets/AI cannot.

As technology is incredibly powerful and planets are fragile, the halves are afraid the despair of the halve nots will destroy what they have. So ubiquitous surveillance blocking them from getting access to non-controlled technology is deployed. Controlled technology is managed by AIs loyal to the noble cast to prevent it from being useful against the noble caste.

On the other hand, your ability to support peasants (or provide peasants with enough resources to self-support) is a status indicator among the nobility. And the more resources you can get them to provide you with (even though it is mostly worthless) the better you are at it. So you have peasants using restricted amounts of technology to work the land. The entire peasant system is a game the nobles play with the lives of the peasants, and viewed as more humane than genocide, because "what else are peasants good for?"

The peasant class is not allowed to fly, or use projectile weapons. A castle on the ground is an effective defence against whatever they can do.

Gentry classes also exist, playing more complex games. Knights who basically fight and die for the amusement of the nobles, courtiers who amuse the nobles, etc.

There are nobles who have disconnected from the world, but such beings tend to fade into irrelevance; either they leave planets, or they build small fortifications/rockets (protected by treaty, which their AI constantly monitor) where they while away their days playing with virtual worlds. Some don't have much in the way of peasants yet still interact with the world sometimes; these wizards are quirky and dangerous to deal with.

The nobles and their games are quite serious; but nobles who don't obey the rule of only permitting peasants controlled technology are subject to summary punishment by their own AIs.

A good chunk of Magic (maybe all of it) is then controlled technology that acts in ways that don't really make sense, because it isn't supposed to. It can do far more than it does; its restrictions are arbitrary.

Quite possibly even the nobles are just playing a game arranged by post-human intelligences, hence the stability of their pacts, using trivial amounts of resources from the post-human perspective. They think they are rulers of the universe, but are just peasants with a few more toys.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's a nice approach. I couldn't apply it on every planet, nor with every political houses, but it sure is something that could exist. Thanks :) $\endgroup$ – Keker Apr 18 '16 at 6:39
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Of course. Take a look at Washington D.C., all the buildings have an ancient Greek/Roman feel. London is another city that comes to mind that has a lot of "old timey" buildings. If this is happening today, I see no reason why it couldn't happen in the future.

I think where you see this the most is in cities that have been around for a long time. They have structures from long ago. To preserve the historic feel of these places new structures are sometimes even mandated to conform to the style. When something gets really old instead of tearing it down and rebuilding something they often will restore it. Combine all of these factors and place them in a city that has been around for a very long time (as in it has managed to avoid wars, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events) and it's absolutely feasible to have some city with a medieval style long into the future.

It wouldn't be 100% medieval I don't think. I'm sure experts can explain why Washington D.C. isn't as Greek/Roman as it appears, and even London has that giant ferris wheel in its skyline now. You could see a lot of similarities though.

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    $\begingroup$ Many of the buildings in D.C. were build during the Neoclassical period, which brought back classical architecture and art but with different emphases. Many at the time felt this style reflected independence and free thinking, not to mention it's a direct allusion to democracy. There's no reason you couldn't have a neo-neo-neoclassical movement far in the future that corresponds to the popular feelings of the time/area. $\endgroup$ – SethWhite Apr 14 '16 at 21:02
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If the civilization is advanced enough to recognize the fact that using certain materials is going to pollute the nature, then it is likely it will fallback (when possible) to materials that avoid pollution altogheter (wood, stone). Also a modern society may be really carefull when using weapons, so people at ground level would probably not have access to technologic weapons (guns, bombs) and hence something like a castle can even be useful against bandits and criminals.

Basically a world with spaceships and castles would be much more advanced than our world (even without spaceships) because the extra eye of regard to problems like war and pollution.

Also a world without computers is a world that can't be hacked (think to internet of things, basically you can allow a backdoor installed in every piece of your home). I dare you hacking a stone castle ^^.

People living inside nature is likely to become more healthy, strong and smart. A smart civilization would enfatize such lifestyle.

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I read a short story once where the idea was that faster than light travel was actually quite simple. So these guys had space ships with chamber pots in them, horses, hay, and mideval weapons. They made a big mistake when they landed at West Point academy however.

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  • $\begingroup$ Making some attempt to identify the story would be helpful. You're probably thinking of "The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove. $\endgroup$ – R.M. Apr 14 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. I did make an atempt. Thanks for the help. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gregory Apr 15 '16 at 1:49
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Is there any reason to keep a medieval-like architecture, when creating new buildings, when you have a sci-fi technology?

Most people have referenced personal taste or societal trends or fashion, and indeed this is a sufficient reason. I'll focus on two other reasons:

Status

A futuristic world could have a growing population living on a relatively fixed amount of land. In such a case, land is a commodity, and having a large amount of personal property would be a visual indicator of wealth. Now it defeats the purpose if the house doesn't match, so why not make it extra large? Add a handful of guest rooms, a ballroom, an oversized library and/or study, and you've got yourself a manor or a mansion.

Notes: a) Depending on how aristocratic your future society is, it might make sense for tight-knit (or not-so-much) families to come together in a single home. b) The wealthy might opt to build their home on a less crowded planet, or build a high-class community on an artificial (and mobile?) island.

