Imaginary spaces: From Oz to Hobbit homes

If asked to sketch a simple house, most of us would draw a square topped by a pitched roof. An expected answer considering the mount of rectilinear shapes that surround us in our apartments, offices, and stores. No wonder then that the fiction realm is populated by spherical geometry. Have you noticed that many dwarves, goblins and good-willed creatures live in round houses?

The roundish Hobbit architecture

The Hobbit movie opens up with a bucolic landscape ripe with warm green, wherein Frodo’s roundish house joins in smoothly. The hobbit architecture abounds in round doors, round windows, cellar-like vaults, and curved furniture. Even the mailbox gets a barrel shape.

Together with the wooden interior design and the yellow light (far from the cold white light of our offices and sopping malls) the hobbit architecture embodies the lifestyle of our dreams: a healthy life in the countryside, replete with bio food and fresh air, dipped in silence, unfavorable to close neighbors. And all these are as physically round as they could ever be.

Hobbit house
Hobbit Architecture can be enjoyed not only virtually in the movie (here is the 2012 “Hobbit: Un unexpected journey”) but also in reality in Hobbiton, New Zealand.

The domed Oz architecture

The famous Dorothy Gale of Kansas arrives by air in Oz, more exactly in Munchkin Country, and lands upon a wicked witch, squishing her under the wooden floor of poor auntie Em’s and uncle Henry’s house. What a curious sight for the minion Munchkin people! They used to inhabit only cylindrical, dome-roofed houses when …. suddenly a squarish house drops onto their land.

Munchkin houses
Left and right: Munchkin houses envisioned in 1900 by the illustrator W.W. Denslow in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” book. Middle: Munchkin houses envisioned in 1939 in “The Wizard of Oz” movie.

Much the same as the hobbits, the Munchkins, Quadlings, Gilikins and Winkies live a happy and simple life in Oz. The soft intrigues occurs only in the capital city, the Emerald City. The city takes on a more daring height but keeps the domed roofs as a sign of coziness. We’re in a fairyland and problems are solved anyway by magic! In 1939 the city gets a more futuristic vision in which a bunch of slender green skyscrapers project onto the sky. A thick wall encircles the city and allows access only through a guarded gate. Yet, the Emerald City is in a fairyland, so that the skyscrapers are curved-edged and dome-shaped (not far from our time’s London Gherkin).

Emerald City
Emerald City envisioned in 1909 (left) and 1939 (right). Left: John R. Neill’s illustrated cover for “The Road to Oz”, the 5th Frank Baum’s book in the Oz series. Right: Scene from “The Wizard of Oz” movie.

It seems that the more simple the life the more roundish gets the architecture!

Curved, smooth and mild fairylands’ architecture comes from all over the world, for example from the Soviet Russia. No matter the geography or ideology, the curved line might be connected to dreamlands somewhere at a profound psychological level.

Barrel vaults envisioned in Soviet Russia in 1954 by illustrator A. Laptev for N. Nosov’s book “The Adventures of Dunno and his friends.”

Yet, the roundish architecture of our fantastic realms turns in reality into kitsch. We think we’d feel snugged by a tiny dwarfy house, but most of us wouldn’t live a life in such a Hobbit architecture. Why? We may tend to conform to the prestigious norms of the day (in our case to the modern straight-lined architecture). Or … We may actually realize that the roundish architecture is not as cool as the fantasy culture promotes it. In other words, we dream of not following the straight line that connects most rapidly two points, but at the end of the day we find it useful.