Function

Shield generators are great, but it's not like they can shield themselves, right? That's you need walls around them to protect them from the direction they don't project the shield. And even if you've got future tech that spits out balls of plasma at enemies, you've still got something that looks like a cannon. It doesn't hurt to elevate those on a tower to get a better angle at footmen while distancing it from the shield generators so they are less likely to become collateral damage.


I'd like to note that your problem might be stemming more from your approach. It sounds like you might be describing the material world more than you are describing the culture. As a reference, Treasure Planet comes to mind. It's a futuristic world, but has a heavy colonial and piratic feel.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you may be right. I have kind of a "Game Design" approach, and I want this world to be used in Roleplay, so I focused on what and how the players would play. Races, clans and stuff. Maybe it's time to give some background to all of this, and the answer might come itself... Thanks for your advice :) $\endgroup$ – Keker Apr 15 '16 at 6:59
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I quickly read through these answers, and I think there is a trait that has not been covered.

Stone buildings are durable. Modern constructions are simply not made to last and require a substantial amount of effort and money to maintain them.

A change in building philosophy from "Bigger!, Faster!, Cheaper!" to "Build it to last forever" would heavily encourage stone construction.

Stone ruins in the Andes, Central America, Egypt, India, and other locations have lasted for centuries and even millennia. Without upkeep, our current buildings will be destroyed by the elements in a remarkably short period of time.

Similarly, properly built stone constructions are heavily resistant to being damaged by earthquakes.

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There are two factors here. As already mentioned, fashion, but the other is cost. The former is easily resolved, the latter not so much, but this being the future it's all in your hands to make it add up.

Mediaeval architecture is both high cost in materials and labour. If you're talking about fortifications, you'll see that every stone is irregular and selected and laid to fit in with the stones around it. The only time this doesn't apply are lintels and stairs which are much more carefully cut.

An automated construction system which allowed you to generate pseudo-random stone patterns in the walls, regular patterns around doors and spiral staircases, plus cheap materials and you're good to go.

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  • $\begingroup$ The cost and labour problems comes from the building techniques applied. More mechanisation means less human doing the work. Your answer is valid only if the goal is to have exact replica of medieval building with medieval material. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Apr 14 '16 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MakorDal, I'm primarily chasing a visual similarity, though the sheer quantity of material required to build fortified walls 20ft thick still applies. In my last paragraph I'm assuming some sort of automated construction machine programmed to generate such patterns. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 14 '16 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ I partialy agree : with truck, moving several tons of gravel is not so hard. Then two brick walls (well, not brick, but I cant find the right material name right now) with the proper space between them and a 5cm stone-like exterior would do the trick. My main point was just that the constraint you mention are not so bad, even with our technology. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Apr 14 '16 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @MakorDal you want stone or concrete, brick has limited real strength under impact. Though following the whole "fortified future" aspect here, some sort of composite stone-like substance created from laminated layers should give an appropriate amount of strength. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 14 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I wasn't especially thinking of making buildings with the exact same materials as in the past. So there's no problem about irregular stone or anything else: think of a metallic castle with laser turrets, for example. That's the kind of feeling I'm searching to convey: technology has appeared, but the world is still in a medieval way of thinking. So it would be a better made castle, but still a castle. I hope I'm clear :) $\endgroup$ – Keker Apr 15 '16 at 6:56
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The reason could only be aesthetic. The reason mediaeval architecture was that way was because stone and wood was cheapest and best and to a lesser extent, made good castles. Once bricks and concrete were available, they were better and cheaper. Now we also use metal and glass, etc.

If advanced weapons are available then a mediaeval castle is useless, except for aesthetics.

Maybe think about ruins!

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  • $\begingroup$ And don't forget the cheap labor. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 14 '16 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ it's also worth reading up about star forts, which were the new form of castle after cannonballs were introduced. The angle of their walls deflected cannonballs better. $\endgroup$ – Yvonne Aburrow Apr 14 '16 at 15:01
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Architecture is basically just functional art. If the buildings perform their functions (whether they be homes or offices or military bases), then it doesn't really matter what they look like, they'll just end up being similar to the buildings that surround them, or they'll be of whatever style is culturally appropriate/fashionable.

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If technology is as all encompassing as mentioned in the back story, then rather than making faux medieval buildings, the structural forms of the buildings is covered in a holographic/VR simulacrum which can be changed and adapted as the social fashions change in society.

This will actually be both easier that making actual buildings, and also allow you to incorporate more "fantasy" and magical elements in the story (think of Clarke's Third Law: A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). The owner can make changes to the building and the interior/exterior can morph according to whatever the new needs or desires of the owner are. If the social trend changes then owners can change the VR/Holographic overlays to match the new trends.

Underneath it all, the buildings might actually be simple cubes with the ability to expand and contract in certain ways depending on the owner's needs (maybe walls and utilities can shift so you can get a larger space for a dinner party). This could actually be quite dynamic with advanced AI "running" the building and subtly adjusting rooms and hallways as you walk from place to place, expanding and morphing rooms in front of you while quietly collapsing the spaces behind you.

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protected by Serban Tanasa Apr 14 '16 at 18:22

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